The A to Z of soil biodiversity

The soil is the “living, breathing skin of our planet.” It is the basis of food production and essential for clean water, health, greenhouse gas capture and numerous other functions that support life on earth.

Soil biodiversity is intimately connected with all terrestrial life. Thanks to advances in technology and global scientific cooperation, huge strides have been made in our understanding of the dazzling diversity of life forms beneath our feet; and especially that of microscopic bacteria, fungi, and nematodes that are invisible to the naked eye. Read more…

While raising crop yields, African thorn tree Faidherbia albida captures large amounts of carbon

A large, old Faidherbia albida tree with a metre-plus diameter stored the equivalent of the CO2 emitted by 8 cars over one year. These useful trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, a critical part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

People in many areas of Africa gain numerous benefits from the leaves, branches and trunks of the dryland thorn tree Faidherbia albida. Read more. . .

Translate research into action for inclusive development, say GCARD3 conference speakers

The third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) opened on with a clarion call to translate research results into usable innovations. This way, research will better serve both African countries’ sustainable development aspirations and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

GCARD3 opening ceremony. Photo by IISD/Kiara Worth
GCARD3 opening ceremony. Photo by IISD/Kiara Worth

Among the most pressing issues is conquering hunger and malnutrition while sustaining environmental health. The conference’s theme: ‘No One Left Behind; Agri–food Innovation and Research for a Sustainable World,’ also points to the need for inclusive development. Read more..

An artist with something to say about ‘the teachers’ cry’, courage, and Kenyans’ bumbling sense of art: Meet Dickens Otieno, Kenya’s metal weaver par excellence

Mixed media artist Dickens Otieno has been at the Manjano Visual Arts Exhibition in Nairobi March- April 2016.

We talked metal school uniforms, books that don’t open, and why Kenyans are always peering into art pieces looking for a picture they can hold on to. The Godown Arts Centre artist had some good advice for educators and for people too timid to pursue their dream.

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Living textiles

How human hands can turn a cotton boll or silk cocoon into thread, and then turn that thread into cloth is, to me, the epitome of ingenuity. And I’m intrigued by hand-decoration and embellishment of cloth, which breathes life into fabric and turns it into a work of art and beauty.

As a huge fan of handcrafted textiles, I’ve been consciously and unconsciously collecting functional and decorative pieces for nearly two decades.

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For more and better-quality food production, take care of pollinators

The evidence is clear: For big gains in crop production, our landscapes must become more hospitable to some of the planet’s littlest creatures— its pollinators.

bee-coffee
Coffee pollination by carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.). Photo by Dino Martins

Bees, birds, butterflies, moths and some small mammals transfer pollen from flower to flower, causing fruit to set. This environmental service of pollinators is what secures the harvest of a huge proportion of the world’s food production.

At an invited talk at the Nairobi headquarters of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) on 8 January 2016, Kenyan naturalist and entomologist Dino Martins, the Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre and Chair of the Insect Committee of Nature Kenya, delved into the intimate links between the world’s food security and pollination. Read more. ..

Immense benefits from agroforestry in rural Cameroon

Yaounde — Commercial agriculture has received a major boost and the impact of climate change minimised in Cameroon thanks to the adoption of agroforestry techniques by thousands of farmers.

Seedlings of traditionally important food trees in Louis-Marie Atangana’s home nursery in Nkenlikok, Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF
Seedlings of traditionally important food trees in Louis-Marie Atangana’s home nursery in Nkenlikok, Cameroon. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

The World Agroforestry Centre introduced agroforestry methods to rural farmers in the central African country some 20 years ago.

Also known as agro-sylviculture, it a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. These techniques aim to ensure smallholder households increase their use of trees in agricultural landscapes to improve food security, nutrition, income, health, shelter, social cohesion, energy resources and environmental sustainability. Read more. .

A hatbox of beauty, joy and healing: Meet Lali Heath, Kenya’s own couture milliner

Through her stunning creations, Lali Heath is bringing her lucky customers the smile and self-confidence that comes from crowning your look with a beautiful, impeccably crafted hat. And Lali herself is experiencing the power of handcraft to calm a distressed mind.

I caught up with Lali, exhibiting under her label, Lali Heath Millinery, at a Christmas craft fair in Nairobi last December.

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Data revolution needs decision science for sustainable development

Never in the history of humankind has so much data been available; from research and surveillance data to crowd-sourced and citizen data, a staggering and growing number of digital datasets are

available, often free online.

Photo from India by Amber Peterman, IFPRI. See original
Photo from India by Amber Peterman, IFPRI. See original

But according to World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) research leader Dr Keith Shepherd, for this surfeit of data to serve sustainable development, robotic data mining to will not do; the data must be translated—using decision science—into useful knowledge that helps guide decision making, from the farm to policy-making levels.

Decision science can also be used to decide what type and how much data to collect to answer particular questions, thus saving time and resources. Read more. .

Crocheting cartridges: Dinah Cele weaves up one beautiful solution to e-waste

Meet Dinah Sibongile Cele, an unassuming Durbanite who is upcycling used printer tape into useful and decorative homewares and accessories.

Dinah never set out to be an eco-warrior. But when she was widowed at age 40, in 1998, she had to find a job—and quick— to sustain her two school-going daughters. She took up the first job she could find, working as a printing assistant at a small printing firm in Durban.

The company, where she still works, was generating a good amount of waste printer cartridges, and one day Dinah looked inside one.

She was intrigued by what she saw: perfect rolls of multicolored tape lay inside. The colours were vibrant; CMYK—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—and the tape was coiled neatly in an endlessly repetitive pattern. She touched it and tugged at it.

“It could bend like this and like that. This thing is the same as plastic!” thought Dinah.

She asked her employer if she could take some of that tape home, and they were happy to oblige.

Now Dinah’s mother had always woven and crocheted. Basketry is famous among her tribe, the Zulu people of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Zulu women make their beautiful baskets mostly from the Ilala palm and the bark of ncebe, a wild banana. The baskets’ geometric patterns have meanings, with masculine and feminine symbols that can tell a story to the trained eye. These baskets have a super-tight weave, and besides storing and carrying grain, they are used to carry liquids like umkhomboti, a traditional Zulu beer.

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