international development

A creepy-crawly food revolution

Long considered pests, insects are now on the menu for farmed fish and poultry in Kenya and Uganda, where scientists are looking for cheaper, healthier ways to boost animal growth and develop the local economy.

Raising chickens or fish in Africa can be an expensive proposition. Most of the money goes into just keeping them fed, which accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the cost of rearing the animals.

“Around here the high cost can discourage farmers from using high-quality feeds,” says Komi Fiaboe, an agricultural entomologist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya.

The feed’s most expensive component is protein, which usually comes from imported soybeans or a combination of imported and locally sourced fishmeal, and the cost of the latter has doubled in the past couple of years. So researchers in Uganda and Kenya are investigating a cheaper, local alternative that could reduce the price of feed while providing economic opportunities in the region: insects. Read more in Canadian Geographic.


Maternal health enters the information age in Peru

How the Wawared project is using technology to collect and share health data that will improve the lives of women and, perhaps eventually, everyone in the nation.

In much of the developing world, women suffer higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity than necessary — most of the causes of ill health that lead to sickness or the death of mothers and infants are preventable. The rates are even more disproportionately high among poor and Indigenous communities.

“One of the major issues is that health-care providers and the women themselves aren’t armed with accurate, timely, trusted information to make the best decisions on care,” says Chaitali Sinha, a senior program officer with the International Development Research Centre, which supports a project called WawaredRead more in Canadian Geographic.

Drones on the delta

In Ghana’s Volta River delta, the remotely-operated aerial vehicles are going where researchers can’t to help study coastal erosion, flooding and migration.

River deltas are among some of the most densely populated places on Earth, especially in some developing African and Asian nations. They’re also some of the areas most vulnerable to climate change, with rising seas and increasingly powerful storms driving flooding and erosion.

So how do the people who live in these regions adapt to the changes that are occurring there? That’s what Kwasi Appeaning Addo, an associate professor in the department of marine and fisheries sciences at the University of Ghana, is trying to help determine. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Building better borders in Latin America

Illegal trading and the violence that can accompany it is a scourge along Latin America’s borders, but researchers from across the region are working together to find ways to combat the problem.

Throughout much of Latin America, borders can be dangerous places. Smuggling, drug running and human trafficking are lucrative businesses — the United Nations estimates that the illegal drug trade in the region is worth $450 billion a year — and those that control it are not afraid to use violence to protect their investment.

It’s the people who live near borders that have to deal with the consequences of this violence, says Fernando Carrión, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, Ecuador. “Border towns suffer from murder, robbery and insecurity, which hinders local development and integration between countries,” he says. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Winners and losers emerge in UK funding shake-up

Government’s ‘global challenges’ fund hoovers up extra cash for developing-world problems, cutting grants elsewhere.

Funds dedicated for research on developing-world problems will eat into the core science grants of the United Kingdom’s research councils over the next five years, documents released by the councils show.

After enduring years of flat funding, scientists had celebrated in November as the government committed to increasing science spending, rather than delivering the cut many had feared was imminent.

But although the science budget – which in 2016 will be £4.7 billion (US$7.1 billion) – will rise in line with inflation, some of it will be diverted into government-defined research programmes. The remaining portion – the ‘responsive-mode’ allocation that the research councils hand out on the basis of competitive applications from scientists – will not rise. Read more in Nature.

Fish for Food

Exploring ways to get fish on the table in Bolivia.

People in Bolivia don’t eat much fish — among South American nations it has the lowest per-capita consumption — despite having a large number of lakes and rivers.

But local, sustainably sourced fish could be a good source of protein and help reduce food insecurity, as well as provide a new source of income for poor, rural populations. So the International Development Research Centre and Global Affairs Canada have teamed up with academics and NGOs in Canada and Bolivia on the Amazon Fish for Food project, which is trying to find ways to encourage the sustainable use of the country’s fish resources through fishing and aquaculture. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Defusing the rumour mill, digitally

The text-messaging technology that’s helping quash misinformation and save lives in Kenya.

In southeastern Kenya’s remote Tana River Delta, bad information can be deadly. For six months starting in the summer of 2012, violent clashes between two of the region’s main ethnic groups, Pokomo farmers and Orma herders, killed about 170 people and displaced as many as 40,000.

Much of the violence was driven by rumours, as people heard about attacks or planned attacks and retaliated or launched pre-emptive attacks of their own. But most of the rumours were false or exaggerated, either growing organically from a misunderstanding, or started deliberately to stir up trouble.

So in 2013, with support from the International Development Research Centre, The Sentinel Project, a Toronto-based NGO that works to prevent genocide, began studying how the rumours spread and how to counter them. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Fighting malaria in Northern Peru

When large-scale irrigation came to Peru’s north coast in the 1960s and 1970s it brought with it an explosion in agriculture, in particular rice cultivation. But it also brought a new disease to the area — malaria.

“The north coast is a semi-arid area, the only reason there is malaria there is because of irrigation,” says Andrés Sánchez, a senior program specialist with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, which is supporting a project in the region that could help eliminate the deadly disease. “It’s a man-made problem.”

Fortunately, there’s also a man-made solution. Read more in Canadian Geographic.

Questions raised about whether compulsory licenses get best prices

The use of so-called ‘compulsory licenses’ by developing countries to obtain cheaper drugs for HIV and AIDS by circumventing patents has not been the best strategy for achieving the lowest prices over the past decade, a new study claims. Instead, the best prices were often obtained by countries that procured their drugs through voluntary negotiations, often facilitated by third parties such as UNICEF or the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Read more in Nature Medicine.