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National Institute for Agricultural Research

Ariana, Tunisia
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News Article | May 4, 2017

Farmers in Ghana plant rows of cassava next to their chili peppers, and plant banana trees in the middle of cocoa plantations. In India, farmers hang bouquets of flowers in their apple trees. And in Brazil, farmers have increased appreciation of a law requiring them to leave a certain portion of their farms as natural habitat. Three seemingly incongruent situations but they have a connection. All are solutions identified by FAO and its partners for dealing with one of the pressing problems agriculture faces today – the loss of pollinators, mainly bees but also other insects and birds. Farmers have adopted these measures in an effort to bring pollinators back to their fields, thanks to the support they receive from FAO’s Global Pollination Project. Bees and other pollinators make enormous contributions to the world’s agriculture. In terms of food production, staples such as wheat, maize, potatoes and rice can reproduce without animal pollination. But, most fruits and vegetables, which are increasingly important in global agriculture, cannot. While the plants themselves will survive, their yields may drop by as much as 90 percent without pollination. This is especially critical considering that 75 percent of all crops have some dependence on pollinators. Plus, crops dependent on pollination are five times more valuable than those that don’t need pollination. It all adds up to an enormous contribution in terms of improved yields. The French National Institute for Agricultural Research has valued pollinators’ contributions to global agriculture at more than USD 200 billion a year. Although pollinators are essential to the world’s ecosystems, the services those bees and other pollinators provide freely to agriculture were once taken for granted. It is only recently that pollination has been recognized as an essential element of agronomy, a recognition mainly due to a crisis – the world’s pollinators are disappearing. The reasons include loss of habitat, intensive agriculture, indiscriminate use of pesticides and climate change. Climate change is a double issue that not only affects pollinator survival, it also alters crop growing seasons, which means that the pollinators may not be available at the time that the crop is in flower and needs the pollination. Global statistics are sketchy, but they show that pollinator populations in several parts of the world are steeply declining. In Europe, where monitoring is more advanced than other parts of the world, there is growing evidence of parallel declines in both wild pollinators and in the plants relying on them. In recent decades, commercial farmers have relied on domesticated honey bees as pollinators but for some crops, they just are not as effective as their wild brethren. Agronomists now recognize that the most effective, resilient approach to managing pollination requires integrating a diversity of wild species with managed pollinators such as honey bees. FAO’s Global Pollination Project focuses on identifying the steps needed to bring wild pollinators back to the fields – steps that vary from crop to crop and farming system to farming system. The project works with farming communities, national partners and policy-makers in seven pilot countries, raising awareness of the need to develop agricultural policy that supports pollinators, meeting with farming communities to help them develop pollination management plans, and introducing pollination into agricultural curricula. Through farmer field schools launched by the project, farmers can share their traditional pollination solutions, blend them with the science-based practices, and observe the results throughout the growing season. FAO is documenting the successful pollinator-friendly practices, and compiling a set of tools and best management practices that can be applied to pollinator conservation efforts worldwide. The solutions are rather obvious – modify intensive systems, reduce pesticides and introduce diversity through cover crops, crop rotations and hedgerows. The goal is to find ways to support pollinators without reducing yields. Apple growers in India traditionally hung flower bouquets in their apple trees to simplify the cross pollination essential for apples to produce fruit. But FAO and its national partners discovered that by careful placement, the bouquets also enticed small black flies – not just bees – to pollinate their trees if the trees flowered when it was too cold for bees. Until then, the farmers had considered the flies to be pests and sprayed to control them. Farmers in Ghana now plant cassava rows around their chili pepper fields to increase pollination. Bees do not like chili peppers, but FAO found that bees will come to the fields for the nectar-rich cassava flowers and while there, will also pollinate the chilies. Brazil’s regulation that farmers must keep a portion of their farmland in its natural forested state in order to slow tropical deforestation takes land out of production. But FAO and its national partners have shown farmers that the forest provides habitat to pollinators that, in turn, increase the production of crops, such as canola. The increase in productivity has been so impressive that private sector processors of canola seeds are now working with the FAO project personnel to train their technicians and canola farmers in pollination. The FAO Global Pollination Project is sharing its findings across countries and regions, allowing more and more farmers and countries access to the knowledge about importance of pollination – knowledge that will eventually inform the policy to ensure that pollinators are protected and can continue to do their job – supporting the world’s agricultural crops.

News Article | April 6, 2017

Virtually all farms could significantly cut their pesticide use while still producing as much food, according to a major new study. The research also shows chemical treatments could be cut without affecting farm profits on over three-quarters of farms. The scientists said that many farmers wanted to reduce pesticide use, partly due to concerns for their own health. But farmers do not have good access to information on alternatives, the researchers said, because much of their advice comes from representatives of companies that sell both seeds and pesticides. The work presents a serious challenge to the billion-dollar pesticide industry, which has long argued its products are vital to food production, especially with the world population set to grow to nine billion people by 2050. However, this was dismissed as a “myth” in March by UN food and pollution experts, who said pesticides cause “catastrophic impacts on the environment and human health” and accused pesticide manufacturers of a “systematic denial of harms”. In a further blow, the Guardian revealed in March that Europe is poised to ban the world’s most widely used insecticides from all fields. The new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more. The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production. The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types. “It is striking,” said Nicolas Munier-Jolain, at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research, and one of the team who conducted the new study. He said the results show that pesticide reduction is possible today for most arable farmers, without losing money: “Our results are quite consistent with the UN [myth] report.” “But [the research] does not mean pesticides are useless or inefficient,” he said. The farmers using low levels of chemicals employ other methods to control pests, he said, such as rotating crops, mechanical weeding, using resistant varieties and carefully managing sowing dates and fertiliser use. “It’s a big change, but not a revolution,” he said. “If you want real reduction in pesticide use, give the farmers the information about how to replace them,” said Munier-Jolain. “This is absolutely not the case at the moment. A large proportion of advice is provided by organisations that are both selling the pesticides and collecting the crops. I am not sure the main concern of these organisations is to reduce the amount of pesticide used.” Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, said: “While we have a system where farmers are advised by agronomists, most of whom work on commission for agrochemical companies, then inevitably pesticides will be massively overused. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers.” “Despite evidence that much pesticide use is unnecessary and a big European Union initiative to encourage sustainable use, farming continues to be dominated by pesticide use,” said Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife. France’s deadline for a 50% cut in pesticide use was meant to be 2018 but has been postponed to 2025, with use actually rising not falling. The UK’s action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides contains no targets or timetable. “Financial advisors and doctors cannot profit from their advice to individuals and it is time that this market failure was corrected for pesticide sales as well,” Shardlow said. Graeme Taylor, a spokesman for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) which represents pesticide manufacturers, said: “Characterising it as an argument between using more or less is unhelpful as it ignores the reality that any genuine commitment to sustainable agriculture means giving farmers access to a variety of tools. Pesticides are not a panacea, but are one of the most important tools available to the farmer to fight pests and diseases.” He said a recent consultancy report commissioned by the ECPA indicated that French farmers would lose €2bn of grape production without access to certain pesticides. The new research showed that the type of farms most sensitive to cuts in pesticide use are potato and sugar beet farms, because they use high levels of pesticides and are highly profitable. But it showed that most arable farms could cut pesticides by over 40% without losses. The researchers wrote: “The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health.” “Farmers are doing their best to use fewer pesticides,” said Munier-Jolain. “Many are motivated because they are thinking about their own health.” He said that there was a perception among farmers that cutting pesticide use increases the risk of poor harvests, but that those diversifying their crops actually decreased such risks: “They sleep better than the other farmers.”

Cabrera-Bosquet L.,French National Institute for Agricultural Research | Crossa J.,International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center | von Zitzewitz J.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Serret M.D.,University of Barcelona | Luis Araus J.,University of Barcelona
Journal of Integrative Plant Biology | Year: 2012

Genomic selection (GS) and high-throughput phenotyping have recently been captivating the interest of the crop breeding community from both the public and private sectors world-wide. Both approaches promise to revolutionize the prediction of complex traits, including growth, yield and adaptation to stress. Whereas high-throughput phenotyping may help to improve understanding of crop physiology, most powerful techniques for high-throughput field phenotyping are empirical rather than analytical and comparable to genomic selection. Despite the fact that the two methodological approaches represent the extremes of what is understood as the breeding process (phenotype versus genome), they both consider the targeted traits (e.g. grain yield, growth, phenology, plant adaptation to stress) as a black box instead of dissecting them as a set of secondary traits (i.e. physiological) putatively related to the target trait. Both GS and high-throughput phenotyping have in common their empirical approach enabling breeders to use genome profile or phenotype without understanding the underlying biology. This short review discusses the main aspects of both approaches and focuses on the case of genomic selection of maize flowering traits and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and plant spectral reflectance as high-throughput field phenotyping methods for complex traits such as crop growth and yield. © 2012 Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Quintans G.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Banchero G.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Baldi F.,National Institute for Agricultural Research
Animal Production Science | Year: 2010

Nutrition and suckling are largely recognised as the most important factors affecting the postpartum period and consequently the reproductive efficiency of beef cattle. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of body condition score (BCS) and suckling restriction with and without the presence of the calf on milk production, reproductive efficiency and calf performance. Sixty-three crossbred (Angus Hereford) multiparous cows were managed to maintain different BCS at calving and thereafter (low vs moderate; L, n ≤ 31 and M, n ≤ 32). Within each group of BCS (L and M) at week 9 postpartum (66 0.88 days postpartum) cows were assigned to three suckling treatments (ST): (i) suckling ad libitum (S, n ≤ 20); (ii) calves fitted with nose plates during 14 days remaining with their dams (NP, n ≤ 22); and (iii) calves were completely removed from their dams for 14 days, and thereafter returned (CR, n ≤ 21). Milk production was assessed by milking procedure at Day 65 (the day before onset of ST) and every 2022 days until the end of the experiment. Cows were bled via jugular venipuncture every 28 days from Day 98 (Day 0 ≤ calving) until Day 66. From Day 66 cows were bled every 7 days until the end of the mating period (Day 128). Concentrations of progesterone, non-esterified fatty acids and -hydroxybutyrate acid and insulin were measured. Presence of corpus luteum (CL) was recorded and maximum follicle diameter was measured in all cows from the onset of the ST (Day 66) and during the following 4 weeks (until Day 94) in a weekly frequency. At Day 94, more cows (P 0.001) in NP and in CR had CL compared with S cows (68, 57 and 21% for NP, CR and S, respectively). At that time, more cows in M-BCS presented CL than cows in L-BCS (77 vs 25; P 0.0001). Within M-BCS, there were no differences in milk production between ST groups, while L-BCS cows with NP or CR produced less milk than S cows. Calf liveweight at weaning was 159.3 3.1, 150.1 2.9 and 147.0 3.1 kg for S, NP and CR, respectively (P 0.001). Suckling restriction with and without the presence of the calf had similar effects on reproductive performance, milk production and calf growth, while BCS interacted with ST to influence milk production. These results indicate that temporary suckling restriction could be an excellent management tool to increase reproductive performance of cows in moderate condition. © 2010 CSIRO.

Lindstrom K.,University of Helsinki | Murwira M.,Soil Productivity Research Laboratory | Willems A.,Ghent University | Altier N.,National Institute for Agricultural Research
Research in Microbiology | Year: 2010

Symbiotic nitrogen fixation is the main route for sustainable input of nitrogen into ecosystems. Nitrogen fixation in agriculture can be improved by inoculation of legume crops with suitable rhizobia. Knowledge of the biodiversity of rhizobia and of local populations is important for the design of successful inoculation strategies. Soybeans are major nitrogen-fixing crops in many parts of the world. Bradyrhizobial inoculants for soybean are very diverse, yet classification and characterization of strains have long been difficult. Recent genetic characterization methods permit more reliable identification and will improve our knowledge of local populations. Forage legumes form another group of agronomically important legumes. Research and extension policies valorizing rhizobial germplasm diversity and preservation, farmer training for proper inoculant use and legal enforcement of commercial inoculant quality have proved a successful approach to promoting the use of forage legumes while enhancing biological N2 fixation. It is worth noting that taxonomically important strains may not necessarily be important reference strains for other uses such as legume inoculation and genomics due to specialization of the different fields. This article points out both current knowledge and gaps remaining to be filled for further interaction and improvement of a rhizobial commons. © 2010.

Hofte M.,Ghent University | Altier N.,National Institute for Agricultural Research
Research in Microbiology | Year: 2010

The highly diverse genus Pseudomonas contains very effective biocontrol agents that can increase plant growth and improve plant health. Biocontrol characteristics, however, are strain-dependent and cannot be clearly linked to phylogenetic variation. Isolate screening remains essential to find suitable strains, which can be done by testing large local collections for disease suppression and plant-growth promotion exemplified in a case study on forage legumes in Uruguay or by targeted screening for Pseudomonas spp. which produce desirable secondary metabolites, as demonstrated in a case study on cocoyam in Cameroon. In both case studies, access to reference strains from public and private collections was essential for identification, phylogenetic studies and metabolite characterization. © 2010 Elsevier Masson SAS.

Salazar F.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Martinez-Lagos J.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Alfaro M.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Misselbrook T.,Rothamsted Research
Atmospheric Environment | Year: 2012

Agriculture is the largest source of ammonia (NH 3) emission to the atmosphere, deriving mainly from livestock urine and manures, but fertilizer applications to pastures and crops also represent an important source. In Chile, where agriculture and cattle production are important activities (accounting for 4.5% of GDP along with the forestry sector), there are very few published data regarding NH 3 emissions from pasture and crop fertilization. This study aimed to provide the first empirical field data for Chile on N losses due to NH 3 volatilization following urea application to permanent pasture on a volcanic soil and to assess the influence of environmental conditions on emissions. Four field experiments were carried out on a volcanic acid soil using the micrometeorological integrated horizontal flux (IHF) mass balance method. Measurements were made in winter 2005 and 2007, and spring 2007 and 2008 following urea N fertilization to a permanent pasture at a rate equivalent to 100 kg N ha -1. Cumulative NH 3 emissions over the measurement period were 1.4 and 7.7 kg N ha -1 for winter applications, and 12.2 and 26.7 kg N ha -1 for spring dressings. These N losses due to NH 3 volatilization are within the range of emissions reported elsewhere. Consideration of urea application timing in Chile, with regards to weather and soil conditions, could have important consequences on minimising potential N losses via volatilization with associated financial benefits to farmers. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Martinez-Lagos J.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Salazar F.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Alfaro M.,National Institute for Agricultural Research | Misselbrook T.,Rothamsted Research
Atmospheric Environment | Year: 2013

Agriculture is the largest source of ammonia (NH3) emission to the atmosphere. Within the agricultural sector, the application of slurry to grasslands as fertilizer is one of the main emission sources. This is a common practice in southern Chile, where most dairy production systems are grazing-based. In Chile, there are few published data of gaseous emissions following slurry application to grassland. The aim of this study was to evaluate NH3 volatilization following dairy slurry application to a permanent grassland on an Andosol soil. Ammonia volatilization was measured in four field experiments (winters of 2009 and 2011 and early and late springs of 2011) using a micrometeorological mass balance method with passive flux samplers following dairy slurry application at a target rate of 100kg total Nha-1. The accumulated N loss was equivalent to 7, 8, 16 and 21% of the total N applied and 22, 34, 88 and 74% of total ammoniacal nitrogen (TAN) applied for winters 2009 and 2011, and early and late spring 2011, respectively. Ammonia emission rates were high immediately after application and declined rapidly with time, with more than 50% of the total emissions within the first 24h. Losses were highly influenced by environmental conditions, increasing with temperature and lack of rainfall. Taking into consideration the low N losses via leaching and nitrous oxide emissions reported for the study area, results indicate that NH3 volatilization is the main pathway of N loss in fertilized grasslands of southern Chile. However, dairy slurry application could be an important source of nutrients, if applied at a suitable time, rate and using an appropriate technique, and if soil and climate conditions are taken into consideration. This could improve N use efficiency and reduce N losses to the wider environment. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

The national demand on date palm vitroplants has increased during the last decades. Hence, Moroccan needs in this field, till the year 2020, are about 3 million plants. Those plants will be used to rehabilitate palm groves devastated by Bayoud disease as well as to create new palm plantations. To fulfill this plant demand, the use of all available rapid propagation techniques is of great importance. Furthermore, the multiplication of improved genotypes should be privileged in this program. However, most of the genotypes selected for their best fruit quality and their tolerance to Bayoud disease are represented in the nature by single trees and this makes their micropropagation from offshoots very difficult. To overcome this problem, the use of tissues excised from young inflorescences remains the only way for micropropagation and wide diffusion of such genotypes. Plant material is collected from inflorescences at their emergence and then well disinfected before transferring to culture media for vegetative buds initiation. After many cycles of multiplication, complete plantlets can be regenerated and transferred to the greenhouse for acclimatization under controlled conditions. This process has been developed and applied, to date, to micropropagate more than 14 genotypes, and this method can be used as a powerful technique to propagate rare or selected genotypes that have no more offshoots. Plants produced by this technique and transferred to soil started to produce fruits in 2005. No abnormal growth or development was observed on those plants neither in the lab nor in the field. In the present paper, the entire micropropagation process from inflorescence tissues and the main research achievements will be discussed. © ISHS 2013.

News Article | December 16, 2016

The findings in the December 15 edition of the US journal PLOS ONE focused on hundreds of research articles published in international scientific journals. "We found that ties between researchers and the GM crop industry were common, with 40 percent of the articles considered displaying conflicts of interest," said the study. Researchers also found that studies that had a conflict of interest were far more likely to be favorable to GM crop companies than studies that were free of financial interference. The study focused on articles about the efficacy and durability of crops that are modified to be pest resistant with a toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis. Thomas Guillemaud, director of research at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), told AFP that the team originally looked at 672 studies before narrowing down to the pool to 579 that showed clearly whether there was or was not a financial conflict of interest. "Of this total, 404 were American studies and 83 were Chinese," he said. To determine whether there was a conflict, researchers examined the way the studies were financed. Conflicts of interest were defined as studies in which at least one author declared an affiliation to one of the biotech or seed companies, or received funding or payment from them. "The most important point was how we also showed there is a statistical link between the presence of conflicts of interest and a study that comes to a favorable conclusion for GMO crops," Guillemaud said. "When studies had a conflict of interest, this raised the likelihood 49 percent that their conclusions would be favorable to GMO crops." Among the 350 articles without conflicts of interest, 36 percent were favorable to GM crop companies. Among the 229 studies with a conflict of interest, 54 percent were favorable to GM companies. "We thought we would find conflicts of interest, but we did not think we would find so many," Guillemaud said. Explore further: Authors with financial conflicts reporting negative outcomes in major orthopaedic journals

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