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Reducing post-harvest losses in South Asia's mango orchards

April 29, 2016

India is responsible for nearly 70% of the world's mango production, but post-harvest losses, due to factors such as poor handling, transport, and processing, can be as high as 35%. In addition, farmers often receive a low price for their crop because of market glut.

To address these issues, scientists from Canada, India, and Sri Lanka have been testing the use of a bio-compound called hexanal—an artificially synthesized version of a natural substance produced by injured plants to reduce post-harvest losses.

Spraying a small concentration of hexanal in mango orchards has been found to delay the ripening of the fruit by an extra three weeks, enabling farmers to earn up to 15% more for their crop.

Once the crop is harvested, hexanal-sprayed mangoes also have a much longer shelf life—up to 26 days in cold storage and 17 days at room temperature. This allows the fruit to be exported to more distant, better paying markets.

Special boxes have also been designed which contain hexanal-impregnated banana fibres; using these to transport the fruit also retains their quality for much longer.

Read the story of change: Reducing post-harvest losses in mango in South Asia​ (PDF, 506 KB).

This document is a part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

New opportunities for aquaculture in Sri Lanka

April 29, 2016

In Sri Lanka, the government is aiming to double fish consumption per capita from 11 to 22 kg per year by the end of 2014 to boost dietary protein levels.

To support this, researchers from Wayamba University, the University of Calgary, and the British Columbia Aquatic Food Resources Society are working with provincial ministries in the country’s North Western and Eastern Provinces to develop production of shrimp and oysters and rearing of fish in seasonal reservoirs.

SMS messaging and a web platform have been developed to provide shrimp farmers with vital production information, such as minimizing disease risks. Ten communities have benefited from a pilot fish rearing project, harvesting an average of 4000 kg of fish from their 10 hectare reservoirs within 6 months.

Development of community mini-nurseries for fish fingerling production is now underway. A further pilot project has worked with women in two coastal communities, training them to rear oysters to a marketable size within 12 months. The oysters are sold to domestic and export markets; further work is now being done to identify and address production risks for oyster culture.

Read the story of change: New opportunities for aquaculture in Sri Lanka (PDF, 411KB).

This document is part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Integrated agriculture enhances farm productivity and livelihoods in agro-biodiversity hotspots

April 29, 2016

In Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu, monocropping of a single, non-edible variety of cassava for the starch industry has resulted in increased disease prevalence, soil erosion, and a loss in local crop diversity, affecting food security and climate resilience.

In response, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the University of Alberta, Canada, have worked with farmers to identify high performing alternative cassava varieties, to test intercropping of cassava with food crops such as black beans and millet, and to organise high quality millet seed production through community seed banks.

Intercropping cassava with black beans resulted in a 23% increase in household income compared to cassava alone, and the establishment of community seed banks has led to the timely availability of quality seeds, minimizing the risk of crop failure and boosting crop productivity.

In Wayanad district, Kerala, farmers have been supported in selecting two varieties of elephant foot yam and in improving their farming practices, thereby increasing their yields by up to 30%. Landless women and marginal farmers have been supported to grow the yams on fallow land, enabling them to earn up to US$210 in 6 months.

Read the story of change: Integrated agriculture enhances farm productivity and livelihoods in agro-biodiversity hotspots​ (PDF, 446KB).

This document is part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Increasing gender equality among small millet farmers in South Asia

April 29, 2016

One reason for the decline in small millet cultivation is the drudgery involved in their processing, a task that traditionally falls to women. The Revalorizing small millets in South Asia (RESMISA) project has had a special focus on women, working to increase their role in research, reduce drudgery, and improve dietary diversity.

The introduction and testing of small farm machineries such as iron plows, threshers, and dehullers (which remove the husk from the millet seed) have significantly reduced the time and labour involved in cultivation and processing the crops.

More than 1,600 women farmers were involved in testing of small millet varieties, thereby learning skills in seed selection, intercropping, line sowing, and fertilizer application. In addition, more than 100,000 people were reached by a program to raise awareness of small millet-based foods, which included recipe training and food fairs.

Small millets have now been included in the midday meals at three schools and 13 childcare centres. 

Read the story of change: Increasing gender equality among small millet farmers in South Asia​ (PDF, 592 KB).

This document is part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Improving women's lives in Cambodia through fish on farms

April 29, 2016

In Cambodia, rural diets typically lack protein and micronutrients, leading to high rates of stunting in children and anemia in women.

Since 1998, Helen Keller International (HKI) has supported women in homestead-level production of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and animal source foods. In 2012, rearing of small and large fish in household ponds was added to the approach, with small fish providing families with key nutrients and large fish providing both food and potential income.

In assessing the impact of these strategies, HKI and the University of British Columbia discovered that families with fishponds were harvesting an average of 2 kg of small fish and 6 kg of large fish per month and reporting much higher fish consumption than other households.

Those with vegetable gardens (with or without fishponds) harvested and consumed more than double the quantity of vegetables compared to non-participating control group households, and 75% of women practising homestead food production reported having money they could spend at their own discretion, compared to just 20% in non-participating households.

Read the story of change: Improving women's lives in Cambodia through fish on farms​ (PDF, 1.27 MB)

This document is part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Small millets, big potential: diverse, nutritious, and climate smart

April 29, 2016

In developing countries, lack of dietary diversity is one of the key factors behind malnutrition and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Small millets, grown as a complement to existing crops, could offer an answer. Performing well in marginal environments, they have superior nutritional properties, including high micronutrient and dietary fibre content, and low glycemic index.

But there has been a drastic decline in the production and consumption of small millets, mainly due to limited productivity, the labour and drudgery involved in their processing, and the negative perceptions of small millets as food for the poor.

In response, farmer-led research, innovative promotional efforts, and inclusion of small millets in public food programs—introduced under the Revalorizing Small Millets in Rainfed Regions of South Asia project—have brought increases in their production and consumption.

Integrated and focused public support is now needed for context-specific production and processing technologies, for effective promotion by the private sector, and for inclusion in government food schemes, to bring back small millets to farms and food baskets.

Policy recommendations from this research are:

  • Include small millets in the Indian public distribution system (PDS) to 10 kg per household per month;
  • Install processing units for dehulling and flourmaking units within a radius of 5 km from villages;
  • Form small millet farmer clusters to produce ready-to-cook grain for shops, rural markets, and supermarkets;
  • Support micro-, small-, and medium-entrepreneurs who produce millet-based foods; and
  • Raise awareness among producers and consumers about millets.

Read the policy brief: Small millets, big potential: diverse, nutritious, and climate smart (PDF, 683 KB).

This document is a part of a Stories of Change series that shares some of the emerging gender outcomes from research supported in Asia by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Reducing liver fluke transmission in northeastern Thailand

April 29, 2016

A new model tested in northeastern Thailand shows that a multi-pronged approach—combining treatment, ecosystem monitoring, and community mobilization—can effectively tackle the transmission of liver flukes.

Raw fish with spiced salad koi pla is a favourite dish in Thailand. But each year, thousands of people are infected with Opisthorchis viverrini, a liver fluke parasite transmitted to humans through raw or undercooked fish. Thailand has the world's highest incidence of cholangiocarcinoma a fatal form of liver cancer associated with O. viverrini. In some areas, nearly 85% of the population hosts the parasite. Villages in northeast Thailand, where raw fish is popular, have some of the country's highest rates of infection. Those infected may carry the adult parasite for years, with symptoms ranging from indigestion, to malnutrition, organ inflammation, and potentially cancer in prolonged cases.

Standard drug treatment of those infected with liver flukes has, by itself, been ineffective in breaking the cycle of transmission in highly affected communities. The organism infects not only people, but animals such as cats and dogs that also eat raw fish. Many of those who carry the fluke have no symptoms, and continue to contaminate local water sources with egg-contaminated feces, in areas where there is poor sanitation. As a result of these complex factors, liver fluke transmission stubbornly persists in affected communities.

The research: testing a new model of intervention

Since 2008, Thailand's National Health Security Office and Khon Kaen University had been exploring a new model of intervention to address liver fluke infection in the Lawa Lake area of Thailand's Khon Kaen province, where O. viverrini is endemic. In 2011, as part of a multi-country research partnership focusing on parasitic diseases in China and five countries in Southeast Asia, the team received training in ecohealth approaches. These complement infectious disease research with socio-economic, ecological, and systems science perspectives. Researchers were then able to strengthen the "Lawa Model" by looking at how lake ecosystems and local dietary and sanitation practices might be fostering transmission.

TROPICAL DISEASE RESEARCH LABORATORY/KHON KAEN UNIVERSITY Communities monitor local carp (cyprinoid) populations. Eaten raw, these fish are the main culprit behind human infection.

Eleven villages with a total population of 5,600 were initially screened, with four villages then selected as test sites for the new ecohealth approach. The Lawa Model combines medical treatment of infected humans and animals, intensive community and school-based health education, and ecosystem monitoring to break the parasite's life cycle and prevent new infections. 

As a first step, the Ministry of Public Health used the worm-killing drug Praziquantel to treat infected community members and their animals. Next, village health volunteers were trained on the life cycle and transmission of the liver fluke and how community members can protect themselves. These volunteers—village leaders, local health officials, school teachers—were agents of change. They organized public exhibits to raise awareness through vivid depictions of the parasite and its effects. For example, they used microscopes to show fellow villagers infected liver specimens and the flukes themselves. They used folk songs and videos to explain transmission. Sixteen health volunteers visited 186 households and organized liver fluke campaigns in local schools, educating the community on the risks of eating raw fish and safe defecation practices.

This combination of treatment and community education has been highly effective because of the parasite's complex life cycle. Eggs in the lake water are consumed by local species of freshwater snails— the parasites' first host, in which they hatch and grow for six to eight weeks. They then target local cyprinoid fish species, forming cysts in their muscle tissue. When the fish are eaten, by humans or animals, the parasites lodge in the bile ducts where they mature as adults and begin to lay eggs. When eggs are transmitted back to the lake through fecal contamination, the cycle begins again.

By following proper treatment and sanitation measures, community members have broken this cycle. Because the host fish have a life span of just two to three years, rapid progress has been made.

The results: a dramatic drop in infection

As a result of community efforts, the infection rate among villagers fell by half, between 2011 and 2013. And infection rates in the fish which transmit the parasite declined from 70% to less than 1%.

The Lawa Model has since gained national and international recognition, and is being expanded to other parts of Thailand and neighbouring countries. Thailand's Department of Disease Control and the Ministry of Public Health plan to apply the approach in every province in the northeast, establishing the Lawa Lake area as a training site for integrated liver fluke control in endemic regions. Through peer-review publication and presentations at international conferences, findings are now available to health institutions worldwide.

Results of the Lawa Model

  • Human infection in test sites has dropped by half.
  • Infection among host fish species has dropped from 70% to less than 1%.
  • Thai authorities are adopting the approach across the country's Northeast.

The project, "Innovative Strategies for the Sustainable Control of Asian Schistosomiasis and Other Helminth Zoonoses through Socio-Ecosystem Based Interventions," is one of three multi-country projects supported through the Ecohealth Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (Eco EID) — a research and capacity-building collaboration in Southeast Asia. Eco EID is funded by Canada's Department of Global Affairs through the Global Health Research Initiative, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and IDRC. Since 1996, IDRC has supported multidisciplinary research that looks at the interactions between ecosystems, social dynamics, and human health.

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Read more about the results of the ecohealth approach to research:

Reducing the risk of rabies in Bali

April 28, 2016

Tourism is an important driver of economic growth throughout Southeast Asia. However, a booming tourism industry has caused dramatic changes to populations and ecosystems through rapid urbanization, extensive land development, and the exploitation of natural resources. Overburdened health systems and weak disease surveillance capacity also often make tourist sites hotspots for infectious diseases. An IDRC-supported research project is working with local stakeholders in Bali, Indonesia, to reduce the risk of infectious disease outbreaks.

Tourist boom connected to infectious disease outbreaks

With more than 3.2 million visitors in 2013 alone, Bali is the leading tourism destination in Indonesia. This has fueled rapid urban development and put strain on local health and sanitation infrastructure. This situation is further exacerbated because medical, veterinary, and disease control sectors operate independently. As a result, infectious diseases such as dengue, bird flu, and rabies have often fallen through the cracks of disease monitoring and control systems. As the province’s tourism continues to grow, government officials are increasingly concerned about disease outbreaks.

Rabies, a disease transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected animal, is of particular concern. Until recently, Bali had been free of rabies. However, a first case of a rabies-infected dog was reported in 2008. The disease then spread rapidly across the island: thousands of dogs have been infected and human cases have risen every year. By working with municipal and provincial government officials, IDRC-supported researchers are tackling the spread of rabies and other emerging infectious diseases. 

Communication between health workers is key

Over the last three years, researchers have been working to reduce the gaps in disease surveillance and control in Bali. They reviewed and analyzed the reporting mechanisms, as well as the data from rabies monitoring in three villages in the city of Denpasar. The team found that there was a lack of communication between rabies workers, veterinary officials, and local health centres. Rabies control workers were recording high numbers of cases of animals biting people, but were not sharing these numbers with veterinary workers or healthcare professionals. Poor communication between these sectors was hampering efforts to break the rabies transmission cycle and delaying effective management and treatment of bites. 

Simple solution, multiple benefits

Working in tandem with the municipal and provincial governments, the research team has developed an integrated monitoring program that requires medical, veterinary, and public health officials to work together to monitor and control diseases. Community health workers now look for animal bites and bird deaths in addition to identifying cases of suspected dengue fever in the homes and compounds they visit. 

Community health workers have also engaged in a public health campaign to raise awareness about the risks of infectious diseases in the city, and have been trained to encourage residents to access health facilities as part of an early warning and response program for dengue, rabies, and bird flu. This simple intervention has been so successful that it is now being expanded to all of Denpasar.

The project in Bali is one of six projects supported by IDRC studying the causes of infectious diseases emergence and transmission in tourist sites in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The projects fall under IDRC’s Ecohealth Emerging Disease Research Initiative (EcoEID).

Watch the animated public service announcement produced by the research team about the spread of infectious disease in Bali

Watch the research team’s public service announcement about the integrated monitoring of disease

Photo (right): Center for Health Policy and Social Change
Rabies workers, veterinary officials, and local health centres are working together to break the rabies transmission cycle.

Protecting food, energy, and livelihoods in Punjab through water-efficient agriculture

April 27, 2016

The state of Punjab spearheaded the Green Revolution that has transformed Indian agriculture. Encouraged by price guarantees, expanded irrigation, and the introduction of high-yielding crop varieties, Punjabi farmers have shifted toward intensive production of grains. Although it occupies just 1.5% of India’s land mass, Punjab now grows more than half the country’s grain, including nearly 20% of its wheat and 12% of its rice. 

Despite boosting incomes and food security in Punjab, there is a worrisome underside to this transformation. Groundwater levels are falling across 90% of the state, with the decline accelerating since the 1980s. Central Punjab is most severely affected. In the context of climate change, the timing of the rainy season is increasingly unpredictable. With no solid climate information to guide them, and with state policies encouraging energy- and water-intensive agriculture, farmers are rapidly depleting underground aquifers. 

Since 2008, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and Columbia University have worked together with farmers to address these unsustainable practices, while maintaining yields and livelihoods. The latest phase of research — launched in 2012 with funding from Canada’s International Development Research Centre — links low-income farmers, corporations, the state development bank, and the state agricultural extension program in testing innovations that will reduce pressure on overused aquifers. This initiative is helping farmers use meteorological information to plan their water and energy use, while exploring how policy reforms and agricultural value chains might shift production toward more sustainable practices.

Sensors tell farmers when to irrigate, seed their crops

A key innovation tested in earlier research is the use of low-cost, locally produced soil moisture sensors that let farmers know when to irrigate and seed. In trials, farmers testing sensors averaged water and energy savings of more than 20%. When farmers used the sowing method known as direct seeding of rice rather than transplanting, water savings were as much as 34%, with no decline in yields. Research is now scaling up to include more than 5,000 farmers in five districts of Punjab. They will use 9,000 sensors, with the government investing in a further 15,000 sensors statewide.

Policy reform is essential. Farmers have little incentive to change their practices when electricity is provided free to them, they receive a guaranteed price for water-intensive grain crops, and there is no regulation or pricing on groundwater. To explore market incentives that could move farmers away from thirsty crops such as rice, the team is working with industry to test how agricultural value chains can encourage crop diversity. Through cooperative agreements with farmers, the food corporation Field Fresh is contracting for supplies of fruits and vegetables, which consume less water than grains. The processing stages also provide work for local women.

Preparing for a megadrought

Research will conclude in late 2015, and the team is assessing the potential for a prolonged megadrought, and the role that changes in irrigation practices, crop diversification, and energy pricing could play in mitigating its impacts. Recommendations will be presented to policymakers and the state agricultural extension program. The evidence will help guide a much-needed transformation of water and energy use in Punjab.

This project brings together PAU, the Columbia Water Center, and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society of Columbia University. Other collaborating institutions are the Centers for International Projects Trust, Field Fresh Del Monte India, and the International Water Management Institute.

Mary O'Neill is an Ottawa-based writer.

Photo (right): Kamal Vatta/Punjab Agricultural University
Farmers that tested sensors averaged water and energy savings of more than 20%.

Learn more about the project

New evidence to promote entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia

April 26, 2016

Entrepreneurship has been a major driver of growth and job creation in Southeast Asia. But, until now, little empirical research had been carried out on entrepreneurial activity in the region.

A new report—the ASEAN Regional Entrepreneurship Report 2014/2015—addresses this gap, establishing a strong empirical foundation on which to build and monitor entrepreneurship and job creation, especially among women. It finds that Southeast Asia is one of the most entrepreneurial regions in the world.

With funding from IDRC, the report was formulated using the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) methodology in Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The authors also included Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand in the study, and collected information for Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Brunei from verified secondary sources.

A business-oriented region

The report provides a positive outlook on the ASEAN-6 region. One key finding of the report is that 66% of people in the region view entrepreneurship as a positive career choice, which surpasses the GEM global average of 62.5%.

Although the nascent entrepreneurship rate for the region is low (just 5% compared to 7.6% GEM average), it is offset by the fact that 10% of businesses are new: the second highest average for a region and almost double the GEM 2014 average. At 14.1%, the established business rate is the highest regional average and significantly above the GEM average of 8.4%.

More innovation needed in ASEAN

Of concern for the region is that the report shows only moderate levels of innovation. Just over half of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) entrepreneurs said their products/services are not new to customers. About 60% of businesses in the region believe there is high competition, which poses a significant challenge to business viability. In addition, few businesses are generating significant job numbers. The report found that more than half of entrepreneurs in the region expect that they will not generate jobs and 35% expect to create only between one and five jobs.

The project was coordinated by the School of Business and Entrepreneurship at the Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, De La Salle University in the Philippines, and Universitas Katolik Parahyangan in Indonesia, helped to implement the project. GEM's umbrella organization, the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, provided technical assistance, oversight, and quality assurance.

The ASEAN entrepreneurship report was originally launched in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in November 2015. A Canadian launch will take place in Toronto on February 1 at Ryerson University, featuring co-author Prof Siri Roland Xavier of the University Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia.

Read GEM's ASEAN Regional Entrepreneurship Report 2014-2015.

Learn more about the Promoting Entrepreneurship Research in Southeast Asia: Applying the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor project.

Learn more about the GEM methodology.​

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