CABI warns of rapid spread of crop-devastating fall armyworm across Asia

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Scientists discuss various plant diseases with local farmers as they attend ‘plant clinics’ in India. Photo: CABI

CABI scientists have today warned of the impending rapid spread of the crop-devastating pest, fall armyworm, across Asia following its arrival in India, with major crop losses expected unless urgent action is taken. The warning comes following a pest alert published this week by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on the website of one of its bureaux, NBAIR, confirming the discovery of fall armyworm in the southern state of Karnataka. CABI scientists warned Asia was at risk from fall armyworm following the pest’s rapid spread across Africa in 2017.

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Pilgrimage and Peace-building

 by Ian McIntosh

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It was Aboriginal Australia and the spiritual traditions of the first peoples that introduced me to the world of religious pilgrimage. Over many years, beginning in the early 1980s, I would join the Aborigines of northern Australia on journeys to sacred sites to learn about their timeless mysteries through song, dance, folklore and art. It was this experience that was also my entry point to peace studies, and in particular, the study of truth and reconciliation – making amends for historical injustices.

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Air pollution, can we reduce the impact of cars on urban air quality?

Air pollution in Delhi

Air pollution in Delhi

In January 2016, Delhi, India, improved air quality on its streets when it conducted a 2-week air pollution reduction experiment, with private cars allowed on the streets only on alternate days, depending on license plate numbers.   The idea is not new and has been tried elsewhere (Paris and Rome) but I guess its novelty (“who’d have thought” brigade) to the USA explained why it made The New York Times!

Last year, it was all headlines about Bejing [China] and the air quality citizens had to deal with. However it would seem that actually Beijing’s levels of PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size), a measure of air quality, decreased by 40% from 2000 to 2013, whereas Delhi's PM10 levels have increased 47% from 2000 to 2011.

Delhi's PM10 levels are nearly twice as much as in Beijing, and it has the worst PM 2.5 levels of 1600 cities in the world. Thus the need for the license plate experiment. In a BBC article, you can read more about the reasons “Why Delhi is losing its clean air war” and discover the varied & innovative measures China has taken to ameliorate motor car use.

No doubt spurred on by Delhi’s experiment, a health journalist in Bangladesh alerted the HIFA forum to the equally bad situation in India’s neighbour, Bangladesh.

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Dengue situation in a Southern Indian state (Andhra Pradesh) – Gaps and opportunities in Community Awareness

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Photo: WHO/J.Gusmao. Used tyes are an ideal habitat and breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying dengue

Our guestblogger is Dr Manoj Aravind, a researcher in Community Medicine, Hyderabad, India and member of the health information forum HIFA2015.  Under World Health Day 2014's theme "Small bite, big threat" with its goal of better protection against vector-borne diseases, he describes the case for community action against dengue in his home state of Andras Pradesh. He can be contacted directly by email: aravindbm@gmail.com

Dengue is the fastest growing vector-borne disease (VBD) worldwide, and Andhra Pradesh (a Southern Indian state) is no exception. Here, the cases of dengue reported have been steadily rising from 313 in 2008 to 2299 in 2012. The issue of missed cases due to the partial reporting of dengue positive cases by private hospitals and clinics, which are the most commonly used heathcare facilities in our state, make us sceptical of the true burden of this potentially deadly disease. Having a tropical climate, with increasing urbanization, mostly unplanned, and not much “people participation” in health issues increases our cause for concern.1

Mosquitoes are the most common insects today that city dwellers encounter and one species, Aedes aegypti,  are the vector for dengue, transmitting the disease to people via their bite: they are day-biting and breed in clean water collected inside and around houses, especially in urban areas.2 As dengue does not have vaccine or cure, the emphasis is on prevention. The World Health Organization is using this year's World Health Day to build awareness about VBDs and reinforce the need for community empowerment in terms of protecting against these small creatures which are a huge threat to the health of the entire community.3 Andhra Pradesh’s state health machinery is using this opportunity to reach out & empower different stakeholders with effective communication and information.

Awareness of people regarding dengue

When there is no biological vaccine for a disease, knowledge of how this disease spreads and how to prevent this becomes very important. It may then be apt to say that health education leading to healthy behaviours acts as a social vaccine.

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NICE people lend a helping hand

Wee boy helpinghand2

“Nice” is not a word often used in scientific research and when it appears in the UK media, it’s now associated with NICE, National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence.

More often than not this government organisation makes headlines with bad news: the press reports quickly when a drug is not approved for general use by the NHS. Occasionally the news concerns a drug approval, after a long campaign by an individual and their family.

So attending the Global Health 2011 at the BMA, London, made a very NICE change.  It was an eye-opener to see that an offshoot of NICE, “NICE International”, is making a real positive difference to health systems in many countries.

Funded solely by their client countries and international donors (World Bank, DFID and IADB, to name a few), NICE International has sent its adviser teams into Latin America, China, Georgia and India to improve clinical practice  and help them develop relevant guidelines. These countries may even set up their very own NICE organisation.

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Recent developments in the world of biofuels

Water hyacinth mat on river Opinions on the use of crops for biofuel and bioenergy continue to be polarized – are they a ‘good thing’ or not? When are they a ‘good thing’? Who benefits?

How do you measure the impacts and their interactions at a local, national and international level on food security, land resources, water, greenhouse gas emissions, energy security, poverty, social development, sustainability…and try to remain impartial and objective?

The Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework developed by FAO aims to address these issues by providing an analytical framework and set of tools which can be used to measure these impacts. Using a step-by-step methodology, the goal is to help policymakers make informed decisions on whether development of bioenergy is a viable option for their country and identify suitable policies that will maximize benefits and minimize risks.

Three separate reports describe the implementation of the framework in Peru, Tanzania and Thailand, with suggestions for suitable options for each country.

Another source of information is Recent developments in the world of biofuels, a critical analysis by CABI scientists of the latest research on the potential and realities of growing and processing jatropha, algae and biomass for biofuels or bioenergy – see Biofuels Information Exchange.

Land use and poverty alleviation issues in Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, India, China and Brazil are discussed as well as research into using problematic invasive aquatic weeds (water hyacinth – pictured above – is a favourite) for bioenergy. The pros and cons of algal biofuels, and the latest technology for concentrating biomass energy into a more energy-dense form which makes transport to a processing plant more feasible are discussed, and more…

BIE is an impartial site for exchanging information on biofuels research – the exchange on pests of jatropha has generated the longest running discussion over the last 2 years – and the site provides open access to documents on biofuels, including the peer-reviewed Land Use Change: Science and Policy Review (copublished with Hart Energy Consulting) and abstracts of the latest research on biofuels from the CAB Abstracts database.

For a comprehensive resource of published information on research into man’s impact on the environment see CABI’s Environmental Impact which has a special section on biofuels research information – abstracts, books, book chapters, reports, reviews.

Biofuels: a public health hazard?

Jatropha curcas

Jatropha curcas, image courtesy of Biofuels Information Exchange

It has come to my attention that Jatropha curcas (physic nut or purging nut) is being pushed in India as a biofuel crop (for oil) and that there is now an emerging public health problem there due to accidental poisoning of children.

An Indian member of the listserv HIFA2015 to which I belong, Pankaj Oudhia, reported increased hospitalisations of children across the nation during the Jatropha fruiting season in 2010. The seeds are tasty but it only takes 3 or 4 seeds and you end up in hospital.  Five children died. Cultivated in fields as the biofuel crop, he also reported it was deliberately planted in schools. 

Here at CABI, our scientists, projects and information specialists have much to offer on the topic of biofuels and in 2008 we launched the Biofuels Information Exchange. So I went straight there to see if they had discussed Jatropha in their Forum, which they had (see “Is jatropha really the 'miracle' biofuel crop that some profess it to be?” from Carole Ellison).

AS a biofuel crop its in its infancy and has many downsides, not least on food security & the fact that you can’t use the husks for feed.  One of the reasons it was even considered was that as a weed (originating in South America) it was thought likely to be easy & cheap to cultivate. Turns out to make it productive you do have to go heavy on the fertiliser (expensive) and it also can harbour a mosaic virus. Only in passing was it pointed out that the seeds were poisonous and then only with reference to its use for animal feed.

One of the issues raised in this HIFA2015 communication was the lack of knowledge in the local communities about the poisonous nature of the seeds, so that parents could not forewarn their children.  And obviously the authorities had no idea otherwise they’d not have planted them in schools!

Definitely a lack of communication between botanists, agriculturalists, governments and medics when it comes to people’s health.

Let’s not get complacent here in Europe. WE all need reminding which plants are poisonous or irritating in gardens and in the hedgerows. Then we should tell children not to eat or touch them. Just because a bird is eating a juicy red berry does not make it edible for humans or even your pet dog.

Knowing a traditional name helps even us….deadly nightshade is a dead give-away isn’t it?

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