Fishing and fertiliser trees: how agricultural research is making an impact in developing countries

Article, 12.11.2013

Three short films on projects supported by the SDC in Cambodia and Africa

Working with the European Initiative for Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD), the SDC has financed 20 case studies on the impact of agricultural research in developing countries. Three of these have been turned into short films: on awarding fishing concessions to local fishing communities in Cambodia; on successful spread of fertiliser tree cultivation; and on natural methods to combat lethal fungal toxins (aflatoxins) in Africa.

The SDC's contributions to WorldFish helped to support local fishermen on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.

The three films showcase the work of international agricultural research institutions supported by EIARD and its partner organizations in Cambodia and in Africa. Switzerland is a member of EIARD (see box).

Project films

Local fishermen unite on Tonle Sap Lake
WorldFish launched a 15-month long project In Cambodia during 2009 aimed at getting local freshwater fishermen on Tonle Sap Lake to form networks and strengthen their collective capacity in order to better represent their common interests and make their voices heard within local authorities. Tonle Sap is the biggest lake in Southeast Asia and one of the most productive freshwater fisheries in the world. Over four million people live near the lake and depend on fish as a source of food and income.
Access to the lake and fishing permits are much sought-after. Before the reform, local fishermen were in constant competition with industrial fisheries and were powerless against illegal fishing methods.

Thanks to the project, discussions were organized between local fishermen, fish merchants, and village elders. Local fishermen learned to identify threats to their livelihoods, organize themselves into networks, and campaign for their interests. Step by step, the local people’s negotiations moved to the national level, which led to some extraordinary changes. The Cambodian government terminated a 2,500 hectare commercial fishing concession in 2010 and gave local communities access to the fishing ground. The government banned all commercial fishing on Tonle Sap Lake in February 2012 – a huge victory for local fishing communities whose fishing areas thereby increased.

Trees as natural fertiliser
Another film shows the EverGreen Agriculture project run by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), an agroforestry research institute based in Nairobi that receives funding from the SDC.
The EverGreen Agriculture project has been running since the 1980s. Trees – such as those of the Faidherbia genus – are planted in fields or pastures as natural fertilizer. Agricultural studies in Zambia have shown that sweet-corn crops produce better yields thanks to these trees, and intercropping with trees on farmland has now become extremely popular. In Zambia, for example, more than 160,000 farmers plant Faidherbia trees in their fields. Farmers in Niger have been able to make 4.8 million hectares of land greener and more fertile, thanks to these trees. 

Combating deadly aflatoxins in Africa
Aflatoxins are toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus species of fungus. The toxins threaten not only the health of millions of poor families in Africa, but also their livestock and agricultural productivity. The fungi spread over farmland and adjoining plots while continuing to grow on stored crops.

Although good storage conditions also reduce the quantity of the fungi, researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) wanted to find ways to protect crops directly in the fields. The solution they came up with was a new method that suppressed dangerous toxin-producing strains of Aspergillus in the fields to protect the crops. An easy-to-use product known as Aflasafe was then developed by IITA and its partners.

Kenya, Zambia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal have all begun developing their own versions of Aflasafe. As a natural, safe, and affordable solution against aflatoxins, development of Aflasafe could help African countries on a large scale to restore trade links and protect the health of millions of people who are currently threatened by illness due to aflatoxins.

The European Initiative for Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD) is the platform for coordinating donor countries from the EU, notably Norway and Switzerland on agricultural research. Among other things, it coordinates and harmonises financial contributions made by these countries to members of the CGIAR Consortium (global partnership for international agricultural research) such as IITA, WorldFish, and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).