In the news...

June 7th, 2019

WE HAVE CHANGED …Due to severely restricted funds, we have changed what we do regularly. Our newsletter is now be published MONTHLY – and this is the third. 

We hope you value what we do. We have raised just enough fund to continue until the end of 2019. Nonetheless, we still need to raise funds for the future and we also want to forge partnerships with African organisations and individuals so that, through active cooperation, we can together both continue and widen our activities. Can you help, or do you know of someone who might? Or have you any comments and criticisms about what we are doing, and how we could improve? Please contact Professor Christopher Leaver, CBE, FRS, FRSE or Bart Ullstein as soon as possibleWe really want to hear from you.

We are still tweeting (@B4FA) daily, posting on Facebook (Biosciences for farming in Africa) and updating our website (www.b4fa.orgregularly.

MAY HEADLINES

This past month, we have covered more than 400 stories on biosciences and farming in Africa on Twitter (@B4FA). Rather than inundating you, our readers of this Month in Review, we have selected just a few topics on which to concentrate.
 
We headline the warning from the world’s leading scientists that the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity in the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken. The 1,800-page study by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows that people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for foodpollination, clean water and a stable climate. According to the report, compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research body on nature, up to a million species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades.
 
In a subsequent article in Afrik21, Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), raises an alert on the risks to agriculture and food security caused by biodiversity loss. Since Africa is particularly threatened, she is calling for new models as regards biodiversity management, from a sustainable development perspective.

An article in Natureargues that current threats to agriculture, climate and health are entwined, but policies treat each in isolation and are misaligned. National strategies for mitigating climate change pay scant attention to biodiversity and food security, while some policies include steps to reduce emissions from livestock and fertilizers, for example, they offer no way of improving diets. What is needed, the article argues, are strategies for managing land use and food systems together. These would consider links between agriculture, water, pollution, biodiversity, diets and greenhouse- gas emissions. Each sector and country can tailor solutions, but global coordination, learning and knowledge sharing is also be necessary to ensure that the net result is sustainable and resilient, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
 
But in an article in ReactionMatt Ridley takes a different view, arguing that the threat to biodiversity is not new, not necessarily accelerating, mostly not caused by economic growth or prosperity, nor by climate change, and will not be reversed by retreating into organic self-sufficiency. Rather, he argues, “land sparing” is the right approach – intensive farming plusland set aside, rather than inefficient farming with some nature in the fields.
 
The BBC reports on an ingenious use of genetic modification: a fungus – genetically enhanced to produce spider toxin which can rapidly kill huge numbers of the mosquitoes that spread malaria.Trials, which took place in Burkina Faso, showed that mosquito populations collapsed by 99 per cent within 45 days. The researchers from the University of Maryland in the US and the IRSS Research Institute in Burkina Faso say their aim is not to make the insects extinct but to help stop the spread of malaria, which happens when female mosquitoes drink blood. Each year, there are about 219 million cases of malaria worldwide, and the disease kills more than 400,000 people.
 
This month, Sciencemagazine reports that African swine fever continues to expand its global reach, with outbreaks reported in Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Hong Kong, South Africa and possibly North Korea. The highly contagious and often fatal disease of domestic pigs and wild boar appeared in China last summer and continuing infections are occurring throughout the country. As a result, according to Bloombergglobal meat production is likely to fall for the first time in two decades.
 
With no vaccine or treatment available, Nature reportsthat more than a million pigs, out of a national herd of around 440 million, have so far been culled in China to try to contain the outbreaks. This not only affects the world meat supply, but could jeopardize the worldwide availability of the blood-thinner heparin, used in the treatment of heart disease in humans. “We know almost nothing about this virus,” admits George Gao, vice-president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China in Beijing. The Chinese government, however, is prioritising research on the virus, setting aside about US$ 15 million for projects. The work will help to fill the many gaps in scientists’ understanding of the virus, including its detailed structure and how it transmits to hosts and evades their immune systems says Gao.
 
And to add to China’s problems, Bloomberg reports that China has warned its 300 million farmers to prepare for infestations of a crop-eating pest that’s devastated harvests in Africa. The voracious fall armyworm is likely to spread through China’s northern corn-growing areas after being detected in 13 provinces as of early May according to a statement from the country’s agricultural ministry. The harvest, it said, must be secured by “snatching food from the worms’ mouths”.

We welcome questions, comments and story links to [email protected]. Please also visit B4FA.org for further reading and useful resources – and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation.

HEADLINES

Biodiversity crisis is about to put humanity at risk, UN scientists to warn
The Guardian, UK

Protecting biodiversity to ensure food security on the African continent
Afrik21

Fix the broken food system in three steps
Nature, UK

Viewpoint: Modern farming, economic growth don’t cause biodiversity decline – they prevent it
Reaction

GM fungus rapidly kills 99% of malaria mosquitoes, study suggests
BBC, UK

African Swine Fever

African swine fever marches across much of Asia
Science, US

Global meat output to fall as fever ravages China pig farms
Bloomberg, US

Spread of deadly pig virus in China hastens vaccine research
Nature, UK

South Africa: African swine fever reports in Heilbron, Free State
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa

Ravaged by pig fever, China’s farms now face armyworm invasion
Bloomberg, US

CRISPR AND GENETIC MODIFICATION

Max Planck Society publishes statement on genome editing
Max Planck Institute, Germany

The Danish Council of Ethics recommends that legislation regarding the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be changed to help achieve sustainability objectives
Food Navigator

European Commission in search of ‘robust response’ to gene editing challenge
Euractiv.com 

14 EU nations call for ‘unified’ CRISPR crop regulation to boost sustainable farming
Genetic Literacy Project, US

New scientific publication shows differences between genome editing and conventional breeding
Test Biotech

CRISPR-Cas9 editing in maize: systematic evaluation of off-target activity and its relevance in crop improvement
Nature, UK 

Research shows that key omega-3 fatty acids within GM plant oils are taken up and processed by the body in exactly the same way as when fish oils are eaten
Rothamsted, UK

No genetic engineering means people die
Globes

Viewpoint: Why we can’t seem to bridge the gulf that divides pro- and anti-GMO forces
Genetic Literacy Project, US

As consumers become more and more detached from farming, ignorance about modern agriculture and GMOs grows
Genetic Literacy Project, US

China’s GMO paradox
The Diplomat, US

Russia joins in global gene-editing bonanza
Nature, UK

Know the reason behind bt brinjal’s popularity in Bangladesh
Krishijagran.com, Bangladesh

Golden Rice, Part 1: The story of a GMO crop that could save 2 billion lives
Genetic Literacy Project

Golden Rice Part 2: Will nutritionally enhanced rice work and help solve malnutrition in developing countries?
Genetic Literacy Project

Golden Rice, Part 3: A thoroughly studied, safe and nutritionally enhanced GMO crop approved by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, but vilified by Greenpeace and ‘environmental’ activists
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Golden Rice, Part 4: Cost-effective GMO crop can save lives and dramatically boost developing economies
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Progress for the pea of prosperity – the release of a high-quality reference genome for cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp)
The Plant Journal

Iron-boosting GM wheat trial gets green light at John Innes Centre
Eastern Daily Press, UK

GM wheat in iron, zinc trial
The West Australian

Genes that can climate-proof chickpea identified
SciDev.net

Omega-3 oil from GMO plants equivalent to fish oil, human clinical study shows
Genetic Literacy Project

Genes that can climate-proof chickpea identified
SciDev.net

Omega-3 oil from GMO plants equivalent to fish oil, human clinical study shows
Genetic Literacy Project

Exotic’ genes may improve cotton yield and quality
Phys.org

Tomato pan-genome makes bringing flavour back easier: Nearly 5,000 new tomato genes mapped
Science Daily, US

Can CRISPR save the Cavendish banana?
Lexology

Gene edited crops: the next generation of plant breeding innovation
IP Pro

Open-source gene expression platform could yield more efficient food, biofuel crops
Genetic Literacy Project

Organic farming with gene editing: An oxymoron or a tool for sustainable agriculture?
Alliance for Science, US

Chemical-free gene silencing poised to ‘naturally’ target disease pests that cause $130 billion of annual crop damage
Genetic Literacy Project

Gene editing reassuring for safety of crops
Technology Times, Pakistan

GM IN AFRICA

African farmers look to genetic engineering in fight against plant diseases and pests
Genetic Literacy Project

Why African countries maintain tight restrictions on genetically modified food
World Politics Review

Royalty-free genes reduce GMO seed costs in Africa
Alliance for Science, US

Students in Ghana rally support for GMO crops
Genetic Literacy Project

Ghana farmer groups demand accelerated approval of GMO crops
Genetic Literacy Project

B4FA Fellow from Uganda Michael Ssali asks what’s happened to the genetic engineering bill?
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Museveni’s GMO law dilemma
Independent, Uganda

We’re determined to move forward with GMOs says Dr. Theresa Ssengooba, a member of the board of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology
Sunrise, Uganda

Proposed GMO law threatens support to Uganda’s agricultural research say experts, by B4FA Fellow Henry Lutaaya
Sunrise, Uganda

Is Kenya finally ready for rollout of GM crops?
AllAfrica.com

GMO revolution is irreversible. If ban is lifted, it will boost delivery of two of the Big Four agenda – food security and manufacturing
Star, Kenya

Kenya reconsidering GMO crop ban to support food security
Alliance for Science

Nigeria approves the commercial release of Bt. pod-borer resistant cowpea
GAIN Report

ECOWAS set to implement biosafety regulations
News Agency of Nigeria

Nigeria approves two GMO cotton varieties anticipated to boost production from 60,000 to 150,000 tonnes
Genetic Literacy Project

Rwanda must pick a side in its GMO debate
TechCabal

AGRICULTURE/BIOSCIENCE

Can African countries copy the modus operandi of a small country like Costa Rica, which has few mineral resources but earns forex from agricultural exports and ecotourism
The Africa Report

Now, 15 species of coffee face extinction in East Africa
The East African

Africa’s food security threatened by poorly performing seed industry, says new report
IPP Media

Ancient trait may hold key to agriculture’s future
Alliance for Science, US

Nigeria seed sector has huge potential but weak
AllAfrica.com

African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC): status of developing genomic resources for African orphan crops
Planta

Fighting to protect Nigeria’s indigenous crops
Alliance for Science, US

Corteva Agriscience, agriculture division of DowDuPont, has disclosed that it is partnering with Nigerian farmers on seed development technology to boost food productivity in the country
Leadership, Nigeria

No one-size-fits-all solution for sustainable agriculture
Phys.org

Plant studies show where Africa’s early farmers tamed some of the continent’s key crops
Science, US

New key stages discovered in how plants prepare to make sex cells for reproduction
Science Daily

Golden bananas in the field: elevated fruit pro‐vitamin A from the expression of a single banana transgene
Plant Biotechnology Journal

A novel gibberellin promotes seedling establishment
Nature, UK

Wax helps plants to survive in the desert
Phys.org

Sticky proteins could protect crops more safely than chemical pesticides
Science, US

New key stages discovered in how plants prepare to make sex cells for reproduction
Science Daily

Duplication of a domestication locus neutralized a cryptic variant that caused a breeding barrier in tomato
Nature, UK

Amaranth – the gluten-free plant high in protein and anti-oxidants
AllAfrica.com

An old/new business opportunity for Africa: durum wheat
Paepard

B4FA Fellow Henry Lutaaya reports: NARO releases drought tolerant beans with ‘power-bank’ effect
Sunrise, Uganda

FAO launches publication series to spur harmonized regional soil management policies
IISD, US

AFRICAN SCIENCE AND RESEARCH
Raising the visibility of African research and innovation
University World News

Chinese investments fuel growth in African science
Nature, UK

Science-policy interactions for climate-smart agriculture uptake: lessons learnt from national science-policy dialogue platforms in West Africa
Relief Web

Call for funding support for innovation platforms, agribusinesses and other multi-stakeholder platforms to scale agricultural technologies in Africa
FARA

African research projects are failing because funding agencies can’t match donor money
Science, US

Scientists told to support farmers by developing solutions for agriculture sector
Business Week

Ethiopian women in biosciences trained on science communication
ISAAA, US

Students trained in agricultural engineering innovation solutions, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru
Daily Monotor, Uganda

Kenyan university to commercialize edible insects to boost food security
News Ghana

EVENTS and OPPORTUNITIES

Event: 30 researchers, 14 countries: major training event to help tackle African food crop challenges ‘V4’ – Virus Vector Vice Versa – a residential course 10 – 21 June at Univ. of  Bristol. 
Connected Research Network, UK

Event: 2nd All Africa postharvest congress and exhibition – September 17– 20, 2019
African Union

Event: Accra, Ghana, October 23-25, 2019 –  maiden conference of the African Plant Breeders Association
African Plant Breeders Association

Event: The Innov8agric challenge  to support African agripreneurs – Dubai, 27 and 28 November 2019
Region Week

Opportunity: Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for African entrepreneurs – deadline 30 June
Region Week

Opportunity: OECD – applications are invited from research scientists working in agriculture, forestry or fisheries and who would like to conduct research projects abroad, in another member country of the Co-operative Research Programme
OECD

Opportunity: AR4DFunding Opportunities – agricultural research
Paepard

Opportunity: The African Academy of Sciences is inviting applications for the AAS Affiliates Programme
African Academy of Sciences

Opportunity: Inaugural call for application: Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA)
Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa

Opportunity: Maghreb Regional Fellowships – apply here
For Women in Science

Opportunity: PhD Internship in Kenya
John Innes Centre, UK

Opportunity: SciDev.Net training: media communication skills for scientists
SciDev.net, UK

ELearning Africa launch new food and agriculture course
Farmers Review