Beahrs ELP Blog

Empowering the Nigerian Girl-child

by Binta Iliyasu (ELP 2015), Nigeria

I returned from ELP 2015 with great enthusiasm and determination to make a difference. I am taking on the challenge in Northern Nigeria, advocating for female youth education and women’s participation in Agricultural Research and Development.

I began by conducting a Role Modelling Event at the Government Girls Secondary School Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria in collaboration with the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research for Development (NiWARD), the Gender Policy Unit, Office of the Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Centre for Girls’ Education (a unit under the Population and Reproductive Health Initiative of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria PRHI/ABUTH, Nigera), and Savannah Resource Foundation (NGO). I used my story (which I developed at the Beahrs ELP 2015) to share my personal career journey as a Hausa girl, just like those at the Government Girls Secondary School.

Fellow, Mentor & Mentee with students

Fellow, Mentor & Mentee with students

I shared how I pursued education at the University during a time when female youth education was unheard of throughout the entire community of hundreds of households. I shared how I became the best student overall at my graduation and the first female University graduate from that community. I also shared my current research towards the development of a vaccine to fight against African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness in humans and ‘nagana’ or ‘sammore’ in animals), a serious threat to the development of agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa despite Africa’s huge agricultural potentials. I encouraged them to study hard and join me to fight against poverty, hunger and underdevelopment through their engagement in Agricultural Science education. This motivation was timely as Nigerians are desperately looking forward to a positive change and a way out of the current crisis due to the abandonment of agriculture and the heavy reliance on crude oil.

NewspaperThe presentation titled “Empowering the Girl-child educationally and agriculturally” was covered by the media and subsequently aired throughout West Africa (reaching the remotest parts that have no access to television or print media) through a series of Radio Nigeria broadcasts. After the presentation, there was a Q&A session. The questions that emerged during the Q&A session include: “Binta, how can we support or join you?”, “Our parents are poor, how do we get to the University?”, and “Who will pay our way to the University?” The Role modelling exercise yielded positive results as young girls in the school chorused, “I want to be like Binta, I want to be like Binta!”

Right now, I am faced with the challenge of sourcing for sponsorship for these girls as I get motivated to do much more. Often, girls are given out in marriage in order to settle debts or escape responsibility, especially when the fathers die. This happens mostly after the completion of Junior or Senior Secondary School, no matter how intelligent they may be.

Secondly, I have completed my two-year fellowship with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and I was recognized as the best overall in the West African sub-Regional progress monitoring meeting in Ghana. Finally, I have concluded the primary screening of the DNA vaccine, and I am at the final stage of my final PhD program, awaiting the final external defense.

Deforestation: A Cause for Concern in Nicaragua

by Bernis Cunningham (ELP 2015), Nicaragua

One of the main environmental problems of Nicaragua in this moment is deforestation. This problem is inflicted by the uncontrolled advance of extensive livestock farming, unsustainable agriculture and population growth. Nicaragua’s economy revolves around agriculture and cattle raising. The extractive economic model and the population growth of recent years is causing the destruction of the last natural reserves of the country. (Bosawas and Indian corn)


The Central American region is receiving the early impacts of climate change. With this deforestation we become more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Nicaragua we have had 3 years of drought with the “el Niño” climate phenomenon. The prolonged drought is causing a serious problem in the dry areas and rural areas of the country. The main problem is the lack of access to water in quantity and quality.

Currently, I am supporting a project for strengthening the social movements in Granada. This project is led by the Nicaraguan Center for Environmental Conservation, a non-profit organization. This organization has two objectives, “the conservation of the environment and sustainable human development…” The project aims to strengthen the capacities of the leaders of social movements in the communities of Capulin and San Blas, which suffer from drought, poverty, and the negative impacts of monoculture plantations of sugarcane in the area.

In Nicaragua, there are more than 101,000 acres planted with sugarcane, more than 800 private cane, 4 sugar mills, 35 producers, 283 direct jobs and more than 120,000 indirect jobs generated. The sugar activity generates more than 5% of GDP, agricultural investment of the $ 200,000,000 of dollars. It generates revenue of more than C$ 30 million córdobas; “brings more than 60 MW of power to the national public network during the harvest period, generating more than 10% of port movement of Corinth and the production is located in rural areas: Chichigalpa, El Viejo, Chinandega, Bethlehem, Potosi and San Rafael de el Sur.” (

The agro-industrial production of cane sugar, peanut, and palm is another serious problem of forest and water resources in Nicaragua. There is evidence of local experience and studies demonstrating the negative effects of monocultures of categorical and assiduously causes to water, land, forest and society as a whole.

Our social research and the testimonies of those affected conclude that the agro-business model generates negative impacts on the environment by using large quantities of water, large amounts of agrochemical, and contributing to soil wear. It also negatively impacts the economy through monopolization and land grabbing, with almost exclusive benefits for big economic groups, displacement of peasants, and low generation of jobs because of the modernization of the agro-industry. Jobs generated by the industry for the most part are of low quality. In the project in Capulin and San Blas, the Nicaraguan Center of Environmental Conservation have held 6 workshops with the community, the company and the local government in 2015 and 2016.

I also participate as a member in the association “Jovenes por el agua” initiative of Global Water partnership ( and ANACC ( “Nicaragua National Association Against Climate Change.”

We hope to be able to promote Agroecology and organic farming within social movements that we advise. We believe that rural models should be focused on meeting the nutritional needs of people of Nicaragua and the surplus to exports to international markets.

I had the privilege of participating in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley. This experience changed my perspective in dealing with environmental problems involving various actors, the government, the company and the community. In the Beahrs ELP 2015, I learned that environmental problems are seen from different perspectives depending on the sector you are representing.

Masaya Volcano

Masaya Volcano

The other project that I’m working on is in the private sector. We have the legal structure of the recycling company and the professional team. We also have the land where we will start the project. This project has been very complex in financial and technical issues. At Berkeley, I met Dr. Thomas Azwell, who has kept me motivated in the difficult moments of this project. I know we have everything that the investors were asking. We hope to launch this project in a couple of months.

In the Beahrs ELP program, I met many environmental leaders from all parts of the world. I maintain communication and exchange environmental information whit ELP participants. In this course I had the opportunity to meet great academics, learn new skill and make new friends. The ELP hass definitely been a great experience in my life and professional career.

Having fun while doing good: 20 years of bioeconomy conferences in Ravello

David Zilberman photo

By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC, Berkeley
This article was originally published on The Berkeley Blog.
Read the original article.


The discovery of DNA in 1955 opened new opportunities for utilizing biological knowledge for practical applications. The medical biotechnology industry emerged in the late 1970s with the patenting of the human growth hormone, the Cohen-Boyer patent for genetic recombination, and the creation of Genentech. Scientists were also looking for agricultural applications of these emerging technologies. First applications included enzymes for breads and cheeses and a vaccine against swine diarrhea. In 1987 the ice-minus bacteria that targeted frost damage in strawberries was first applied in open fields in Berkeley, after the US government established a regulatory framework for the introduction of GMOs in agriculture. At the same time, Jeremy Rifkin and other activists started legal actions to halt the new technology, and new companies, like Agracetus were established.


Agricultural economists realized that the fledgling biotechnology industry held the potential to change agriculture and would raise significant policy challenges. In 1993, Richard Just and Darrell Hueth, predicted that agricultural biotechnology would destabilize the pesticide sector, lead to significant losses for existing pesticide companies, and introduce new players and conflicts to the industry. In the same year, Postlewait, Parker and Zilberman suggested that agricultural biotechnology would develop faster in the U.S. due to the strength of its educational industrial complex, rapid technology transfer from universities to industry, and the future of the industry would be affected by regulation and intellectual property rights considerations.

Robert Evenson, Doug Gollin and Vittoria Santaniello believed that the introduction of agricultural biotechnology would enhance the value of plant genetic resources and highlight the need for effective policies to enhance such resources and IP to enhance overall efficiency and the potential benefits in developing countries from the existing technologies. They organized a symposium at the University of Rome Tor Vergata with the sponsorship of FAO, entitled the Economics of Valuation and Conservation of Genetic Resources for Agriculture.

thumb_2006-06-30-16.02.50_1024-600x450In 1997, the first conference of what would become the International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR) was held at Tor Vergata organized by Santaniello with his friends from North Carolina State Jerry Carlson and Michelle Mara, Robert Evenson, and Bill Lesser with Pasquale L. Scandizzo in the background. It gained support from Joseph Cooper at FAO and the emphasis was on biotechnology and biodiversity as well as early studies of the impact of GMOs on yield and costs and the future of the agricultural biotechnology industry.

This conference was followed by a larger conference that was supported by the FAO and others. At the end of this conference, the working group had a discussion of how to proceed and decided to establish the ICABR as a consortium of individuals and universities modeled after the water consortium (IWREC). The leadership was Santaniello, Evenson, Zilberman, and Scandizzo.

The key principles guiding the ICABR’s design were that membership would be on a voluntary basis, regular members would pay their way to the conferences as well as registration fees, and that we would seek support from Tor Vergata, Yale, UC Berkeley, and other institutions to cover the costs of the consortium and pay for invited speakers, hoping that they would become members later on. We also decided to seek support to attract scholars from developing countries and to develop an agenda that evolved with the changing agricultural biotechnology sector.

From the beginning, the beauty of Rome was a key to success of the consortium. After long days, the members feasted on the cuisine and reveled at the beauty of Italian treasures, including special visits to the Borghese and other museums and a midnight tour around town. The consortium featured a wonderful website and announcements of the conferences emphasized the content as well as the attractiveness of the venue.

thumb_IMG_1202_1024-450x600In 2000, the annual meeting of the ICABR moved to Ravello. While Rome provided many attractions, the traffic and noise of city life were a distraction. The Italian government provided modest support to ventures that enhanced economic activities in the south, and after a visit to Ravello, we fell in love with the place. During the first few years, the meetings were held at the magnificent Villa Rufolo. More recently, the meetings moved to the modern auditorium designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

As part of the meeting, we had a nightly concert as well as tours of the attractions around the area. We still remember the amazing tour to Pompeii, a fascinating visit to the Naples museum, and great tours to Positano, Capri, and Amalfi. We have been in Ravello for 15 years now and we continuously discover new cultural and gastronomic gems. While the consortium has a group of regulars, the list of participants change each year, reflecting the changing agenda. What we realize is that once people join us in Ravello, they love to return.

In 2007, the ICABR entered a new era as we, and the scientific community, lost Bob Evenson (and here) and Vittorio Santaniello. In 2008 we established the annual Vittorio Santaniello Memorial Lecture, and in the first lecture, Justus Wesseler presented “The Santaniello Theorem of Irreversible Benefits”. Many lectures followed with renowned scientists.[1] We were fortunate that Sara Savastano, a professor at Tor Vergata, took over as the secretary and the engine behind ICABR, and Carl Pray of Rutgers University became our president. Carl established a broader leadership team that is responsible to organize the programs for the conferences and manage publications coming out of our work.

Under this new leadership, we hosted editions of the conference jointly with other international associations, among others a joint conference with the European Association of Agriculture Economist – the 128th EAAE Seminar in 2012, together with a Joint AAWE-ICABR Workshop on Technology and Innovation in the Wine Industry in Feudi di San Gregorio, one of the most spectacular winery in Southern Italy (Atripalda – Avellino), a Pre-Conference Workshop on The Economics, Technology, and Sustainability of the Wine and Beer Economy in 2011 in Villa Mondragone (Monteporzio Catone – Rome) a patrician villa that belongs to the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and a joint-workshop in 2011 during the annual meeting of the EAERE, the European Association of Environmental Economists held at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Finally, in 2014, thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation, we ventured out of Ravello and Italy to hold our conference in Kenya, and we were able to involve many African Scholars.

2008-07-03-14.22.04-300x225The agenda of ICABR has evolved over the years. In the beginning, we emphasized prediction of the magnitude and extent of the impact of biotechnology in agriculture. After empirical data on various impacts were available, ICABR presenters used it to show that adoption of GMOs tended to increase yields (especially in developing countries), reduce pesticides, reduce poverty and in some cases have environmental and worker health benefits. Another area of emphasis was to study the extent to which access to IPR by researchers and companies was a barrier to developing new GMO technologies, especially in developing new foods for the poor.

Ideas that were presented at ICABR were later used to develop arrangements that transfer the right to use IPR to developers of new technologies in developing countries. Multiple sessions of ICABR meetings investigated the distribution of benefits from GMOs in agriculture. Some results appeared in a US National Research Council study and suggested that while the developers of the technologies (Monsanto) made substantial gain, much of the benefits went to farmers and especially consumers. Consumers gained from lower prices of corn, soybeans, and other crops that translated in lower prices of food, especially meat.

Over the years, it became clear that the main constraint to the introduction of GMOs was regulation, and the political economy and politics of GMOs has become a major of emphasis. The regulatory systems have reached an equilibrium where GMOs are more acceptable for feed and fiber, but less for food. The GMO technology was introduced in the U.S., but was less favored in Europe.

The larger European influence in Africa has contributed to the tougher barriers on the introduction of GMOs there. The cost of heavy regulation of GMOs has negatively affected the poor, as the case of Golden Rice illustrates. The regulatory system is quite costly and confusing and there were presentations exploring the implications of different rules that allow co-existence between GMO and non-GMO technologies and ideas of how to improve them.

A driving force for GMO regulations in different locations is consumer perception, which emphasize that attitudes are shaped by the way that GMO choices are presented and that while some consumers would pay a premium to avoid GMOs, there is a large constituency that considers price and availability and not GMO, per se.


The agenda of the ICABR has gradually expanded to go beyond the study of agricultural biotechnology to the study of the bioeconomy, which include the parts of the economy that use bio-resources to produce commercial products – including agriculture, biofuels, fine chemicals, and even agrotourism. The ICABR has become a major forum to understand the impact of biofuels on food prices and availability, to debate the merits of many biofuel policies, and to assess the potential and impact of second-generation biofuels.

The bioeconomy embodies a vision where biotechnologies are augmenting farming practices to expand the efficiency and range of products produced by agriculture. That will enable replacement of non-renewable resources on which we depend on today with renewable sources and reduce GHG emissions and the footprint of agriculture. One of the major areas of research is the supply chain and the transition of innovation to commercial products. We have found that the older sectors of the bioeconomy, that are based on fermentation, like beer and alcohol, provide several lessons for the new bioeconomy.

thumb_IMG_1196_1024-450x600This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of ICABR and we are optimistic for its future. New developments, like gene editing (in particular CRISPR), hold a lot of promise, but their implications will depend on policy and regulations, and thus provide us new avenues of research. The bioeconomy is growing and evolving in response to changing economic and political conditions, along with climate change. The growing use of big data, and the introduction of new analytical tools, provide ICABR with even more opportunities to pursue its research agenda.

Happy 20th!

David Zilberman, University of California, Berkeley

[1] Including Odin Knudsen (Real Option International), Prabhu Pingali (Cornell University), Carlo Carraro (university of Venice), Abhaya Dandekar (UC Davis), Luuk van der Wielen (TU Delft), David Zilberman (UC Berkeley), Giuseppe Novelli (University of Rome Tor Vergata), Erwin Bulte (Wageningen) and Partha Dasgupta (University of Cambridge).

Decentralisation key to ending water wars

by Nujpanit Narkpitaks (ELP 2011), Thailand

This article was originally published on Bangkok Post.
Read the original article.

Water is the lifeblood of agriculture. It has significant impacts on the livelihood of millions of Thai farmers. Early on in rainy season this year, farmers in the Central Plains suffered from one of the most intense droughts in the last five decades. Evidence shows that this year is one of the lowest rainfall years since 1970 due to the effects of El Nino. Apart from the devastating floods of 2011, this drought is another wake-up call for Thailand to take a more serious step toward an effective and sustainable water management system.

Normally, wet season rice crops rely primarily on rainfall, but with severe rainfall shortages this year, farmers had to turn to irrigated water which was in extremely limited supply. The situation worsened when the two largest reservoirs in the North (the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams) hit their second lowest water levels in the last 45 years, putting millions of rai of rice plantations at serious risk.

To quickly respond to the drought impacts, the government launched several temporary relief measures and initiated some medium-and long-term projects, but like previous administrations, the emphasis is being put on the structural aspect of water management.

In addition to Mother Nature, another main factor causing this critical drought situation was the poor management of irrigated water during the past three years. After the 2011 floods, water from key reservoirs was discharged excessively due to politicians’ flood phobia and the controversial paddy pledging policy was implemented, resulting in a surge in rice production and excessive use of irrigated water between 2012 and 2014.

Water management in the Chao Phraya River basin has been quite problematic. Surface water is scarce, yet considered an open access resource as agricultural water uses are almost free of charge. This led to excessive use of irrigated water.

With limited surface water supply, increases in water demand due to rapid economic development and urbanisation along the Chao Phraya River have caused many conflicts among water users in different areas.

Also, the current centralised water management system has shown numerous weaknesses. The water allocation processes are prone to political intervention and considered unfair and inefficient. Farmers can usually obtain more water by lobbying politicians in their provinces and it is impossible for the central government officers to monitor and prevent water theft.

Experience in some developed countries prove that water management decentralisation is the key to solving these problems.

Thailand has started building stepping stones toward a decentralised system but this has not yielded a definitive result. The first attempt was when the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) created 50,000 water user groups. A TDRI survey of water users shows that some of these groups can efficiently manage the scarce common resource by themselves, creating a more equitable, stable and adequate water supply for farmers’ crops.

Conflicts among farmers have been reduced and some groups have made the collective decision not to grow rice when there is drought to save enough water for the next crop season.

Yet the roles of these water user groups are still limited because they are not legally recognised and entitled to state funds. Their real function continues to focus primarily on water allocation management in their areas as waste water and flood management are fragmented in the hands of the local governments and some central government agencies. Moreover, water user groups have never formed a network to work with groups in other provinces along the same river basin.

The second attempt was when the river basin committees were established by the Department of Water Resource in 1998. But so far, the committees have not played any active role in shaping water management policy.

If the government is serious about water management reform, it has to urgently pass the water resource law which will vest power and assign legal functions to the water user groups and river basin committees. Above all, the committees must consist of water user groups’ representatives from both upstream and downstream of the same river basin to ensure participatory decision-making. This will essentially fill in the missing links in water management decentralisation efforts.

Water management is 95% practice and 5% theory, so it will work if, and only if, water users in the same river basin are given forums to work together to come up with productive collective actions. The goal towards sustainable and equitable decentralised water management will take years or decades to reach. That is why we need to begin our journey now.

Companies, communities and NGOs define a new trade Market for Amazon products

by Helga Yamaki (ELP 2013), Brazil

The companies that want to fill up their products with oils, nuts, native essences from the Amazon, will need to create a dialogue with the extractivist communities, quilombolas and small producers of the region. Having accumulated knowledge on how to extract valuable raw material in a way that don’t degrade the forest, the supplier communities enter a new era of relationships with the industry.

Supported by the NGO, the traditional communities that survive from the sustainable use of the Amazon biodiversity, established the base line for trading of NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Products). The Community Protocol was launched on December 4th at Alter do Chão, Pará state, during the seminar on “Dialogues about Agroecology and Ethical Trade in the Amazon”.

Community representatives, partners and speakers in the Seminar at Alter do Cháo.

Community representatives, partners and speakers in the Seminar at Alter do Cháo.

The Forest of Value Project, is an initiative of Imaflora – Institute of Management and Agriculture and Forest Certification, that has a goal to conserve the Amazon forest through the strengthening of sustainable supply chain of NTFP and the dissemination of agroecology.

This Project is developed in three different territories of traditional communities and small holders in the country side of the state of Pará: Calha Norte of the Amazonas River, São Félix do Xingu and Terra do Meio regions. The project helps to establish paths to a new economy which keeps the forest standing and on its traditional ways of life, maintaining its most important value.

Our main focus is at the end of this chain, but we have partners such as ISA – Socio environmental Institute and ICMBio – Public sector responsible for these Protect Areas, that work along the chain.

To create a network between companies and communities, guide lines were created in order to develop a Community Protocol. This protocol emerged from negotiations between companies and communities from the State of Pará, taking into consideration their needs and rules.

The development of this Community Protocol aimed to diffuse the idea and allow it to be used in different communities from Pará and other Amazon communities.

To get to know more about the Community Protocol – companies and communities establishing new ways of trading protocol, click here:

This video represents part of our learning process at Imaflora and part of my work, where I have worked for the past 6 years.

yamaki2Through this video, we hope to stimulate the dialogue between traditional communities and companies, aiming to promote a differentiated trade market that contributes with the biodiversity conservation, that respects traditional communities ways of life and that follows ethical trading principals.

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