Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Big Bag of Agriculture, Health, and Development

At a Cornell presentation (I'm at it now and have been tweeting its notes), Duxbury argued that we are leaving a LOT of crop productivity on the table by not following pretty basic techniques and that there are still some pretty gaping holes in our knowledge. He called into question the notion of "unproductive soils" in Africa, calling the notion "fantasy." It just means we haven't figured out what the real constraints are. In several trials on the effects of adding phosphorous, there was a modest improvement on the expeirmental plot, but there was a hugely productive section in the middle of the field straddling the experimental and control plots. In more difficult solutions, he encouraged eliminating flood irrigation, improving education, better small scale machinery (where are the agricultural engineers?), more effort on grain and multipurpose legumes, more attention to year-round supply of fruits and vegetables. Farmers know what they do and why; they lack knowledge about change.

Haddad's presentation at the IFPRI Conference on "Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health" focused on how to get there. His major points were that
  • we have very few impact evaluations to guide us (out of 307 studies, only one tenth even attempted an impact study);
  • increasing women's participation in the process will improve the connections between ag policies and nutrition (half of studies find no difference between men and women, the other half find more male access);
  • "To intertwine nutrition and agriculture, it will help to have professionals who have an appreciation for both, even if they only have expertise in one or the other. ... what we have shows some demand for nutritionists (in Norway at least) who can think outside of the nutrition box and that agriculture students in the US will not learn about international agriculture unless it forms part of their core curriculum." 
I think that first sentence is one of the best descriptions of my ideal for multi-disciplinarity: appreciating what another profession can bring to the table while grounded in a firm set of tools you can bring. Duxbury noted how the tenure process discourages inter-disciplinarity that would improve crop diversity. "I'm not in favor of multidisciplinary specialists: you don't know enough of any one."

Haddad also lists the six men being considered for the new head of FAO:
"Franz Fischler (Austria), José Graziano da Silva (Brazil), Indroyono Soesilo (Indonesia), Mohammad Saeid Noori Naeini (Iran, Islamic Republic of), Abdul Latif Rashid (Iraq) and Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé (Spain)." FAO is celebrating investments from Germany and Norway to improve our data on agriculture's impacts on greenhouse gasses.

Cassava's uses as a food security crop have received a lot of attention recently. Because it can sit in the ground for long periods of time before harvest, you plant it and wait until the hungry months or a crisis.  New viruses are causing serious problems for this strategy, however, and the research to combat them is still in its early stages.

An LDS program to teach basic health and hygiene techniques in Sierra Leone, promoted as the first of its kind in the country. Another article discussing LDS efforts to improve access to clean water.

On the link between malaria eradication and increased IQ. Correlation is not causation, but there are some studies that are moving us in that direction.

M. Nestle is skeptical that diet sodas cause stroke. Correlation is not causation, and there is nothing suggesting that this wasn't a "fishing expedition."

In Pakistan: “The malnutrition we are seeing is not new. It has nothing to do with the floods; it is just that we are seeing it now as people come into contact with medical teams." The problem: Feudalism and lack of land reform.

I've mentioned before the so-called culture of maize in Africa. Makki asks if a Green Revolution for Africa could be generated through rice.

It's not just FAO -- the Wall Street Journal is beginning to talk about micro-livestock too and research from Wageningen University on the benefits of eating insects. "The average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, mostly mixed into other foods. In the U.S., most processed foods contain small amounts of insects, within limits set by the Food and Drug Administration. For chocolate, the FDA limit is 60 insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams, and fruit juice can have five fruit-fly eggs and one or two larvae per 250 milliliters (just over a cup). ... Not long ago, foods like kiwis and sushi weren't widely known or available. It is quite likely that in 2020 we will look back in surprise at the era when our menus didn't include locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights."

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