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WORLD REVIEW

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Mars

In Ridley Scott’s science fiction drama The Martian, Matt Damon’s character plays a botanist who discovers how to grow potatoes on the Red Planet. Now, scientists are conducting an experiment that will bring them a step closer to making that a reality.

NASA and the Peru-based International Potato Center (CIP) will start cultivating potatoes in Mars-like conditions on Earth, with the hope of eventually building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the ancient crop.

The team will replicate Martian atmospheric conditions in a laboratory, using soil from Peru’s Pampas de La Joya desert — reportedly nearly identical to that found on the Red Planet.

“The increased levels of carbon dioxide will benefit the crop, whose yield is two to four times that of a regular grain crop under normal Earth conditions. The Martian atmosphere is near 95 per cent carbon dioxide,” CIP explained in a press release.

By understanding atmospheric changes on the surface of Mars, the team hopes it will help build more dynamic and accurate simulation centers on Earth. If successful, the experiment could see CIP and NASA pioneer space farming for future manned missions to not just Mars, but other planets and moons in the solar system.

“The extraordinary efforts of the team have set the bar for extraterrestrial farming. The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon,” said Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA Ames research center.

A second goal of the project is to highlight the role of potatoes in improving global food security.

“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” said Joel Ranck, CIP’s head of communications. “We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth.”

Agronomists have long advocated potato farming in areas rife with malnutrition, poverty and pasture scarcity due to its high nutrient levels and the ability to grow in challenging conditions.

Source: CNBC.

Drones

The traditional image of a farmer standing in a field, squinting anxiously at the sky for signs of rain, may be about to get a 21st-century makeover as researchers explore the use of drones on farms from Sri Lanka to sub-Saharan Africa.

The ability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) to hover low over fields of sweet potato, rice and maize with sensoring devices promises benefits for individual farmers and their communities.

An example of this research is how the International Potato Center (CIP) has been carrying out drone trials to map farmers’ fields in Uganda and Tanzania in partnership with the national bureau of statistics in both countries.

Accurate data is crucial for effective agricultural policymaking, and a report by the World Bank this year highlighted how patchy that data is for much of sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Dieudonné Harahagazwe, a senior CIP scientist based in Nairobi, this data gap is behind agencies’ eagerness to participate in researching the potential of drones.

“Donors and governments look at statistics, and in some places smallholder plots are so small we don’t have precise statistics on their crops,” he says.

“With sweet potato, for example, policymakers might say it’s not an important crop because there are just small, scattered plots. Or the statistics can’t tell the difference between potato and sweet potato. This is important, because farmers lose out if the statistics are not accurate.”

This was confirmed by CIP’s initial trials using drones to map fields in Uganda. According to its research in the Kumi district of eastern Uganda, official statistics underestimated the planting of sweet potato by a staggering 50 per cent.

Such a disparity between what’s on the books and what’s in the fields can make a crop less visible to policymakers, which means smallholders might not gain access to relevant extension services such as training, seeds or micro-insurance.

Source: The Guardian.

China

Chinese researchers say they have discovered that eating white vegetables such as potatoes can help reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer.

A study conducted by scientists at Zhejiang University in China found that people who eat a large amount of white vegetables, which also includes cauliflower, cabbage and onions, were a third less likely to develop it than those who did not. But the risk of developing stomach cancer was increased through beer, spirits, salt and preserved foods.

The researchers analyzed 76 existing studies into diet and stomach cancer. They found that for every 50 mg of vitamin C (the equivalent of two potatoes) consumed daily, the risk of developing stomach cancer was reduced by eight per cent.

The report authors wrote: “The decreasing incidence of gastric cancer in developed countries may be partly the results of increased use of refrigeration, availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, and decreased reliance on salted or preserved foods.

“Both fruit and white vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C, which showed significant protective effect against gastric cancer by our analysis.”

Source: The Telegraph

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