Professor Robert Cheke of NRI – a specialist on migrant pests such as quelea birds, locusts and armyworms – has published a commentary on recent research examining thousand-year long data sets. The article 'Thinking Long Term' appeared in the Perspectives section of the journal Science on 26 October 2007 (volume 318, pp. 577–578). It discusses the implications, in relation to climate change, of analyses of the dynamics of larch budmoths in the European Alps based on tree growth rings from as far back as 1173 years ago, and of data on the Chinese migratory locust from as long ago as 707 BC.
A team led by NRI's Reader in Veterinary Entomology, Dr Stephen Torr, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Times Higher Award for 'Research Project of the Year', for work on controlling tsetse fly in Africa, to reduce the fatal disease of sleeping sickness spread by these flies. Dr Torr is a leading expert in the control of tsetse flies, and for this project he teamed up with colleagues in the University of Edinburgh to find better ways of using pesticide against tsetse whilst reducing costs and limiting environmental damage. He explains the background to the research: "Sleeping sickness spread by the tsetse fly is a dreadful problem in Africa, killing 30,000 people and two million cattle every year. Although insecticide is effective for controlling the tsetse, it has not been widely used as it is too expensive for farmers and may reduce the immunity of cattle to diseases that are spread by ticks."
On 8-9 October 2007, NRI hosted a small, but important, workshop to analyse the services needed by farmers in developing countries in order to obtain better access to markets, and to consider how those services should be funded and delivered.
The editors of The Journal of Experimental Biology have awarded their journal's 'Outstanding Paper Prize for 2007' to NRI's Visiting Fellow in Ecological Entomology, Dr Don Reynolds, and four colleagues from Rothamsted Research for their paper entitled "Honeybees perform optimal scale-free searching flights when attempting to locate a food source". In this research, the flight patterns of foraging honeybees searching for an artificial feeder were recorded using harmonic radar – a technique previously developed at NRI by Prof. Joe Riley and Alan Smith. Bees were 'tagged' with a small electronic device (a transponder) that allowed their subsequent flights to be monitored over scales of several hundred metres. The experiments showed that the bees' flight patterns have scale-free (Lévy-flight) characteristics that constitute an optimal searching strategy for locating the feeder. This collaboration between mathematical, physical and ecological scientists is leading to better predictive models of insect flight patterns over landscape scales.
NRI welcomes the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), jointly with Al Gore. The Nobel Committee's announcement notes that "Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming".
The University of Greenwich is collaborating with Kebbi State in north-western Nigeria to establish a new University there. As a key part of this, thirty-two students from Kebbi State arrived here in October 2006 to study on MSc programmes in a number of subjects, especially Natural Resource Management, Science (including Biotechnology), Computer Studies, and Engineering. Nearly a year later, they have successfully gained their Master's degrees and are now returning home to play an important role in the academic development of the new Kebbi State University. John Linton, NRI's Commercial Director, said "It has been a great pleasure to have the Kebbi group studying with us: they fitted in very well and adapted to the inevitable challenges of undertaking postgraduate studies in a foreign country, they worked hard, and our staff have greatly enjoyed teaching them. We are delighted with their success, which is a reflection of their effort and enthusiasm."
NRI is participating in a new initiative which is designed to strengthen agricultural research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme – 'Strengthening Capacity for Agricultural Research and Development in Africa' (SCARDA) – is led by FARA with funding from DFID.
NRI's Reader in Rural Livelihoods, Czech Conroy has undertaken a critical review of the role of rural telecentres as one of the means by which information and communications technology (ICT) can contribute to development objectives in rural areas. The review, carried out as part of the EU-funded pilot phase of the TeleSupport Project, discusses issues raised by previous literature on the role of telecentres, and then focuses on descriptions or case studies of nine telecentre initiatives in India. The review (available as the Project's Working Paper 4 [pdf 253Kb]) relates these case-study experiences to general themes concerning internet-based telecentres and wider approaches to communication for development, including traditional media and other elements of ICT, such as radio and mobile phones.
Prof. David Hall of NRI recently led a seminar at the Overseas Development Institute as part of their "Learning from Experience – Linking Research and Development" series. In his presentation (pdf 237Kb) he drew on examples of NRI collaboration with the private sector in agricultural research, and highlighted three key areas: improvements in commodity production, quality and reliability; development of new products; and evaluation and promotion of products. A detailed report of the seminar (including downloadable audio recordings) is available on the ODI website.
Recent reviews of the performance of grain markets in developing countries, especially in Africa, have highlighted the contribution that local food aid procurement can make to the strengthening of these markets and thus to economic well-being and food security. NRI has extensive experience of the economic and technical operations of diverse African grain markets and considerable expertise in the logistics and impact of food aid delivery systems. Drawing on this knowledge, an NRI team has produced a document (pdf 58Kb) that explores the potential for transforming African grain markets by local and regional procurement of food aid.