In the news...

August 26th, 2015 / B4FA

A very full week for biotech news, led by Nina Federoffformer adviser to the US Secretary of State defining genetic modification (GM) as the most critical technology in agriculture for meeting the challenges of feeding a growing global population and an interview with Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Laureate, whose new varieties of fast-growing wheat are credited with saving the lives of more than a billion people. Along side these is the news from Kenya that the forecast lifting of the ban on GM crops could double the country’s maize yields and reduce the costs of fertiliser by eliminating the infestation of the stem borer.

On the research front we report on how a newly discovered gene could increase rice production by up to a third, according to a study by Chinese scientists, potentially offering a new weapon in the fight against global hunger. Then there are the new pesticides in development that work by tinkering with gene expression in the pest without modifying crop genes, thereby probably getting around regulations on genetic modification. The technology, based on a process called RNA interference, may be ready within the next five years. B4FA Advisor Professor Sir David Baulcombeconfirmed, “this is a technology that could allow the development of a whole new generation of agrichemicals”.

In the race to adapt to climate change, we report on the search for salt-tolerant crops in the face of climate-induced rising sea levels and the fact that, already, 20 % of all irrigated croplands are contaminated by salt. And on a call from Cambridge University’s Department of Land Economy for efforts to develop foods to deal with malnutrition and climate change to focus on stem, leaf or root plants rather than grain crops. Not forgetting practitioners, we look at ways in which smallholder farmers can better adapt to climate change and build resilience to a variety of risks – weather-related or not. These include genetic improvements to seed and livestock varieties that can tolerate extremes such as droughts, floods, and vegetation loss that might give them the advantage they need. And lastly, there is plant geneticist at Cornell University, Susan McCouch, advocating several approaches that could make the genetic diversity currently wrapped up in seed banks a more integrated part of modern agriculture.

On improving nutrition food security, and following on from former UN Sectretary-General Kofi Annan, in a video interview by B4FA Fellow, Noah Nash, calling for children and pregnant women to consume more orange sweet potatoes to get the nutrients they need to grow, we report on scientists in China developing the world’s first golden scallop in what they say could be a major advancement in reducing global vitamin A deficiency. The new variety of the popular seafood gets its orange colour from carotenoids, organic pigments that can help stimulate vitamin A production in humans. And from Zambia there’s a report that more 100,000 farmers and their families are currently growing and eating vitamin A enhanced orange maize and at least 600,000 will have adopted the crop by 2020.

But we shouldn’t forget and farming is fundamentally about people. An interview with Lydia Sasu, farmer and the executive director of Development Action Association (DAA), by B4FA Fellow Samuel Hinneh, reminds us how vital peace is to food security. Another Fellow, Michael Ssali, reports and comments on how Africa’s rapid economic growth has not embraced agriculture and farmers, rather starving it of much needed investment and development. At a grassroots level, we have a report from Kenya on a company buying animal wastes from pastoralists and turning it into soil-improving compost. In Ethiopia, similar resources are being turned into biogas, a clean fuel for cooking, by a franchise company, B-Energy, using innovative but basic, appropriate and easy-to-use technology. And lastly, Feli Khumalo, beekeeper and trainer with Beekeeping Association of Zimbabwe, urges more farmers to venture into beekeeping, a business that brings income … as well as aiding pollination, vital to agriculture.

Thank you as ever for joining us, and please send questions, comments and links to

Biosciences & plant genetics around the world
GM — ‘the most critical technology’ for feeding the world, says Nina Federoff
EurikaAlert!, AAAS, US

“Food in a future of 10 billion” – Nina Federoff
BioMed Central, UK

Rice production could increase 33% with GM super-sized grains
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Salt-tolerant plants eyed as crops of the future as 20% of world’s irrigated land already salt contaminated
Canadian Broadcasting Company

Video: “Freedom from Famine: The Norman Borlaug Story”
About Harvest, US

Plant science ‘should focus on stem, leaf and root crops’, says Cambridge researcher
East Anglian Daily Press, UK

World food supply at growing risk from severe weather
Science, AAAS, US

Gene therapy for a changing climate
Can we feed the world, UK

Genetic sprays that don’t modify a plant’s genome might bring benefits with less controversy
MIT Technology Review, US

‘Big Farmer’ firms’ pesticides to manipulate gene expression (RNA interference) may be ready within 5 years.
New Scientist, UK

GMO debate may hinder progress of RNA interference biotechnology in Europe
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Challenging evolution: How GMOs can influence genetic diversity
Science in the News, Harvard, US

Can organic farming sustainably feed the developing world?
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Seed bank advantages lost in fog of anti-GMO war
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Matt Ridley: Greens scare mongering on GMOs, fracking, pesticides blunts access to safer technologies
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Genetically modified trees are being ‘strangled’ by red tape

China develops non-GMO vitamin enhanced “golden scallop” that could address malnutrition
Genetic Literacy Project, US

How do we close Africa’s employment gap?
‪World Economic Forum, Switzerland

Spectroscopy analysis of soil to help African farmers
African Farming, UK

SciDev podcast: How African cattle farmers are working to mitigate emissions

India-Africa conclave to discuss agri cooperation
Financial Express, South Africa

Kenya: Farmers find way to control weeds with intercropping
Daily Nation, Kenya

Kenya: Finally, an about-turn on GMOs 
Daily Nation, Kenya

Kenya: Scholars back William Ruto on GM food
Daily Nation,Kenya

Kenya ‘about to’ legalise controversial GM crops, a look at the costs and benefits in Africa’s context
Mail and Guardian, Kenya

Kenya: GM maize will double yields, says researcher
Daily Nation, Kenya

The world craves soya beans but there aren’t enough farmers in Kenya growing it
Farrmbiz Africa, Kenya

Kenya: National Youth Service urban farming projects provoke the youth to think outside the box
Farmbiz Africa, Kenya

Kenya: organic company turns trash into farm treasure, healing soils
Farmbiz Africa, Kenya

Activists threaten adoption of virus resistant GMO cassava that could rescue Africa’s staple
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Report identifies gaps in the capacities and funding for Africa-Europe food security research collaborations, UK

Namibia: Green schemes key to ensuring food security
New Era, Namibia

‘Western influence damaging African graduates’
The Standard, Zimbabwe

Southern African leaders meet as region faces food crisis
Business Day Live, South Africa

The disturbing contrasts in African agriculture, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali
Daily Monitor, Uganda

African farmers urged to venture into beekeeping … unlimited opportunities and potential to be a huge income earner
News Day, Zimbabwe

100,000+ Zambian farmers growing and eating vitamin A maize now & at least 600,000 will have adopted the crop by 2020
Times of Zambia

Namibia green scheme to target barley farming
African Farming, UK

The bio-fuel start-up that sells cooking gas by the rucksack

Healthy soils vital for the continued growth of natural and managed vegetation, providing food, fibre and fuel.
FAO, Italy

Researchers call for review of GE crop safety, cite public health concerns over glyphosate, 2,4-D

Kofi Annan promotes consumption of orange flesh sweet potato, by B4FA Fellow Noah Nash

Peace is good for food security, by B4FA Fellow Samuel Hinneh

Regional trade key to food security, says World Bank
The Nation, Nigeria

Nigeria urged to improve its cocoa production
African Farming, UK

Nigeria’s food imports are growing at an unsustainable rate of 11% per annum
Daily Trust, Nigeria

Tanzania: Agriculture sector should tackle food insecurity
Tanzania Daily News

Tanzania: Disease-resistant Kiroba cassava variety aims to boost production
Tanzania Daily News

Tanzania: Why farmers view seed as very important crop production input
Tanzania Daily News

Tanzania: Cotton farmers demand timely supply of inputs
Tanzania Daily News

Dodgy fertiliser is keeping Uganda hungry
The Guardian, UK

Farmers’ body wants tough coffee laws, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Uganda: School farm camp – getting youth into farming
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Uganda: ‘Deal with climate change, boost economy’
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Views and opinions in Week in Review are solely those of the author or authors and do not necessarily represent those of B4FA.