1. IAEA News

Benin enhances production and export of soybean using Bio-fertilizers and isotopic technology (Benin)

Poor soil fertility meant low yields and insufficient income for soybean farmers in the West African nation of Benin. Thanks to the use of bio-fertilizers, improved using isotopic techniques, they have increased their production significantly, with the support of the IAEA in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “Inoculation promotes the development of nodules at the roots and thus increases the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. It is a cost-effective way to increase yields, while improving and maintaining soil fertility,” said Nestor Ahoyo Adjovi, Scientific Director of the National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin (INRAB). As a result, soybean production has increased from 57,000 tons in 2009 to 222,000 tons last year, and its value has grown from US$ 6.6 million to US$ 109 million, according to data from a recent industry publication. During the same period, the cultivated area increased from 64,000 ha to 200,000 ha and yield rose from 890 kg/ha in 2009 to 1100 kg/ha in 2019. It is projected that annual soybean production will hit 341,000 tons by 2030 – a six-fold increase compared to 2009. Benin, which did not export soybeans when support from the IAEA and FAO started in 2009, now exports 40,000 tons at a value of US$ 19 million, annually. With support from the IAEA and the FAO, researchers at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, the National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin (INRAB) and several local and international NGOs have helped local farmers to increase the yields of soybean by increasing the nitrogen content of the soil through the natural process of nitrogen fixation from the air, making soybean production environmentally friendly. To facilitate the process of increased nitrogen fixation, researchers at the University of Abomey-Calavi produced inoculum, a biofertilizer that contains microorganisms to enhance the productivity of soil and stimulate crop growth, and also test the efficacy of these bio-fertilizers before releasing them to the Ministry of Agriculture and the NGOs for distribution to farmers. Isotopic techniques were used to establish this efficacy and the ability of the plants to uptake the biofertilizer and fix nitrogen from the air. “Traditional production practices did not allow producers to improve soybean yields above 890 kilograms per hectare, but with current improved production practices, farmers can harvest 1100 kilograms per hectare,” said Ahoyo Adjovi. The improved yield in the farmers’ field is still below the world average of 3370 kilograms per hectare, and scientists continue to work on improving the practices further.

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  1. University World News

Defying the notion of ivory tower in aftermath of COVID-19 (Africa)

Universities throughout the world and those in Africa in particular have been criticised for being ivory towers: aloof, unaccountable and disengaged from the interests of their communities. African universities especially have been incessantly, unfairly and harshly attacked for not lifting the continent out of its cycle of poverty and economic deprivation – as if they were the only players in the complex web of the development universe. This allegation has been on the table for decades – without any vigorous rebuttal from institutions. In fact, this narrative has been instrumental in shaping the discourse on the contribution of African universities to the development of the continent, supporting the notion that such contribution is insignificant. This article discounts the notion of the ‘Towerisation’ of African universities as the current pandemic is decisively exhibiting their role as frontline institutions in combating the killer disease. In a book chapter in Flagship Universities in Africa, Damtew Teferra observes that the unflattering term ‘ivory tower’ has often been evoked to criticise (flagship) universities as much for their purported inclinations as to what matters most in the international sphere as for their presumed lack of relevance to conditions in their own backyard. Criticism of these institutions has been harsh despite their massive contributions, as measured by the graduates – including doctors, nurses, educators, engineers, architects, accountants, lawyers, and agriculturists, among others – they have produced and their impact on the everyday lives of citizens and nations despite the huge challenges. The long-standing allegations, and charges, have been that the contribution of universities is lacking. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, universities have sent most of their students and staff home. However, many remain involved in a host of activities aimed at combating the disease. Here is a snapshot of direct community-related activities undertaken by universities, in addition to their role in providing life-saving medical services.

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  1. The Conversation

A big effort to invest in education will pay off in the long term for South Africa (South Africa)

South Africa’s economy has consistently been a two-speed economy. It has one of the highest inequality rates in the world, characterised by gaps in opportunities for its citizens and by severe poverty lasting from one generation to the next. In the middle of a global pandemic, the debate is about handling COVID-19 while saving the economy, and less about promoting fast growth and future prosperity. Yet this is an unfair dilemma. Countries in good shape can more easily handle the costs of COVID-19. We see the pandemic as just one more factor intensifying the differences. In that context, the pessimistic outlook for future economic growth is worrisome. What performance can we expect from a country with South Africa’s income level in these challenging global economic conditions? South Africa’s economic growth trajectory from 1990 to 2018 shows two things: persistent income inequality between countries; and a fall in the country’s world ranking from number 80 in the 1990s to 110-120 in the 2010s. If global economic conditions hurt every country’s economy, why has South Africa performed poorly relative to its peers? History does not support the concept of catching up. Poor countries stay poor, rich countries stay rich, and middle incomes also stay put, unless radical structural changes take place. The central message from empirical economics is that inequality continues both between countries and between households within countries. Poverty traps are observed in most developing countries as one generation’s lack of opportunities constrains the next generation. Increasing investment in capital and human capital is good for economic growth. Low- and middle-income countries stay behind in such investments, not only for lack of funding, but also for lack of expectations.

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Download  Issue 61 Media Monitoring.Extract for Higher Education news in Africa. 61

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