Potatoes may help feed Ethiopia in era of climate change

Semagn-Asredie Kolech, left-center, with a group of Ethiopian farmers

With unpredictable annual rainfall and drought once every five years, climate change presents challenges to feeding Ethiopia. Adapting to a warming world, the potato is becoming a more important crop there – with the potential to feed much of Africa…

Ethiopia sits on the brink of thriving financial and gross domestic product forecasts, as its government formally merges green economics with climate-change resilient policies. But the country’s agricultural economy suffers from poor cultivation practices and frequent drought. However, new efforts – including Semagn-Asredie Kolech’s research – are beginning to fortify the country’s agricultural resilience, reducing the threat of starvation and bringing on the rising possibility of exporting potatoes to other African countries.

Annually, Ethiopian farmers plant potatoes in the spring and late summer. Yet, they still search for optimum planting dates and vie for vibrant drought-tolerant varieties if planted in the short-rain season, and sidestepping late blight, if planted in the longer rainy season.

At an Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future forum in March, Kolech presented preliminary research gathered last summer. He surveyed Ethiopian farmers in potato-growing regions to understand their varietal inventory and crop practices. Farmers tried new varieties, but they often reverted back to using their traditional cultivars…

Kolech said that he found that the usage drop-off is due mostly to poor storage quality. New varieties have good attributes, such as high yield and late blight resistance, but in northwestern Ethiopia where more than 40 percent of potatoes are grown, the potato color and taste changes in storage earlier than the local varieties…

In 1970 Ethiopian farmers planted less than 30,000 hectares of potatoes. Today, more than 160,000 hectares are planted. With a population of 93 million and a land size almost double that of Texas, Ethiopia can accommodate growing 3 million hectares of potatoes, Kolech says.

The environmental and economic prospects for Ethiopia are so intriguing, this June five Cornell faculty members…will travel with Kolech to Ethiopia to meet with potential government and nongovernmental collaborators. Their travel will be funded by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and a collaborative CARE-Cornell Impact through Innovation Fund.

Bravo! The sort of activist education and research that helps define a leading university.

African Union opens new $200 million headquarters in Ethiopia

Standing on what was once Ethiopia’s oldest maximum security prison, the new African Union headquarters funded by China is a symbol of the Asian giant’s push to stay ahead in Africa and gain greater access to the continent’s resources.

Critics point to an imbalance in what they see as the new “Scramble for Africa”. But the prospect of growing Chinese economic influence is welcomed by African leaders, who see Beijing as a partner to help build their economies at a time when Europe and the United States are mired in economic turmoil…

The brown marble and glass monolith was fully paid for by China, right down to the office furniture, and cost $200 million. The office complex and almost 100-metre tower is Addis Ababa’s tallest building by far.

For the past decade, Africa has recorded economic growth of an average of 5 per cent but its underdeveloped infrastructure has in part hindered its capacity to develop further. Chinese companies are changing that. They are building roads and investing in the energy sector, and are active in areas such as telecoms technology…

Beijing now appears keener to flex its diplomatic muscle in the continent. It has also contributed $4.5 million for the African Union peacekeeping force battling Islamist militants in Somalia.

Outside the complex, hundreds of Chinese support staff, delegates and officials snapped pictures of their country’s most ostentatious presence yet in Africa. Yet African officials insist they aren’t being manipulated by China, and say the relationship is not based on aid but on trade and development.

There are people who still consider Africans like children who can be easily manipulated. The good thing about this partnership is that it’s give and take,” said the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ambassador to Washington, Faida Mitifu.

In a related story, Congressional Republicans are supporting – well, nothing that I could find.

I googled “Congressional Republicans aid to Africa” and got bored after wandering through several pages mostly of Republican candidates for president each trying to prove he’ll do the most to reduce foreign aid to anyone!

Frankincense tree facing uncertain future – and decline

Frankincense – a traditional staple of the Christmas story – faces an uncertain future, according to researchers. Ecologists have warned that the production of the fragrant resin could decline by half over the next 15 years.

The festive fragrance is produced by tapping the gum of trees in the Boswellia genus…

“There are several reasons why [the tree species Boswellia papyifera] it is under threat,” explained co-author Frans Bongers, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “The forests that remain are declining because the old individuals are dying continuously, and there there no new individuals coming into the system. That means that the forests are running out of trees.”

“In places like Oman and Yemen, it is being cut down systematically. Now, in Ethiopia, it is being cut down as land is being turned over to agriculture…”

Current management of Boswellia populations is clearly unsustainable,” Prof Bongers warned. “Our models show that within 50 years, populations of Boswellia will be decimated, and the declining populations mean frankincense production is doomed. This is a rather alarming message for the incense industry and conservation organisations…”

In order to ensure future rejuvination, he suggested that areas should be set aside for up to a decade so young Boswellia trees can become established.

Not especially different from scientists suggesting similar practices at sea to protect fishing stocks. Think farmers will be any brighter than factory fisherman?

Egypt and Ethiopia review collaboration on Nile river dam

Meles Zenawi and Essam Sharaf
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Ethiopia and Egypt have agreed to review the impact of a planned $4.8 billion Nile river dam, which Addis Ababa announced in March, in a bid to open a “new chapter” in once-strained relations.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Egyptian counterpart, Essam Sharaf, made the announcement at a joint news conference following talks in Cairo on Saturday. “We have agreed to quickly establish a tripartite team of technical experts to review the impact of the dam that is being built in Ethiopia,” Zenawi said. Experts from Sudan will also be part of the team.

Sharaf said Ethiopia’s planned construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam “could be a source of benefit” – an apparent change in tone by Egypt’s new rulers on what has been a highly contentious issue.

We can make the issue of the Grand Renaissance Dam something useful,” Sharaf said. “This dam, in conjunction with the other dams, can be a path for development and construction between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt…”

Zenawi’s visit to Cairo was the first by an Ethiopian official since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February…

The dam is planned for the Blue Nile river in northwestern Ethiopia, a few kilometres from the Ethiopia–Sudan border.

The dam is designed to have an installed capacity of 5250 MW, which is threefold of the 1885.8 MW installed capacity of the 12 currently operational hydro-power plants of the nation.

Bravo. It ain’t easy – it ain’t ever easy to negotiate treaties over natural resources especially water rights. Cripes, we’re still governed by water rights here in New Mexico that go back to Spanish colonial times. Technically, it’s against New Mexico law to collect rainwater after it falls from the skies — unless used by a farmer.

That these nations are willing to discuss and consider collaboration is a step forward.

Ethiopian rift confirmed as new ocean growing in the desert


In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.

Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world’s oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.

The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study…

“The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it’s almost impossible for us to go,” says Ebinger. “We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous.”

Atalay Ayele’s reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu at the northern end of the rift erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began “unzipping” the rift in both directions, says Ebinger.

Wow! How many times have I said this? Starting out today – this would be one of the places I would head to – to try to be of some use – either as chronicler or working in computational analysis.