Hexbyte Glen Cove COVID-19 leads to African agricultural innovation

Hexbyte Glen Cove

by The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

A bean market in Kampala, Uganda. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

In a paper published in Advances in Food Security and Sustainability, researchers found that farmers in East Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) were able to better adapt to the impact of COVID-19 than those in the Southern African countries of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

These , the researchers said, could largely be explained by the difference in arrival times of lock-down measures, access and adoption of technology and cultural differences in adapting to the new situation.

Timing of the pandemic

Eileen Bogweh Nchanji, a gender specialist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and a co-author of the paper, said that when COVID-19 lockdowns started in southern Africa, it happened right in the middle of the harvest of legumes like beans, a key crop for food security and livelihoods.

“If you had to go out to sell your crops, nobody wanted to do the transport and a lot of people lost their crops,” she said, adding that East Africa was more fortunate in that lockdowns hit at a more advantageous part of the crop cycle, and that relatives returning from the cities were available as labor.

Lutomia Kweyu, a researcher at the Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization in  Nairobi, Kenya, and another co-author of the paper, said that before the pandemic, the Sub-saharan food systems were very fragile and again, the timing was a big factor.

“We were dependent on imports and inputs, mostly from Asia and Europe… then the pandemic struck Asia, a big source of fertilizer and ,” he said, adding that this led to large disruptions in the supply chains of those farming inputs. 

Changes in farmer behavior

Kweyu explained that particularly in East African countries like Kenya, there was a large increase in the plot size of urban farms.

“Urban Farmers wanted to have access to healthy and safe food, so they increased plot sizes in the urban areas, to increase the production,” he said.

“Meat was so expensive, many people began to grow and consume legumes,” he said, “It was a blend of those who had gardens before and others who hadn’t farmed before but were now stuck at home and wanted to reduce their trips to the markets and their overall food budget.”

Kweyu said more farmers in East Africa were able to access government support, in comparison to southern African countries and supply chains were more certain.

“The huge difference was the ability of the east Africans to process their raw materials into value-added products,” he said, “In Kenya particularly, the milk processing capacity is higher, the milk trucks were declared essential services and, in the dairy-producing regions, processing of milk into butter and yogurt increased substantially at the co-op level.”

As the pandemic wore on, farmers in eastern and southern Africa also found feed and fertilizer solutions closer to home.

Mobile phone apps to the rescue

One of the more surprising findings from the pandemic, said Nchanji (who is originally from Cameroon), was the rapid adoption of communication apps to facilitate new connections between farmers and buyers.

According to Nchanji, in general, the challenges posed by lockdowns and supply chain disruption, led to farmers reassessing their activities.

“They couldn’t do anything for the season, but then they realized they had more time on the farm, so they started think about what else they could grow and how to sell more efficiently,” she said, adding that digital platforms were able to bring together farmers and aggregators (traders who put together big lots of produce for sale).

“In Kenya, for example, someone will now go on to a WhatsApp group and say, I have this quantity of beans to sell, in this district and then an aggregator or wholesale buyer will be able to get in contact with them directly instead of having to make stops at various farms,” Nchanji said.

Nchanji said however that the prices were generally lower than the old market price, as biosecurity measures and scarcity meant climbing transport costs.

“The WhatsApp group for the bean farmers actually got so big, we’ve had to move to Telegram,” she said.

More information:
Sustainability of the agri-food supply chain amidst the pandemic: Diversification, local input production, and consumer behavior, Advances in Food Security and Sustainability, DOI: 10.1016/bs.af2s.2021.07.003 , www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S2452263521000033

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The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture


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Hexbyte Glen Cove Biochar from agricultural waste products can adsorb contaminants in wastewater

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Lead researcher Marlena Ndoun, a doctoral student in Penn State’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, samples water in central Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek for emerging contaminants. Credit: Pennsylvania State University

Biochar—a charcoal-like substance made primarily from agricultural waste products—holds promise for removing emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals from treated wastewater.

That’s the conclusion of a team of researchers that conducted a novel study that evaluated and compared the ability of derived from two common leftover agricultural materials—cotton gin and guayule bagasse—to adsorb three common pharmaceutical compounds from an aqueous solution. In adsorption, one material, like a pharmaceutical compound, sticks to the surface of another, like the solid biochar particle. Conversely, in absorption, one material is taken internally into another; for example, a sponge absorbs water.

Guayule, a shrub that grows in the arid Southwest, provided the waste for one of the biochars tested in the research. More properly called Parthenium argentatum, it has been cultivated as a source of rubber and latex. The plant is chopped to the ground and its branches mashed up to extract the latex. The dry, pulpy, fibrous residue that remains after stalks are crushed to extract the latex is called bagasse.

The results are important, according to researcher Herschel Elliott, Penn State professor of agricultural and biological engineering, College of Agricultural Sciences, because they demonstrate the potential for biochar made from plentiful agricultural wastes—that otherwise must be disposed of—to serve as a low-cost additional treatment for reducing in treated wastewater used for irrigation.

“Most are currently not equipped to remove emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, and if those toxic compounds can be removed by biochars, then wastewater can be recycled in irrigation systems,” he said. “That beneficial reuse is critical in regions such as the U.S. Southwest, where a lack of water hinders crop production.”

The pharmaceutical compounds used in the study to test whether the biochars would adsorb them from aqueous solution were: sulfapyridine, an antibacterial medication no longer prescribed for treatment of infections in humans but commonly used in veterinary medicine; docusate, widely used in medicines as a laxative and stool softener; and erythromycin, an antibiotic used to treat infections and acne.

The results, published today (Nov. 16) in Biochar, suggest biochars made from agricultural waste materials could act as effective adsorbents to remove pharmaceuticals from prior to irrigation. However, the biochar derived from cotton gin waste was much more efficient.

In the research, it adsorbed 98% of the docusate, 74% of the erythromycin and 70% of the sulfapyridine in aqueous solution. By comparison, the biochar derived from guayule bagasse adsorbed 50% of the docusate, 50% of the erythromycin and just 5% of the sulfapyridine.

The research revealed that a temperature increase, from about 650 to about 1,300 degrees F in the oxygen-free pyrolysis process used to convert the agricultural waste materials to biochars, resulted in a greatly enhanced capacity to adsorb the pharmaceutical compounds.

“The most innovative part about the research was the use of the guayule bagasse because there have been no previous studies on using that material to produce biochar for the removal of emerging contaminants,” said lead researcher Marlene Ndoun, a doctoral student in Penn State’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. “Same for cotton gin waste—research has been done on potential ways to remove other contaminants, but this is the first study to use cotton gin waste specifically to remove pharmaceuticals from water.”

For Ndoun, the research is more than theoretical. She said she wants to scale up the technology and make a difference in the world. Because cotton gin waste is widely available, even in the poorest regions, she believes it holds promise as a source of biochar to decontaminate water.

“I am originally from Cameroon, and the reason I’m even here is because I’m looking for ways to filter water in resource-limited communities, such as where I grew up,” she said. “We think if this could be scaled up, it would be ideal for use in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where people don’t have access to sophisticated equipment to purify their water.”

The next step, Ndoun explained, would be to develop a mixture of biochar material capable of adsorbing a wide range of contaminants from water.

“Beyond removing emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, I am interested in blending biochar materials so that we have low-cost filters able to remove the typical contaminants we find in , such as bacteria and organic matter,” said Ndoun.

More information:
Marlene C. Ndoun et al, Adsorption of pharmaceuticals from aqueous solutions using biochar derived from cotton gin waste and guayule bagasse, Biochar (2020). DOI: 10.1007/s42773-020-00070-2

Biochar from agricultural waste products can adsorb contaminants in wastewater (2020, November 16)
retrieved 17 November 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-biochar-agricultural-products-adsorb-contaminants.html