In the news...

September 9th, 2015 /

The focus of this week’s very wide range of stories: the power of data.

Agriculture for Impact has released an online database on Sustainable Intensification in African agriculture. The database offers information on innovation and practices in the fields of ecology, genetics and socio-economics to build environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture. At a panel on data-driven farming in Africa that took place in Brussels in mid-September, the IFPRIlaunched the Sub-Saharan African Food Security Portal, which contains over 40 indicators related to food security, commodity prices, economics, and human well-being. The portal is part of a push to help farmers make use of data to improve agriculture, facilitate farmers’ input to the portal, and strengthen links between farmers and researchers to help improve data-driven policy.

Meanwhile, the FAO is launching an open-access data portal that collects and analyses satellite imagery to help water-scarce countries manage the precious resource for agriculture. An article in the UK Guardian profiles the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (Godan) initiative, which encourages governments to open up agriculture-related data – from information on pest infestation to crop yields to water and weather – helping farmers around the globe learn from each other in order to promote food security. And the Conversation publishedan article summarising a study of African nations’ scientific and technological capacity based on the 2001 RAND Index to suggest which of the continent’s nations may be poised to move forward technologically in coming decades.

Continuing the water theme, Australian researchers plan to build a prototype ‘Bubble-Greenhouse’ to provide a low-tech, low-maintenance way to desalinate water for growing food. The 150-square metre sealed greenhouse could produce around eight cubic metres of fresh water and up to 30 kilograms of crops each day. It works by moving the evaporation and condensation process outside the greenhouse into ‘bubble columns’ where streams of bubbles create a large surface for water to evaporate. In Egypt, researchers at Alexandria University have developed a desalination method based on membranes that contain cellulose acetate powder that, in combination with other materials, binds salt particles as water passes through. The water is then vaporised and condensed to purify it.

In biotech news, an article by Huw Jones of Rothamsted Research explains how synthetic biology – the fusion of biology and engineering – will help us build better crops from the bottom up far faster than conventional plant breeding, “using libraries of safe, pre-validated genetic components with known functions ready to integrate into a grab-and-grow approach”. Researchers in Flanders and the Netherlands have concluded that a “stack” of several genes are required to breed potatoes strongly resistant toPhytophthora blight, a disease that affects potato crops in Africa. The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) is seeking to develop a genetically improved variety of Brachiaria, a feedstock crop vital to central Africa, to make the plant resistant to aluminium and provide good nutrition from low-fertility soils.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Noah Nash, who sends a video on how biotech will address pest and disease challenges in food production in Ghana; and two stories each from Lominda Afedraru – who writes aboutprogress made in the fight against banana bacterial wilt in Uganda and how small mills are doing flourishing business in rural communities – and Michael Ssali, who reports on earning from coffee clones and orange seedlings and the challenge of fighting poverty through farming.

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

Biosciences & plant genetics around the world

Building better crops from the bottom up
Food Security

Results of the potato field trials demonstrate that gene stacking is necessary for a strong and lasting resistance to Phytophthora blight

Brazil: An indigenous village produces super cassava
World Bank

Breeding tropical feed crops with superior traits
All About Feed

Australia: Bubble desalination greenhouse seeks to boost crop growth
African Brains

Open-access database will help water-scarce countries get more crop per drop

Can open data prevent a global food shortage? Pioneering farmers look to open data for eco-friendly solutions
Guardian UK

Ants are just as effective pest controllers as using chemicals, plus sustainable and cheaper

The race against time to bank the world’s threatened seeds

IRRI will only release Golden Rice if it is found to be safe and shown to improve vitamin A status
Field Questions

Critic claims Golden Rice may never be introduced, better Vitamin A deficiency solutions exist
Genetic Literacy Project

We need to help poor farmers prepare for climate change, now says Bill Gates, it’s critical to invest in helping the poorest adapt
Huffington Post

Report: Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system
Food Security

5 carbon footprint challenges of organic farming
Genetic Literacy Project

After long delay, Indian government considers GMO field trial applications
Genetic Literacy Project

Our greatest challenge: producing more food sustainably while leaving no farmer and consumer behind

Governments maintaining their antipathy for transgenic crops are sensibly balancing public consent with scientific evidence

EU: Agri committee votes against GM imports ‘opt-out’ proposal
Feed Navigator

Should social and political factors have a role in GMO regulation?
Genetic Literacy Project

244 reasons why GMOs are safe: Global science organizations endorse crop biotech
Genetic Literacy Project

Engineering debates on GMOs: how to change minds when emotions overrule science
Genetic Literacy Project

Shill gambit: are geneticists who work for corporations less ethical than university researchers?
Genetic Literacy Project

Should GMO drugs be perceived differently than GMO food?
Genetic Literacy Project

How the media can get agri-tech on the radar
African Brains

How can we improve food security?
World Economic Forum


Online database on sustainable intensification in African agriculture now available
Food Climate Research Network

What the RAND science and technology index tells us about development in Africa
The Conversation

Accessing reliable data on Africa’s agric production poses major challenges

Alexandria University in Egypt unveils a cost-effective desalination technology which can filter highly salty water in minutes

With maize crop decimated by drought, South Africa looks to genetically modified varieties
Genetic Literacy Project

Rwanda Agriculture Board, FAO discuss sustainable cassava production, distribution

Chance, not interest, keeps African students from science

Ten apps that will boost agriculture changing the face of farming within Africa
Ventures Africa

First ever ‘flower maps’ for beekeeping in Africa
African farming

Botswana: Chilli pepper initiative rescues farmer

Foreign firms don’t boost African tech skills

Food insecurity in the Sahel Region – a silent tragedy

US$19mn in agribusiness financing for East Africa
African Farming

Cameroon & FAO create US$20mn agriculture fund
African Farming

‘Why I’m providing training to scientists in Africa’
The Nation

Growth with low human development is Africa’s big threat’

SA Food Sovereignty Campaign: 14 million South Africans face hunger with half the population unsure of their next meal
Daily News

Zimbabwe: Urban farming of mushrooms in Africa amid food deficits

African entrepreneurs to explore agricultural opportunities in Israel
Business Day

Local start-ups hold the key to transforming Africa’s seed industry says Calestous Jouma
Belfer Center

East Africa: a modernised grain trade, empowered small farmers

Smallholder farmers: Agents of change in a risky climate

Kenya, Uganda & Zambia to sharpen long-term climate change adaptation strategies

Why farms of the future need to mix livestock and crops

Kenya: Tharaka women strive to bring back indigenous seeds

Improving processed agricultural exports could help South Africa create 3.4 million jobs by 2030

South Africa should brace itself for a rapid rise in staple food prices
Business Report

Agency helps farmer groups get credit with produce on their farms as collateral
FarmBiz Africa


Biotech will address pest and disease challenges in food production
By B4FA Fellow Noah Nash

Agric must be seen as serious business says President Mahama

West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) to help address problem of food insecurity in West Africa – Prof John Gyapong
GBC Ghana

Ghana to commercialize GM crops in three years
Ghana Business News


Yobe State to establish an irrigation scheme that will engage up to 40,000 youths from across the state

Poor road network hinders women farmers

Call for women empowerment in the agric sector

Farmers urged to avoid mixed farming to curb potato disease

1,500 farmers in four states trained on soybean production


To stem migrant flow, Tanzania offers climate-stressed farmers loans

Farmers target food security through fight against climate change


Progress made in fight against banana bacterial wilt
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Small mills flourishing business with rural communities
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Earning from coffee clones and orange seedlings
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

The challenge of fighting poverty through farming
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Bee farmers should adopt modern beekeeping methods to boost honey exports, a source of income for rural communities
Daily Monitor

Experts debate cooperatives’ role in agricultural transformation
Daily Monitor

Uganda takes over Ethiopia as Africa’s top coffee exporter