With a growing population, there is an ever-increasing need for food production - but it must be sustainable. A huge future challenge is to meet the nutritional needs of humans globally while using resources (including land, water and biodiversity) in a sustainable manner. Increasingly, research indicates that this must be achieved by sustainable, ecological intensification of agriculture rather than by simply increasing synthetic inputs.
The SAFE Hub came together to address this challenge, by forming a consortium of global researchers with expertise in weed, pest and disease control, pollination services, capacity development and policy. Formed by researchers from institutions in the UK, and across the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America), it seeks to use research, training and policy to develop and implement sustainable methods of growing crops key to human health and nutrition.
The end of March brings this phase of the Darwin-funded element of the project to a close. However, the McKnight activities will continue, the PhD students have around a year of their scholarships remaining, and two new MSc students, Aurea and Juliana, will be starting new projects shortly.
In order to evaluate the success of the project and share lessons for future improvement, a project closing meeting was held 12th-14th March in Arusha. Most project partners attended, including Prof Phil Stevenson, Prof Geoff Gurr, Dr Ernest Mbega, Dr Sarah Arnold, Yolice Tembo, Julie Tumbo, and students Prisila Mkenda, Silvanus Mringi, Ancila Karani, Martin Mkindi, Angela Mkindi and new students Aurea and Juliana. Elisante Philemon was sharing his work at a difference conference in Uganda, so joined via Skype.
Some of the highlights of the meeting were the volume of biodiversity data available to continue to analyse, and the measurable changes in farmers' awareness of beneficial insects and sustainable pest management that has occurred during the project timeline.
Prisila Mkenda speaks to the group about data on farmer behaviour, collected using a novel ICT tool.
Dr Sarah Arnold attended the annual Ento conference 12th-14th September. This year it was hosted by Newcastle University, and the themes included networks and ecosystem services - an ideal fit with the project!
She presented a snapshot of early results from the project, demonstrating how ecological networks can be applied to understand crop pollination and identify key plants in field margins that may support better pollination.
In October 2017, project partners Steve Belmain, Phil Stevenson and student Angela Mkindi travelled to Pemba, in Mozambique, to present at the McKnight Annual Meeting. It was a chance to share the progress, findings and learning outcomes of the field research so far, and particularly a chance for Angela to tell participants about her innovative methods of engaging farmers as increasingly confident and indepdent researchers in their own right, through farmer research networks. This ambitious approach empowers farmers to make evidence-based choices about their farm management.
Steve gave a talk about sustainable pest and disease management in agro-ecosystems.
The McKnight Foundation has also supported production of some beautiful new information videos, aimed at farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa. They introduce the idea of natural enemies of crop pests, and explain how using pesticidal plants instead of synthetic pesticides can support a healthy agricultural ecosystem that allows the maximum pest control potential of on-farm biodiversity to operate in order to protect farmers' crops...sustainably! The video is available in English (global use), Kiswahili (for farmers in Tanzania and Kenya especially) and Chichewa (for farmers in Malawi). View them here!
Prof Steve Belmain and Dr Sarah Arnold visited NM-AIST staff and students 12th-15th March 2017 in order to hold meetings about the progress of various aspects of the project and agree the direction of future work.
It was an excellent chance for the MSc and PhD students to present their work so far and consider workplans in a lively atmosphere.
We also got to visit the field and see the new station trial setups on the NM-AIST on-campus farm/field station. The station trials will allow experimental testing of interventions under controlled conditions.
PhD student Elisante presents preliminary pollinator abundance results.
Angela shows pesticidal plants drying for field trials.
MSc student Silvanus explains his field trial setup, to test how patches of pesticidal plants within fields can affect ecosystems services.
An experimental plot of Tephrosia vogelii, part of Silvanus Mringi's station trials on ecosystems services from pesticidal plant patches.
NM-AIST students and Sarah Arnold.