New home-grown barley varieties developed using irradiation with the support of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are in the final stages of development and will be ready to be released to farmers for production in coming years.
“Modern plant breeding technologies ensuring sustainability and conservation of scarce natural resources are of paramount importance in achieving national food security and the enhancement of biodiversity,” said Habibah S. Al-Menaie, a senior research scientist in the Desert Agriculture and Ecosystems Program of the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR). “Joining the FAO/IAEA coordinated research projects in the area of mutation breeding has led to the development of several barley mutant lines with improved yield and quality under Kuwait’s environmental conditions.”
As arable land is limited to small areas, 95% of the country’s food and animal fodder is imported. Barley is a preferred crop for cultivation, because it is relatively drought tolerant and therefore one of the most suitable crops for an arid country like Kuwait. Having high yielding home grown crops is among the key objectives of the country’s agricultural programme to enhance food security.
“Increased agricultural production in Kuwait is a major challenge due to several constraints such as drought, salinity, limited water sources, limited plant genetic resources, low percentage of arable land and unpredictable climatic events,” said Al-Menaie.
The development of new varieties with improved traits is just the first step towards increasing yields. Optimizing water and nutrient use efficiency helps ensure that the new improved varieties live up to their yield potential and provide agronomic, environmental and economic benefits. “Efficient crop production requires the establishment of appropriate soil, water and crop management practices in the field. In this regard, soil moisture levels are monitored to develop effective strategies for resource efficient crop production. It increases the efficiency of the agricultural production and conserves natural resources,” Al-Menaie said.
This is a major step forward for the country’s small agriculture industry, said Nader Al-Awadi, the Executive Commissioner for International Cooperation at KISR. Drought, salinity and diseases have historically limited staple crop productivity in Kuwait. The lack of crop varieties optimized to local environmental conditions and improper soil, water and nutrient management practices have hindered sustainable and efficient agricultural production so far, he added.
Mutated barley — the next generation
Mutation induction by radiation rapidly increases the genetic diversity necessary to produce new and improved varieties and is thus advantageous over traditional breeding. “There was no crop mutation work until cooperation commenced with the FAO/IAEA Programme and equipment was received for plant propagation and screening purposes,” Al-Menaie said. With the view to develop the new barley varieties, the growth and yield performance of introduced barley varieties and lines from other countries were evaluated under Kuwait’s environmental conditions. The best adaptable varieties were identified, and the seeds were subjected to induced mutation using gamma rays.
New mutant lines have been generated and they are now examined for drought and salinity tolerance. The selected mutant lines will be advanced, which then can be multiplied for planting. “It’s a long process, but we are about to see the life-changing results, which will have a great impact in the agricultural sector of Kuwait very soon,” Al-Menaie said.
Changed attitude: Increasing farmer awareness
One of the major challenges was explaining to farmers the safety of the new mutated barley lines developed. “When they heard that ‘nuclear techniques’ were used to create improved barely seeds, they got scared,” Al-Menaie said, adding that the authorities encouraged land owners and farmers to participate in crop mutation technology workshops. These provided in-depth information and resulted – over time – in a changed attitude amongst farmers, she said.
Eisa Al-Hasawy, the Chairperson of the Kuwait Dairy Company, pioneered farmers’ support to KISR efforts to promote the benefits of the new mutated barley. “We are happy that on our sandy soil, with little or no water, the new barley variety will be produced to benefit our people and hopefully lead to us exporting barley in the future,” he said. “Working at the grass root level with local farmers was vital to overcoming their fears and traditional mindset.”
Training and enhancing expertise
The FAO/IAEA support has been key to the success in developing the new barley variety. Through technical cooperation and coordinated research projects, the training in integrated crop mutation techniques as well equipment provided to the KISR plant and soil laboratories have helped scientists to gain a better understanding of how nuclear techniques such a gamma ray induction for crop mutation can help to have better crops, Al-Menaie said.
For barley to grow and produce seeds, soil moisture is critical, for which the FAO/IAEA Programme’s support to KISR’s soil and water section, through training and equipment, has been an added value, she said.
To assess the moisture levels in soil, and to ensure every drop of water is used, the FAO/IAEA experts provided training on soil water management and soil moisture equipment, including the use of the cosmic ray neutron sensor to assess water availability to the crop. The cosmic ray sensor monitors soil moisture over up to 20 hectares, a much bigger footprint compared to conventional moisture sensors, said Abdullah Salem Alshatti, the principal researcher at the KISR Soil Department.
The moisture in the soil is tracked in real time and the data acquired helps develop effective strategies to optimise supplemental irrigation to have soil moist to a level that benefits crop production, he said. “Data collected from the cosmic ray sensor also helps to develop precise action to conserve moisture in the soil by using dry weeds and tree barks on the top soil to preserve wetness”.
Youth in the Global South Must Join Forces for Their Future of Work
I believe that the developing world is full of opportunities for young people because many of us have the energy and eagerness to make a difference in the world. In many cases the solutions to problems in communities are simpler than they appear. It just needs someone to push. I know from first-hand experience that there is nothing more rewarding than creating a venture or project that has an impact.
In 2001 I witnessed a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak among cattle that severely damaged the economy of Uruguay, as well as other countries’ in the region. Many years later, in 2012, after graduating as an electrical engineer and working with small satellites, I heard about a competition for young innovators organized by the International Telecommunication Union. They were looking for technological inventions that could solve a problem in a particular region. I immediately thought about the foot and mouth disease outbreak and used my knowledge of space technology to create a system that could monitor anomalies in cattle remotely. I submitted the idea and some months later found out I had won the competition! With the cash prize I founded Chipsafer, a monitoring platform that analyses cattle behaviour using data transmitted from trackers installed in their collars. Besides detecting anomalies in cattle behaviour and combating cattle theft, Chipsafer can also help improve the decisions farmers make relating to the production process.
Countries from the Global South should join forces to surf on the wave of technological revolution and benefit from innovative solutions like these to overcome challenges and to achieve a better and more sustainable future. That’s what we mean by South-South cooperation.
Young people – students, entrepreneurs, professionals, activists – need to play a part in this too because they are drivers of change. Yet, with 65 million young people unemployed globally, they still face many challenges.
In a few weeks I will be part of a panel at an ILO event in Argentina on the future of work for youth, with a focus on developing countries. It will take place on the sidelines of the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South cooperation (BAPA+40).
My fellow panellists will include Rebeca Grynspan, who was a member of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, as well as workers’ and employers’ representatives. We’ll look at the issue from three angles; policies for skills development, green jobs, and social dialogue. The aim of the session is to provide recommendations for BAPA+40 participants on the effective integration of youth employment policies into South-South and triangular cooperation (where developed countries or multilateral organizations support South-South cooperation).
I plan to talk about the challenges for youth in the context of the future world of work and discuss the impact of South-South cooperation in promoting decent jobs for youth.
Technology is revolutionising the world, and the world of work is no exception. I believe all stakeholders, whether they are international institutions, governments, employers’ or workers’ organizations, must accept responsibility and take collective action to build the future of work that we want. South-South and triangular cooperation must be part of the answer.
Artificial Intelligence in Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Approach – Open Data and AI
The session “Open Data and AI” organized within the framework of “Principles for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach?” on 5 March 2019 requested UNESCO to continue leveraging its convening power to increase awareness around artificial intelligence and big data, support development of inclusive policy on Open Data and support upstream and downstream capacity enhancement.
The workshop noted Data as an essential element for the development of artificial intelligence. The availability of large amounts of user data through services on mobile phones and internet of things among other sources, has led to a variety of AI applications and services. However, there remain many challenges. These challenges encompass issues of access, privacy, discrimination and openness. Several of these challenges are within UNESCO’s mandate of building inclusive knowledge societies for peace and sustainable development.
Ms Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the Information for All Programme at UNESCO pointed out that “despite the fact that we have a huge interest from many donors, we do not seem to have done very much systematically to prepare African countries to have useful data … [and] in a searchable format that can be combined with other sources to … yield something [beneficial]”. She stressed the need to bridge gaps in terms of the availability of legacy data, setting policy standards, and enhancing capabilities of people to work with local data sets.
Ms Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director of Global Internet Policy and International Organizations at The Internet Society underlined ‘data commons’ as an interesting solution to explore but one that needs a nuanced discussion around ownership and privacy. She highlighted the need to challenge existing notion of competition and a need for “reconsideration of market values and monopolies”. Stressing the importance of access, she shared the findings of a joint study carried out by ISOC and UNESCO that showed how a combination of local language content and better access policies results in immediate economic benefits at the local level.
As a government representative, Ms Veronika Bošković Pohar, Deputy Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Slovenia to UNESCO discussed ‘regulatory sandboxes’ as a means to provide controlled environment for AI. She hoped that Slovenia’s proposed Category 2 Centre on Artificial Intelligence would be able to make several informed decisions, provide insights into technology and societal interface and create mechanisms for continuous monitoring and reporting to reduce risks posed by AI to vulnerable groups.
Speaking as a panelist representing a knowledge organization, Prof. Maria Fasli, UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Big Data at University of Essex noted the lack of understanding on AI and Big Data and expressed concerns for the difficulty faced by the academic community in accessing data collected by large technology firms for research purpose. She further highlighted the need for high quality representative data to ensure that algorithms are not biased.
Given their experience in tracking innovation trends across the world. Mr Marcus Goddard, Vice President of Intelligence at Netexplo Observatory underlined that “access to data is a necessary but not sufficient condition for innovation. Pointing out the general trends in openness, he mentioned that openness is not Silicon Valley’s top priority and convenience seems to be the norm when it comes to launch of new products and services. He highlighted that even as data is being used in smart cities to improve access and sustainability, it is also increasing the threat of surveillance.
Mr Philippe Petitpont, Co-founder of Newsbridge, a Paris based AI and Media startup, presented the scale of the data problem that the media faces today. He remarked that media companies are gathering 30 million hours of video content every year, a number that does not include social media videos. In this situation, extracting useful insights from these videos is a cumbersome task albeit one that can be performed by AI. They try to leverage AI to help journalists process large amounts of data at lower costs.
The session brought the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders to the discussion table and some of the key concerns included were:
- Urgent need to increase awareness around artificial intelligence and big data;
- Developing strategies to strengthen access to data for training machine learning algorithms;
- Supporting both upstream and downstream capacity enhancement to leverage data for benefit;
- Involving private sector actors in the discussion around access to data and data monopolies; and
- Creating systems for addressing discrimination and biases originating through data and algorithms.
The panel members congratulated UNESCO for facilitating important discussions around issues of rights, openness, access and multistakeholder participation in the governance of data and hoped to engage with the organization for further development of issues around Open Data and AI.
Rebecca Enonchong: A Heavyweight in African Tech
Named in 2017 as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans in SCIENCE, TECH & INNOVATION by the New African Magazine and Jeune Afrique’s 50 Most Influential Africans, Rebecca Enonchong has dedicated her career to promoting tech in Africa.
Enonchong, is the Chair of ActivSpaces (African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures) in Cameroon. She is also founder and CEO of AppsTech and I/O Spaces an incubator for African diaspora in the U.S. If that wasn’t enough, she is also the Board Chair of AfriLabs and a founding member of the African Business Angel Network (ABAN).
Enonchong proudly describes herself as a tech fanatic and has been since the day she first touched a computer. “It’s an amazing tool and opened the whole world to me, pre-Internet.” Born and raised in Cameroon, Enonchong studied economics. She moved to the U.S. to finish her degree and start her career in digital technology and eventually founded her own company, AppsTech.
She also has a long history with incubation. The concept of Enonchong’s ActivSpaces, the Cameroonian-based incubator, was founded in 2001 at the Africa Technology Forum hosted by the World Bank and it finally launched in 2010.
Explaining how she and her ActivSpaces co-founders were long convinced of the transformative potential of tech, Enonchong emphasizes, “It’s one of the easiest and simplest ways to build our economy — through digital innovation. I really believe that it’s one of the areas that can have the most impact that requires the least investment.”
She warns, however, that tech entrepreneurship cannot flourish in a vacuum. “I get asked a lot about what governments and donors can do to help start-ups and I always respond: ‘they’re businesspeople.’ If you have a bad business environment, it’s going to hurt their prospects. We have a huge opportunity not just to catch up, but to link different sectors.”
The focus on East and Southern Africa, however, continues to overshadow progress made in francophone Africa. “There’s a lot happening people aren’t aware of – there are tech hubs in Chad! But no one is talking about it – it’s a problem of narrative,” assesses Enonchong. Pointing to the need to move beyond Lagos, Nairobi and Cape Town to support the countries lagging behind and also connect all of Africa, she concludes: “fulfilling the mission of AfriLabs is to support and build out the African tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
AfriLabs is a network organization of over 80 innovation centers across 27 African countries, supporting hubs as they raise successful entrepreneurs. Networking provides all stakeholders in an ecosystem (start-ups, incubators, investors, researchers, etc.) with a platform to share and transfer ideas. “Hubs have had such an impact on African tech and entrepreneurs,” lauds Enonchong. “This organization takes this one step further, in that hubs and labs can all work and communicate together and learn from each other.”
“We’re here to support those in the most difficult of situations and connect them to other hubs that can maybe provide them with free support. We want to reach out and bring more country members on board and be part of the family of innovation centers across the continent.”
She sees the mission of ActivSpaces in much a similar way, which is why the incubator has not yet established a branch in the capital, Yaoundé. “We don’t want to be just for the elite and those that will succeed. Rather than the best of the best coming to us, we wanted to reach out to the people that don’t even know they’re entrepreneurs.” ActivSpaces is currently based in Douala and Buea and looking to expand to a third location where agriculture plays a prominent role. “Our choice was rural areas where entrepreneurs don’t enjoy the support to turn their cool ideas into a business.”
Enonchong also knows that incubation and entrepreneurship cannot be seen as the holy grail of African development. “It’s definitely part of the solution,” she states, “but not the only one. You can’t just promote tech entrepreneurship for youth without providing things like the Internet and other key infrastructure.”
She explains how challenges are often compounded for start-ups in francophone Africa because the business environment isn’t as conducive. “There’s a lot of innovation but if you take, for example, Disrupt Africa’s list of Start-Ups to Watch 2018, not one francophone start-up made the list.”
Having served as an advisor and mentor for the World Bank’s XL Africa/L’Afrique Excelle acceleration programs Rebecca knows this is an area where development institutions can provide value and support. She emphasized that this is especially true for those countries falling behind, saying that “the World Bank should encourage and help countries to do better, otherwise it’s a missed opportunity. If they don’t act quickly to create a more enabling environment, they’ll have missed another revolution.”
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