‘Cracking the code’ of woody weed spread with machine-learnt algorithms

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Machine learning algorithms have their origins in early ‘computers’ such as the German WW2 ciphering Enigma machine

A scientific tool which has its principles in early ‘computers’ such as the German WW2 Enigma machine – used to convey secret commercial, diplomatic and military communication – is helping to map the fractional cover of the woody weed Prosopis juliflora across the Afar Region of Ethiopia.

PhD Candidate Hailu Shiferaw from Addis Ababa University, who is being supervised by CABI’s Dr Urs Schaffner, Professor Woldeamlak Bewket (AAU) and Dr Sandra Eckert (Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern), has compared the performances of five Machine Learning Algorithms (MLAs) to test their ability at mapping the fractional cover/abundance and distribution of Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPS) – particularly Prosopis which has already devastated an area equivalent to half of neighbouring Djibouti.

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“I was and still am motivated by discoveries and surprises that come with science”

 

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Lucy Karanja: the reward for being ‘best in science’ at school was a first aid course with St John Ambulance

To mark the forthcoming UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February 2019), we speak to some of CABI’s women working in science. In this blog Lucy Karanja, a Content Manager, reveals the motivation and inspiration behind her career in science communications and says ‘women are all round scientists naturally’. 

What motivated you to work in science and development?

My parents were business people and I did not know anybody in our village who was a scientist. I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up because I admired the way pupils respected teachers. In class 8, we were given a multiple choice science quiz and guess what? I miraculously got 18 out of 20. There were four boys and I was the only girl.

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Can a ‘diet’ of digital data really help feed the world?

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Last week (29 January 2019) CABI was awarded a $1.49 million grant from the Gates Foundation to work with them to help increase food security in India and Ethiopia through better access to data on soil health, agronomy and fertilizers.  In this blog Communications Manager Wayne Coles looks at whether or not the use of digital data in agriculture can have a real impact on our need to feed the world….

The facts are clear; if we’re to stand any chance of feeding a global population of around 9.1 billion by 2050 we must make better use of ‘digital data’ to unlock the potential of more than 570 million smallholder farmers around the world.

The complexity of Africa’s growing food problem, which is exacerbated by social and climatic factors, should not be underestimated. Its population, for example, will exceed 42 million a year over the next three decades while a rise in extreme weather events will wreak havoc on farming communities already grappling with threats to crop yields from a range of agricultural pests and diseases.

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Cabbage stem flea beetle and aphids are the curse of every farmer, but CABI and CHAP may have a solution

 

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Crop pest: The cabbage stem flea beetle – Psylliodes chrysocephalus

By 2050 there could be as many as 10 billion mouths to feed across the world. This is now a much-repeated fact, as is the growing demand for sustainable produce with reduced chemical inputs and environmental impact. In short, there is a need to produce more and more food, with fewer and fewer inputs to protect the environment, increase productivity and minimise costs.

This is where CHAP (Crop Health and Protection), based at Sand Hutton near York, one of the Government’s four Agri-Tech Centres, supported by Innovate UK, comes in. It has been charged with the task of finding scientific and technological solutions to the practical problems facing growers. Working with its 12 Partners, one of which is CABI working from its laboratories based in Egham in Surrey, its priority is to develop and trial solutions to transform crop production so that they can be brought to market on a large scale.

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Tuning into radio to dispel myths

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By Amzath Fassassi – SciDev.Net’s regional coordinator for sub-Saharan Africa French, and the driving force behind Science et Développement.

In Africa, many communities are still unaware of the key principles of science, whether they relate to diseases or natural phenomena.

Until the beginning of the 1980s, in the slums of my native Benin, I remember that when lightning, hitherto considered a manifestation of the wrath of Heviosso, the god of thunder, fell on residential areas, voodoo worshipers travelled in procession to retrieve the bodies of the victims, to atone for their sins.

Victims of lightning were indeed considered as sinners.

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The time is ripe for climate adaptation in agriculture

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By Janny Vos, Director of Strategic Partnerships at CABI

I recently attended the launch of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) in The Hague where the words of the CEO of the World Bank – Kristalina Georgieva – resonated strongly with my work as part of an organisation that aims to improve people’s lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. In a nutshell, it’s all about working together as we aim to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ms Georgieva said, “What is new is the scope, the speed and the scale at which we must work to adapt to climate change. And it is cost effective as the returns on investments will be high.” CABI’s primary interests are helping farmers to grow more and lose less to agricultural pests and diseases, and the ‘returns on investments’ are indeed ‘high’ – they’re ultimately about securing food and nutrition security for the world’s growing population.

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Fertilizer Optimization Tool helps return son to teacher training school

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FOT pays off for Charles Wafula who is now able to help his son continue teacher training

By Monica Kansiime, Scientist Seed Systems, based at CABI in Nairobi, Kenya

In a previous blog post I outlined how the Fertilizer Optimization Tool (FOT) is paying dividends for farmers – helping them, in some cases, to report a seven-fold increase in their yields.

Charles Wafula is a farmer and resident of Buhehe in Uganda who is just one example of how FOT is helping to increase his fortunes and benefit his family – in particular he is now able to pay his son’s fees so he can continue to train as a school teacher.

Approaching Mr Wafula’s home, you get a feeling of a committed farmer. I find him sitting in his compound with various sized fruit trees providing shade and a cool ambiance. He doesn’t not take long after a brief introduction to tell me his success story of utilising FOT.

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