Recently I had the opportunity to return to my old university – The University of Sheffield – and take part in a networking event for early career researchers in plant physiology. The event was fully booked and attended by people soon to finish their undergraduate degrees, through to those with a good few years of post-doctoral research experience under their belts. Many were carrying out research that would feed directly into improving agriculture, particularly plant breeding. Others were working on more diverse topics such as Arctic browning but accumulating numerous field skills that would be applicable to the agricultural sector.
The 12th August marked this year’s International Youth Day with a theme of Youth Civic Engagement. The aim of the day was to promote civic engagement and participation of youth in politics and public life, so that young people can be empowered and make a full contribution to society, development and peace.
One of my colleagues has just passed me an interesting article entitled UK agronomy skills – a lost generation which she spotted in the 6th June issue of Chemistry & Industry. In this article, the chief executive of the Processors & Growers Research Organization, Salvador Potter highlights the shortage of basic agronomy skills facing the industry. He recalled leaving university 35 years ago with no shortage of job offers from an industry taking food production issues seriously. The large commodity surpluses of the 1980s and politicians taking the view that we can import foodstuffs to meet any shortfall have led to a marginalization of agronomy and a dearth of university courses. I took a quick look at the UCAS website and only one institution (Newcastle University) offers a course on agronomy and only around a dozen offering courses on agriculture. We are facing a situation where the 1960-70s college generation are reaching retirement and are not being replaced with graduates with the necessary skills to man much reduced government funded extension services, linking research and farm practice. These extension services have an important role in interpreting advances in research to formulate practical and effective grower advice and dissemination among growers via training seminars, meetings, bulletins and advice lines.
The food price spikes of recent years have given governments a wakeup call, underlining the fragile nature of the supply network and the tendency for countries to protect their own interests by banning exports or buying up stocks when supplies run short. New technologies such as crop genetics, improved chemicals for crop nutrition and protection, and precision farming offer the greatest opportunities to improve productivity. But in the last decade or so Potter points out that crop yields have decreased across the board for the UK’s commercially grown crops indicating that we are failing to translate research advances into on-farm practice.
If we are to reduce the 30% postharvest losses in developing countries (the aim of CABI’s Plantwise initiative) and counter the 30% thrown away be developed economies, Potter suggests that college courses must readapt to focus on practical and sustainable crop production and equip graduates with communication skills to more effectively pass on this knowledge to the farming community.
This blog is contributed by Dr Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Coordinator of HIFA2015 , the global campaign and email forum focussed on informed healthcare provision in developing countries. We in richer countries take for granted that our healthcare providers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions...
Every person has access to a healthcare provider. (Nearly every person – there are sadly a number of people who are destitute, utterly alone and abandoned by everyone around them.) I use the term ‘healthcare provider’ to mean anyone who is responsible for providing care at any moment, including and especially parents and family caregivers. Even the very poor have access to a healthcare provider.
The problem is, if you are one of the world’s majority poor, the chances are that your healthcare provider will be uninformed. As a result, you are likely to receive ineffective or harmful care, and you may die simply as a result of this care.
You are most likely to die in the home or local community, without seeing a trained health worker. The most high-level healthcare provider present in your final hours and minutes may be your mother, a family caregiver, a traditional healer, a village health worker or perhaps a midlevel health worker. Their decisions will mean the difference between life and death, between your living for another day or becoming a statistic - one of the tens of thousands of children and adults who die prematurely and unnecessarily every day in low-income countries.