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Marshal Papworth has teamed up with Moulton College in Northampton to further develop its work in building sustainable farming skills in communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The Charity, which works with lead farmers and agricultural extension officers from Africa to advance their knowledge and practical skills, will partner with Moulton College, one of the UK’s leading agricultural colleges, to deliver a tailored 10 week, full time course.

The annual course will welcome students from across the developing world – including Ghana, Malawi and Uganda – to the UK to work towards a BTEC Certificate in Agriculture. The course will cover crop and livestock management, business management, animal and plant husbandry, farm mechanisation and technology, and basic IT skills, alongside a schedule of enrichment and cultural visits which support the Marshal Papworth programme.

Tom Arthey, Marshal Papworth Chairman, commented: “Since conception, Marshal Papworth has provided scholarships to students from developing countries which enable them to come to the UK and study at some of the top agricultural and horticultural institutions here. This new partnership reinforces the Charity’s commitment to providing students with the best opportunities to build their skills for the benefit of their communities.”

Moulton College has also created a fellowship programme which will link each visiting students with a full-time student at the college to ensure they settle into the college easily and take full advantage of the opportunities available to them.

Steve Davies, Principal of Moulton College said: “I am delighted that we have forged this collaboration with Marshal Papworth who are doing exceptional charity work in sub-Saharan Africa.  We very much look forward to welcoming the students to Moulton.”

Maria is a PhD student at the University of Pavia (Italy) and an early stage researcher in the Marie  Curie initial training network NASSTEC (Native Seed Science, Technology and Conservation http://www.nasstec.eu/). Maria is based at Scotia Seeds (Scotland) and her project is aimed at improving seed quality in large- scale production of native seed.

During the 31st ISTA Congress in Tallinn, Estonia (June 14- 21), she gave a poster presentation titled: “Development of tests for seed quality in native seeds used in habitat restoration” . The objectives of the study were to assess seed quality on the EU native seed market, to develop protocols to determine conditions for dormancy breaking and germination and t o identify new approaches to seed quality evaluation in native species. Maria Marin, Scotia Seeds mariamarin@scotiaseeds.co.uk

ARTICLE 2, SPOTLIGHT ON:

MARIA MARIN
Early stage researcher,
PhD student
31 years old, Croatia

 

Hi Maria, How and when did you first learn about ISTA? 

As soon as I started my post at Scotia Seeds I was introduced to ISTA by my colleagues. ISTA’s International Rules for Seed Testing and working sheets were fundamental to my work.

How is ISTA concretely helping you in your daily job? 

I use ISTA’s protocols for seed testing, where available for certain plant families, as a reference for the development of testing protocols for native species.

How do you keep in touch with ISTA work? With ISTA community? 

At Scotia Seeds we are subscribed to the ISTA news bulletin Seed Testing International. Recently I have joined the ISTA Flower Seed Testing Committee and I am therefore involved in the committee’s activities and future plans.

Why did you decide to attend the ISTA Congress in Tallinn last June? 

I feel that my work is closely related with ISTA’s activities, particularly now that the Association is widening its scope to include native species so I thought that participating to the event was the best way to introduce my work and make valuable contacts. Also, I was very interested in the topics presented at the ISTA Seed Symposium.

What are your main takeaways from this event? 

I received great feedback on my work and was pleased to know that native seed science and restoration related topics are starting to be represented within ISTA. It was also very useful to expand my horizons beyond native species and familiarize with the seed industry and seed testing laboratories.

This event gave me also the opportunity to deal with some practical aspects of seed science and to understand the importance of applied research, while also creating a network of valuable contacts.

 

Were you able to make some useful connections for your work during the Congress? 

Yes! I had the pleasure to meet different people and establish fruitful relationships for the future.

Would you recommend students and young researchers to attend similar events? 

Sure, I think that it is very important for young researchers to get involved with ISTA and participate to these events in order to understand the needs of the field they are working in and share their findings with stakeholders.

How does it feel to be part of an ISTA Technical Committee? 

I have recently joined the ISTA Flower Seed Testing Committee and I am very enthusiastic about it. I feel privileged to have joined this working group and hope to make valuable contributions to it.

If ISTA should change/improve one thing, what would it be? 

If not yet in place I would suggest to establish a fund to allow students to participate to ISTA events.

What is your vision for future in seed testing? 

Currently there is a lack of knowledge on native seed testing and there is no established route for access to this knowledge for producers. Therefore, future work should focus on developing standardised seed testing methods for native species and delivering them to seed producers.

How about your own future? 

I am focused on delivering the requirements for my PhD and NASSTEC project, while also beginning to imagine the future beyond it.

Maria, one last word? 

It was great taking part to the ISTA Seed Symposium, thank you! I am looking forward to the next

By Alex Hitzemann

This year, Russia overtook the United States as the world’s number one grain exporter. Bloomberg Businessweek dramatically announced “America is losing the Wheat Wars” due to rising competition and currency fluctuations.

The Black Sea region has always been the primary source for grain imported into North Africa, but only recently Russia has been exporting more and more grain to Central Africa, countries that were traditionally customers of the US and Australia. Demand for grain in central Africa is at an all-time high, and is predicted to more than double in the next ten years.

Russia’s success in this region can be attributed to a variety of factors. The plummeting Ruble has created an economic environment more favorable for Russian exports. Agribusinessmen also point to factors such as: climate change, increases in agriculture technology, a supportive government subsidy system, and good luck.

807218433484243372MOEX: A ‘Big League” Trading Platform & Delivery Service

Behind the scenes of these surging exports, Russia has a shiny new trading platform that’s moving grain from fields to export markets with world class technology and efficiency. Africa Agribusiness Magazine was able to sit down with some of the leaders of MOEX’s grain trading platform to learn more about their system and plans for the future.

MOEX, the Moscow Exchange, is the largest exchange group in Russia, operating trading markets in currencies, equities, bonds, derivatives, and commodities. In December 2015, MOEX launched an innovative and advanced on-exchange grain trading platform with an integrated commodity delivery service.

MOEX has partnered with “National Logistics Company” (a specially founded entity) to provide grain transportation to any railway station in the Russian Federation. This partnership allows MOEX to ensure grain quality throughout transportation and grain elevator loading process. Storage and transportation risks are insured and re-insured under acting insurance agreements.

moex_trade_daigramAll of MOEX’s grain elevators must be vetted in order to insure if they are up to high standards. During the vetting process inspectors insure that the elevators are well maintained and have proper financial conditions. It’s also important that each site can test the incoming grain for protein and other quality indicators – the location must also have stable management. Basically, they make sure there are no warning signs of a possible interruption of service and all possible hazards to grain in storage are adequately assessed and approached.

Due to this complex process, as of September 2016 only seventeen elevators have been approved. However, MOEX anticipates more than 50 elevators by next year and the number should exceed 100 in the not so distant future. The leaders of MOEX see this as just the beginning. Grain farming in Russia has huge potential for export and trading. Russia has large amounts of arable land. However, one of the biggest constraints is currently infrastructure.

elevatorsPortions of the country, especially remote regions have limited access to railroads. A number оf  grain elevators were built some decades ago and need to be renovated. This infrastructure would need to be improved before being integrated into MOEX’s system.

The strict standards by which MOEX vets potential elevators provides incentives for elevators across the country to improve. Elevators in their network can expect a wide range of advantages. Once accredited, elevators can expect to gain additional income from increased grain storage and turnover volumes originating from grain market trades by NAMEX trading members. Also elevators become engaged into direct agreements with a systemically important financial institution, NCC Bank. NCC Bank is responsible for clearing trades and serving operations for more than a half of Russia’s financial market participants, including the Central Bank of Russia – which guarantees a high degree of trust in the exchange infrastructure.

moscow-exchangeAdditional advantages for MOEX elevators include access to an online commodities record system. Elevators will also benefit from MOEX’s PR, an increase in competitiveness, a confirmation of their professionalism and more stability in their work with exchange trading, financial and insurance companies.

The MOEX exchange can be a good example for future African exchanges that seek to develop their own trading platforms. While not entirely the same, some of the challenges in Russia are similar to Sub-Saharan African countries. Russian agriculture went through a severe decline in the 1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, during the last 10 years gradual improvements have been made. Family farms are growing larger and corporate farming operations are becoming more common as agribusiness develops. Many parts of the country have seen tremendous infrastructure improvements. All of this has been catalyzed by a cooperative political climate in Russia, dedicated to agribusiness growth.

russia-mapFrom Black Sea Ports to African Homes

From the fields near the Black Sea to African consumers, Russian grain goes through a long journey to reach Africa. From local grain storage and elevators near farms, grain is usually first transported by trucks to major transportation hubs. In southern Russia and areas near Moscow the road and grain storage systems tend to be quite modern. But further North and East, significant improvements could be made to increase Russia’s export potential. The grain is then loaded onto trains bound for the Black Sea.

For African exports, grains usually depart from Russia’s major trade ports on the Black Sea such as Novorossiysk. The grain is then loaded onto boats headed for ports in Africa. The cargo goes through the Turkish straights into the Mediterranean Sea and then to its destination in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, South Africa and Kenya. From these major ports Russian grain is distributed across Africa.

Opportunities for the Future

Analysts, such as Rabobank, predict that Sub-Saharan Africa will eclipse North Africa’s grain demand by 2025 presenting a significant opportunity for grain suppliers.

867655306696878839“Structural differences exist between the regions, and while North Africa has the highest per capita consumption and a saturated market, Sub Saharan Africa has much smaller per capita consumption with higher potential, coupled with stronger population growth,” said Rabobank grains & oilseeds analyst Vito Martielli.

Africa currently accounts for nearly 30% of world-wide grain imports and the demand is still growing. Increasing, almost 4% every year since 2001. In sub-Saharan countries grain imports will rise 50% in ten years. Comparatively, North Africa will only see a 15% rise.

 

By Nawa Mutumweno

Of all Zambia’s economic sectors, agriculture holds more promise than any other in the country’s march to economic diversification.

Since mining, the country’s prime industry, is a wasting asset, it is important more than ever before, to explore sectors that are sustainable to wean the country from the copper spoon it was born with.

14535317162_8052c93926_k

Zambia’s has 40 percent of the water resources of the entire southern African region. Of the 58 percent arable land, only 14 percent is currently cultivated. In real terms, this means that of 42 million hectares, only 1.5 million hectares is farmed each year.

The agricultural sector employs 85 percent of the population and makes up around 20 percent of overall gross domestic product (GDP).

Food Processing

Food processing represents an outstanding investment opportunity in Zambia due to vast natural resources, extensive arable land, ample water and investment incentives and many joint-venture options.

The Zambia Association of Manufacturing (ZAM), says despite its strong performance, the country’s food-processing industry has achieved only around one-quarter of its capacity and potential so far.
‘’There are vast opportunities for more investments in most sub-sectors of Zambia’s food-processing industry, for both small-scale and large-scale projects,’’ ZAM says.

15092305657_d0d17e2311_zHigh potential sub-sectors encompass growing and processing oil seeds; downstream processing of meat and dairy products; producing palm oil; manufacturing soy-based food products; million wheat, rice and maize to produce flour; producing juices, carbonated drinks, beer and other beverages; processing groundnuts; producing ketchup and other tomato-based products; roasting and grinding coffee beans; processing cassava, pineapple, mangoes and sugar cane; producing dried fruit and processing fish to exploit Zambia’s vast fish resources.

Other investment opportunities include producing tinned foods, confectionery, bread products, honey and cheese.

One example of potential food –processing projects in Zambia is COMESA’s Regional Investment Agency (RIA) promotion of a greenfield project to build pineapple –canning factories in the north-western part of the country

Mwinilunga district in the province has been ranked as Zambia’s best location for pineapple production. In the 1990s, a pineapple processing facility in the area produced around 11,368 tonnes

from 1,421 hectares of pineapple plantations. The facility was later closed down. The planned new plant is expected to produce about 12,000 tonnes of processed pineapple per annum.

Aquaculture

In diversification away from maize, one of the sub-sectors which is being promoted is aquaculture. In August 2015, the Government launched a $10 million privately-owned fish farm, Yalelo. The firm, located on the shores of Lake Kariba in southern Zambia, already produces 6,000kg of tilapia daily.

In a deliberate effort to increase domestic fish production, the Government is encouraging private investment.

3335917542_098f6af0b1_zCattle

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) recently received $400,000 to support the growth of the leather sub-sector in Zambia and three other member countries.

Zambia has the potential to grow its leather value chain to half a billion dollars a year if all hides are transformed into finished products. The state has also agreed to waive taxes on leather production machines and equipment to further enhance growth.

Farm Block Development

In a bid to grow the agriculture sector, Government is developing the Farm Block Development Programme with vast opportunities for investors. Ten farming blocks have been identified (one in each province).

‘’The Nansanga Farming Block in Serenje, central Zambia, is the most advanced, with roads constructed and power connected. We have already allocated pieces of land to small-scale and commercial farmers. We are in the process of awarding 10 000 hectares of land to what is referred to as a core venture,’’ Minister of Agriculture, Given Lubinda said.

Irrigation

Zambia’s future indeed lies in agriculture and President Lungu’s administration has emphasized its determination to pursue an agriculture-led economy through the rolling out of irrigation schemes and other innovations throughout the country.
Speaking during the launch of the construction of the $28 million Mwomboshi Irrigation Dam in Chisamba, central Zambia recently, President Lungu reiterated his commitment to diversifying the agricultural sector.

‘’The construction of this dam gives a practical expression of my Government’s resolve to put agriculture at the centre of our economy. Irrigation farming is an act of diversifying the sector away from rain-fed agriculture, President Lungu said.
Currently, the construction of dams is underway in Lusitu (Chirundu) and Musakashi in Mufulira district.

‘’We aim to have over 75,000 hectares by 2030. To achieve this, Government will ensure adequate funds for irrigation development annually. Currently, K56.7 million has been set aside for irrigation in the 2016 national budget,’’ he pointed out.

Key players in Zambian agribusiness

These include, inter alia, Zambeef Products, Zambia Sugar and the Zambia Breweries Group, a subsidiary of South African giant SABMiller, one of the world’s largest beer manufacturers.

3335057499_5fb15e44b7_zZambeef

Zambia must take action to invest in industrialization in order to be competitive and take advantage of the business opportunities in the region, Zambeef Joint Chief Executive Officer Dr Carl Irwin told delegates at the fifth Zambian International Investment Forum (ZIIF) this week.

“Zambeef strongly believes in Zambia’s potential to feed itself and the region given its abundant resources; good soils, climate, readily available as well as the ability to produce most crops given the right investment. But only in adding value to our produce can we fully realise the sector’s full potential,” said Dr Irwin, who was speaking at the opening of the high-level conference, which was officially launched by H.E. the President, on. Edgar Chagwa Lungu and attended by Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Hon. Margaret Mwanakatwe.

Dr Irwin highlighted some of the benefits of focusing on value adding operations and the opportunities presented for the national economy; increased national food security, social development in rural areas, job creation, and tax and duty generated as result.

Zambeef alone has generated US$220 million in revenue for the financial year 2015 and US$38 million of foreign exchange income for the nation; invested more than US$150 million in the last eight years; employed more than 6,000 staff and contributed US$18 million in tax and duty paid to the Zambian government

Zambia Sugar

Margins in both the regional and EU export markets are expected to remain under pressure from surplus sugar stocks on the world market. Realization in these markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements.

Zambian Breweries

Zambian Breweries and National Breweries are among the largest buyers of maize, barley, cassava and sorghum in the country.
The group purchases a significant quantity of raw materials locally. A total of 40,000 tonnes of maize is bought from small-scale farmers for use in the production of opaque and clear beer.

The group has engaged close to commercial farmers in the growing of barley, with a planned annual uptake of 12,,000 tonnes. In 2015, two small-scale barley outgrower pilot programmes have been introduce with a view to further expansion

More than 10,000 tonnes of sugar were consumed towards the manufacture of non-alcoholic drinks.
A further 1,750 tonnes of sorghum was used in the production of its affordable Eagle lager, with a direct impact on 3,500 households in the year to March 31, 2015.

From 2015, the company introduced cassava into its Eagle lager formula. It is now developing an end-to-end supply chain supporting small-scale farmers in Northern and Luapula provinces, and with innovative technology will deliver a high quality, affordable clear beer that will grow to become a leading brand within the company’s portfolio.

Zambia’s agriculture is on the rise and is changing many lives in various corners of the country.

As the Ministry of Agriculture rightfully acknowledged: ‘’Agriculture is the only sector that assuredly alleviates poverty in the country. The focus is to grow this industry that is the future of the country.’’

Francis Mwika, Mugae Location, Meru County, Kenya

Located on the eastern side of Meru County, Mugae location is characterized by a sparse population with low and erratic rainfall resulting in an increase in food insecurity, environmental degradation and poverty levels in the county. Massive wind storms carry away the soil from the bare land making agriculture a debatable investment. This however, is home to Francis Mwika, a 47-year-old livestock farmer. Mwika has witnessed crop failures and droughts over the years. He has had to find a way to mitigate the drought effects for the wellbeing of his family of one wife and eight children. He resorted to livestock farming as a source of income. The amount he earned from his sales was used to pay school fees for his children and provide basic household needs, leaving little, if any, for savings. He had not realized the full potential of livestock farming as a business up until he was selected to be a facilitator for Farmer Field Schools (FFSs).

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mwika received training as a FFSs facilitator through the Kenya Semi-Arid Enhancement Support (K-SALES) project. The four-year project, implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, seeks to increase agricultural productivity and expand trade in livestock products. Through K-SALES, Mwika was equipped with the necessary knowledge to train other farmers in the FFSs on farm management and improved livestock production techniques. Mwika has formed and trained over 10 FFSs in his area comprising of 384 farmers.

 

“After the training, I realized that I had taken for granted my livestock over the years. If only I knew some of the things I know now, I would have benefited a lot from my livestock then,” he says. As luck would have it, Mwika, had a chance to invest in his livestock for business. “I had to make some changes in my own home on how I reared my livestock in order to set an example to the farmers I trained.”

 

untitled-4Mwika is one of the 150 farmers benefiting from Maji ya Chumvi spraying and vaccination crush, which is less than 2km away and was constructed by K-SALES. “Before the training, we never used to spray or vaccinate our animals unless they fell sick. We are very grateful for the crush constructed by K-SALES for our community, as we can now spray and vaccinate our animals regularly with ease.” Currently, Mwika sprays his livestock at least thrice every month and noted the minimized illnesses brought about by pests and diseases.

 

He has embraced several lessons to help improve his livestock in terms of breeding. Last year, in order to upgrade his own local sheep, he bought an improved sheep breed, a dorper, which is hardy, fertile and fast-growing. The ewe has since given birth to lambs that are growing rather fast and fetching a higher price at the market. “Just last month, I fetched 3,000 shillings for a one-month-old lamb,” he stated. From these sales, Mwika has since acknowledged that livestock rearing is indeed rewarding, and he plans to increase the number of sheep he owns, adding that they can reproduce as often as three times in a year.

 

With the dry season around the corner, Mwika has plans to pursue fodder storage as a business especially now that there is a looming food shortage in his area. He had recently stashed fodder for his own animals, but he sold it to another livestock farmer. “I knew fodder could earn me an income but not this much,” he says. “The quantity of the fodder wasn’t much but the buyer surprisingly paid 20,000 shillings for it. I was amazed, and that is when I realized there is a lot of potential in the hay business.” He also received training on financial literacy and plans to borrow a loan from Centenary Sacco, where he is an active member, to enable him to construct a proper hay barn to store his hay for sale.

 

Mwika is one fortunate farmer that is headed in the right direction. However, not many people in Kenya are as fortunate as Mwika. They lack access to the required information to scale up from subsistence farming to commercial farming. By providing the required knowledge in improved livestock production techniques and technologies, more farmers can see the benefits of keeping livestock as a business venture.

 

This story is brought to you by USDA and Land O’Lakes

 

For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

Vongai Musembwa’s eyes light up as she scoops up healthy white grains from a metal bin she uses to store newly harvested maize. Happily, they’re free of a naturally occurring poison — aflatoxin — that can contaminate crops in the field, before or after harvest and during storage.

The metal silo protects the grains from aflatoxin — produced by certain fungi that grow on food crops like maize, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, cassava and rice.

 Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana


Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

Ms. Musembwa is one of more than 260 smallholder farmers in Makoni District, east of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, who have switched to non-chemical hermetic storage to prevent food from contamination. Musembwa received her metal silo from a local organization, under a multi-partner project seeking to prevent aflatoxins contamination of maize grain.

The Makoni District farmers are participants in a two-year project worth $1.6 million supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future programme, an initiative funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research. Under the project, Zimbabwean farmers are given access to metal silos and thick plastic “superbags” to determine if improved storage can reduce aflatoxin contamination in local maize grain.

Crops contaminated by aflatoxins develop moulds and acquire a dark colour. Livestock and humans can fall sick or die after eating contaminated food grains. It has also been linked to childhood stunting, liver cancer and immune suppression in adults.

 Scientists warn that extreme weather is increasing the level of health-damaging toxic chemicals in crops, including staple foods which are key to food, nutrition and trade security in Africa. To protect themselves against extreme weather, plants generate aflatoxins, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“Aflatoxins are pervasive in African food systems negatively impacting health of women and children, income from agriculture value chains, and food safety and security of nations,” says Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, a senior plant pathologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where he guides research and development activities on crop diseases and poisonous chemicals produced by certain fungi known as mycotoxins.

Bandyopadhyay, said people fall sick, farmers lose income, grains are destroyed, food prices soar, profitability of animal industries declines, reputation of African exports are tainted and nations become less food secure due to aflatoxin contamination.

“Aflatoxin contamination presents a barrier to trade and economic growth and is a serious obstacle to programmes designed to improve nutrition and agricultural production while linking smallholder farmers to markets,” Bandyopadhyay said. “The extent of contamination varies by seasons, crops and regions and can be anywhere from none to 100% and often hovers around 25%.”

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the AUC’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture said curbing the menace of aflatoxin contamination was critical to improving child and maternal nutrition and health as well as achieving Africa’s goal to transform its agriculture.

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to fungal poisons, according to a 2015 baseline study to reduce maize-based aflatoxin contamination and exposure in humans in Zimbabwe by researchers from the University of Zimbabwe and the international humanitarian organization, Action Contre la Faim.

Dr. Loveness Nyanga, the project principal investigator and researcher at the University of Zimbabwe, notes that the high-level of aflatoxin contamination is a public health concern because Zimbabweans eat maize and legumes on a daily basis.

The existence of aflatoxins has other consequences to Africa’s economy. The continent is losing more than $450 million annually when its commodities are rejected on global markets because of high contamination levels, says the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), an initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC) whose aim is to protect crops, livestock and people from the effects of aflatoxins.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed that aflatoxins affect 25% of the world’s food crops and hurt trade. About US$1.2 billion is lost in global commerce annually as a result of aflatoxins, according to IITA. While the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that the World Food Programme has sharply reduced the quantities of maize it has been able to buy locally in Africa since 2007 because of aflatoxin contamination.

Africa also faces a health burden associated with humans’ exposure to contamination.

Harming our health

An estimated 26,000 people die annually in sub-Saharan Africa from liver cancer resulting from chronic aflatoxin exposure, according to a 2013 research by IFPRI.

Globally, 5% to 30% of all liver cancer cases are linked to aflatoxin exposure, with the highest incidences occurring in Africa, according to the Platform for African-European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), an eight-year project sponsored by the European Commission.

In Mozambique, a high prevalence of liver cancer in southern part of the country has been associated with consumption of aflatoxin contaminated food, especially from groundnuts.

Sustainable solutions

Cultivate Africa’s Future is one of several ongoing efforts to contain aflatoxin contamination. If experiments with the plastic “super bags” are effective against contamination, they will be a highly sought after item by Zimbabwean farmers who lose up to 30% of harvested maize every year to pests and poor post-harvest handling.

More than $50 million worth of maize, the staple food, is lost annually during storage alone, says Ringson Chitsiko, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s ministry of agriculture.

To fight aflatoxins contamination and maintain food quality and safety, scientists recommend an integrated approach, including, among other techniques, timely planting and harvesting, proper plant density and managing insects. This is in addition to crop rotation, shelling, enhancement of proper plant health and nutrition, rapid drying of grains in the sun for days, or with driers to reduce the moisture content and proper storage.

Bandyopadhyay leads Africa-wide efforts on the development and scaling-up of the aflatoxin biocontrol technology known as Aflasafe, a novel biological product developed by the IITA to fight pre-and post-harvest aflatoxin contamination.

Already the IITA has a programme to develop Aflasafe in Malawi where between 40% and 100% of the country’s groundnut-based commodities contain unsafe toxin levels. Aflasafe has also been tested in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal since 2009. About 30,000 farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya are using Aflasafe and getting 200 to 500% return on investment, Bandyopadhyay said.

Tanzania in June 2016 announced that it was undertaking field trials in the use of Alfasafe targeting four regions. A 2012 study in Tanzania established high incidents of aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts in the country.

The Africa Aflatoxin Information Management System platform spearheaded by PACA is creating a “one stop shop” database for aflatoxin-related information in the health, trade and agriculture sectors as a way to raise awareness and prevent contamination.

The Aflasafe product has been registered in Senegal and Gambia where aflatoxin contamination is a major deterrent for groundnut exports. Bandyopadhyay said aflatoxin exposure in humans is rampant in West Africa with the toxin found in the body fluids of 100% Senegalese and The Gambian people in a few instances.

In 2005 the World Bank estimated that investments in aflatoxin control can add $281 million to the Senegalese economy from increased export volume and price differential of aflatoxin-safe crops.

A key impediment is the level of aflatoxin awareness among farmers and consumers. Because of poor policing of food safety standards in many African countries, researchers say that many people eat contaminated foods, especially the staples such as maize, legumes and groundnuts, without checking for signs of aflatoxins.

Researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in  June 2016 announced the decoding of the DNA of the ground nut or peanut (Arachis hypogaea), an oil and protein rich crop of global importance with the annual production of 42.3 million metric tonnes.

Rajeev Varshney, the Research Programme Director- Genetic Gains at ICRISAT said in an online interview that groundnuts, though an important crop in terms of nutrition and income in Asia and Africa, face low productivity as compared to Americas. The current pace of developing improved peanut varieties and their productivity may not be able to meet the demand of ever increasing global population, especially in Asia and Africa where in some countries productivity is less than one tonne per hectare. According to the FAO, the world average productivity of groundnuts is 1, 6 tonnes per hectare.

Varshney said the gene resources generated through this breakthrough provide an opportunity for scientists to prepare an efficient road map for developing improved groundnut varieties with increased productivity and quality.

“Peanuts produced from African countries and India have high level of aflatoxin contamination,” said Varshney. “This makes peanut produce unsuitable for export to Europe and Americas. Therefore it is really important to work in the direction of producing varieties with minimal aflatoxin contamination.”

Manish Pandey, a groundnut genomics Scientist at ICRISAT said the availability of the DNA sequence will accelerate basic research to answer important biological questions about groundnuts and help crop improvement programmes around the world.

By Nawa Mutumweno

Zambia Sugar Company is reducing its sugar exports into the European Union (EU) to the regional market in view of the sugar reforms in the bloc to be effected in September 2017.

The agribusiness company will this year reduce sales to the EU from 22 percent to 14 percent as it explores Africa’s regional markets, both traditional and new markets.

According to managing director, Rebecca Katowa, this follows the sugar reforms that have impacted on the sugar regime and resulted in prices in the EU converging into global prices.

The prices are below the cost of production and reflect residual markets and key players, namely Brazil, Thailand and India, who put sugar on that market with India’s sugar being subsidized.

’’The strategy is to move volumes away from the EU to regional markets because the regional market provides valuable alternatives. Shifting export sales away from the EU to the region is expected because realisations in these markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements,’’ she elaborated at a stakeholders’ breakfast meeting in Lusaka recently.

The prices of sugar are expected to remain above world levels within the region despite increasing levels of competition among regional producers, Mrs. Katowa added.

The company is looking to expanding exports to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other African markets.

Meanwhile, Zambia Sugar will this month-end commission the over K500 million refinery which is projected to more than double sugar production to 90 000 tonnes annually, reaffirming the firm’s position as the largest producer in Africa.

Currently, the sugar agribusiness company produces 40 000 tonnes of sugar per annum.

‘’The project was launched last year and will be on stream at the end of the month and contribute to our growth strategy,’’ she said.

Meanwhile, the company’s Commentary for the Year Ended March 31, 2016 says a number of factors impacted adversely on sugar production in the period under review. These included dry climatic conditions in November and December 2015, power interruptions to irrigation and the outbreak of yellow sugarcane aphids which reduced sugarcane yields by 11 percent across the entire harvest area.
This yield decline was partly offset by a 2 percent increase in area under cane delivered. Smallholder schemes supplied 10 percent of the total 3.102 million tons of cane crushed by the Nakambala mill. Consequently, sugar made was reduced by 10 percent from 424 000 tonnes achieved last year to 380 400 tonnes.

‘’The reduced sucrose in cane was partially offset by improved sugar recoveries in the mill. Refined sugar production also increased to meet growing demand. The season saw a significant improvement in factory throughput, reflecting the benefit of improved equipment reliability and preventive maintenance practices together with a sustained focus on continuous improvement initiatives,’’ the Commentary reads in part.

Total revenue grew by 6 percent year on year, from K1.91 billion to K2.02 billion, largely due to continued growth in the domestic market where direct consumption increased by 7 percent and industrial consumption grew by 4 percent. In order to maximize revenues from reduced production, the sales mix was adjusted by reducing bulk EU exports by 45 percent. The remaining sugar was sold into Africa’s regional markets where prices remained under pressure from world market sugar.

Prospects

The factory commenced crushing in the third week of April and operations have quickly stabilized. Early season, sugarcane yields are at expected levels and should improve as the crop matures.

Sugar cane yields and sucrose in cane are expected to remain relatively unchanged in the 2016/17 production season. The crop has been negatively affected by drought conditions, power shortages, the low water levels in the Kafue River and pest infestations due to drought stressed cane. Production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season.

Sugar production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season. Reasonably strong growth is expected in the local market. However, margins in the regional export markets are expected to remain under pressure from surplus sugar stocks on the world market.

‘’Realizations in these export markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements. The new expanded sugar refinery will help the company take advantage of the growth in the local and regional industrial sugar markets,’’ it adds.