Daily Archives: June 12, 2017

Water and Sanitation on Lesotho Highlands Water Project briefing session

Media statement 2 on the LHDA briefing sessionThe twin needs of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa (RSA) determined the process for the conception of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).The dual needs referred to speak to th...

Condolences for Nzimande’s family

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma has extended his condolences to the Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and his family on the sad passing of his mother, Nozipho Nzimande.The Presidency says the Minister's mother passed on, on Sunday e...

Stable Nitrogen Isotope Helps Scientists Optimize Water, Fertilizer Use

Naypidaw, Myanmar and Gabarone, Botswana � Experts in a growing number of countries are using a nuclear technique to help farmers increase crop yields, optimize fertilizer use and evaluate varieties of rice, cereals and vegetables for their efficiency in making the best use of fertilizers and adapt agriculture practices to changing climate conditions.

Research has shown that less than 40% of the fertilizer applied globally is taken up by crops, while the remaining 60% is either lost to the atmosphere or to groundwater, or is left in the soil in a form that cannot be taken up by the crop.

We have cut fertilizer use by around a quarter on the half-acre plot where I tried the new rice variety, said farmer U Kyaw Lay, from the central village of Thar Yar Su, Myanmar. This represents an important saving for me and my family. In the next growing season, Lay said, he will devote more of his land to this particular rice variety, which he said was also tastier than the kind traditionally used.

Lay and 20 fellow farmers, who agreed to participate in testing best practices using the varieties, received seeds from the country's Department of Agricultural Research, which experimented with 106 existing varieties of rice and identified six that use nitrogen-based fertilizers most efficiently. This means that less fertilizer is needed for their growth, said Su Su Win, Director of the Soil Science, Water Utilization and Agricultural Engineering Division. Researchers have recommended varieties for use in Myanmar's various regions, including marginal lands, typically owned by poorer farmers, as well as in areas where changing climate conditions have led to a reduction in yields of traditional varieties.

Nitrogen plays an important role in plant growth and photosynthesis, the process through which plants convert energy from sunlight into chemical energy. Nitrogen is often added to soil in the form of fertilizer. Using fertilizers labelled with nitrogen-15 (15N) stable isotopes � an atom with an extra neutron compared with 'normal' nitrogen � scientists can track the isotopes and determine how effectively the crops are taking up the fertilizer. The technique also helps determine the optimal amount of fertilizer to use: after the crop has reached saturation with nitrogen, the remaining nitrogen remains in the soil and is prone to leaching (see graph).

Finding nutrient-efficient and high-yielding rice

Su Win and her team used the nitrogen-15 isotopic technique, with support from the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to determine the nitrogen uptake of different kinds of rice.

Rice is the most important crop in Myanmar and important for both food security and industrial development, Su Win said. Many of the varieties traditionally used in the country are so-called fertilizer-responsive high-yielding varieties � crops that have a high yield only when supported by fertilizers � but farmers often cannot afford fertilizers, so the yield and farmers' earnings remain poor. With the help of the nutrient-efficient new varieties now identified, farmers will have access to crops that have a higher yield without excessive fertilizer use, she said.

Initial results have shown that the judicious application of nitrogen to rice crops led to fertilizer savings of around 30% and reduced the amount of fertilizer lost to the environment by 20%, while also optimizing yield, said Joseph Adu-Gyamfi, a soil fertility specialist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The IAEA and the FAO support the use of this technique around the world, providing assistance through the IAEA technical cooperation programme and acting as a platform for research collaboration through numerous coordinated research projects. Currently, experts from over 100 countries are benefiting from this assistance.

Farmers in Botswana benefit from nitrogen-15 technique

In Botswana, soil scientists are in the earlier stages of using the technique to determine the amount of fertilizer required for green pepper, spinach and other horticultural crops and soils.

Soil types are different all over the world, so we cannot just use results obtained elsewhere, said Kelebonye Bareeleng of the National Soil Laboratory. We need to find the right amount of nitrogen needed by our particular crops.

The experiments are still ongoing but, from the initial results, Bareeleng estimates that between one quarter and one half of the fertilizer used on cereal fields could be wasted. Not only does this represent an unnecessary additional expense for farmers, but the unused nitrates could also spoil groundwater near agricultural areas. For a country like Botswana that relies on underground reservoirs for its drinking water, this is too risky, she said.

In the fledgling horticulture sector, where producers are trying to compete with imports from South Africa, fertilizer represents the highest input cost, so cutting its use significantly has the potential to make the industry much more competitive, Bareeleng said. This may be the key to the development of this sector in Botswana, she said.

Cabbage in Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, results obtained using the nitrogen-15 technique showed that as much as half of the fertilizer applied to cabbage fields was lost to the environment, creating water pollution and food safety problems, Adu-Gyamfi said. As a result of a technical cooperation project with the IAEA, local officials are now taking action and advising farmers on the most efficient use of fertilizers.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

Aid Groups Assist Liberated Chibok Girls

ABUJA � The Nigerian government recently negotiated the release of 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram in 2014. Foreign governments and aid groups have been assisting the young women as they undergo rehabilitation in the Nigerian capital.

One-hundred-and-six liberated Chibok girls remain in the capital under the custody of the Nigerian Ministry of Women Affairs.

The majority were released by Boko Haram during a prisoner swap last month, just more than three years after their kidnapping. Others were freed via negotiations in October. Three of the girls escaped on their own.

The ministry is providing them with skills training, educational classes and psychosocial support.

Women Affairs Minister Aisha Jummai Alhassan spoke at a recent event in Abuja. She said one of the government's main priorities for the freed Chibok girls is to ensure that they return to school, possibly in September.

They are going back to school because they had aspirations. That was why their parents put them in school from where they were abducted. When they stabilize and when they recover, we will still put them back to school, she said.

The government said the girls will not return to their former school in Chibok, which has sparked criticism from activists and the girls' families. But the government says it is protecting the girls and monitoring their rehabilitation, which includes recreational activities, weekly religious programs and classes in biology, math and English. The rehabilitation is expected to last nine months.

Wherever they are, the fact that they are not with the terrorists is considered OK for them, says Allen Manasseh, a member of the Bring Back Our Girls Group.

Manasseh spoke to some of the girls at the rehab center and he told VOA they said they are doing fine. Two of Manasseh's cousins are among the Chibok girls still missing.

Foreign governments and aid groups are helping out in the rehab process.

The Canadian government recently donated dignity kits containing sanitary items and clothes to the freed Chibok girls. They smiled while the kits were handed out, but did not make any statements.

The Chibok Girls are symbolic of a vast humanitarian challenge affecting millions of lives," says Christopher Thornley, the Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria. "This is why Canada has stepped up this year to provide $27 million to U.N. agencies and NGO partners for humanitarian assistance in the northeast. This includes $2 million that we have provided the UNFPA to support the Chibok girls as well as its interventions in the northeast.

The Chibok girls were Boko Haram's largest and most high-profile kidnapping. The militants abducted 276 girls from their dormitories in Chibok in April 2014. More than 100 of the girls are still missing.

The Nigerian government says hostage negotiations with Boko Haram are ongoing.

Source: Voice of America