In the news...

April 12th, 2018 / B4FA.org

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has clarified the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) oversight of plants produced through innovative new breeding techniques. A release from USDA states, “under its biotechnology regulations, USDA does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests. This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods.”

This is complimented by an article  from the American Council on Science and Health that lays out the difference between CRISPR-created foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The piece clearly explains how CRISPR explicitly identifies target genes and modifies them by the deletion insertion something as small as a single base pair or as large as a gene, “as a result, it can change genetic behaviour, turning on or off genes, even creating new traits. CRISPR-Cas9 doesn’t require foreign genes … it leaves no trace, and the genome that has been modified is almost identical … to the original.”

The Guardian reports, in the featured article, how the USDA’s go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants has been welcomed by researchers as it “opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe.”
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In other news, the John Innes Centre announces the launch by an international consortium of a new genetic directory that will enable researchers and breeders to scan the genomes of 150 wild wheat relatives of modern wheat to find disease-fighting properties lost to domestication.

The Guardian also reports on the development of new fast-growing durum wheat varieties that can withstand 40ºC heat and produce six tonnes per hectare, requires less water than rice, contains five times more protein and more vitamins and minerals.

We also include details of DigiFarm, the digital platform winner of the developing world technology category of Fast Company‘s 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards. This not only contains valuable information on livestock farming, horticulture, and growing crops, but also enables farmers to access micro-loans and discounted inputs including seeds and fertiliser. “When we spoke to farmers, we found they really want to learn how to become better farmers,” explained Leesa Shrader, who leads work on DigiFarm.

And at a practical level, B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru provides hands-on advice for small farmers on some easy ways to plant maize for higher yields, and Beatrice Nakibuuka explains how to cultivate yellow passion fruitthat provide delicious juice,  grow well in lowlands and mid-altitude areas, and protect them from pests and diseases.

As ever, 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. We look forward to hearing from you!

Headlines

Secretary Perdue Issues USDA Statement on Plant Breeding Innovation
U.S. Department of Agriculture

CRISPR-created foods are different from GMOs. It’s wrong for anti-GMO activists to pretend they’re not
American Council on Science and Health

US gene-editing ruling delights plant scientists
The Guardian

AgBio News

New genomic tool searches wheat’s wild past to improve crops of the future: crowd funded resource is launched by an international consortium
John Innes Centre

Wheat in heat: the ‘crazy idea’ that could combat food insecurity
The Guardian

Project using R&D is changing wheat farming in Africa
SciDev.net

Genomic models predict shorter time for banana breeding
SciDev.net

African Food Security Prize launched to stop the spread of fall armyworm
African Farming

Genetically modified CRISPR’d food is now a reality; what does this mean for India?
Qrius

As climate change brings new challenges for food production, hydroponic farming is fast gaining popularity in South Africa
Fresh Plaza

GMO crops can empower smallholder women farmers in Africa
Genetic Literacy Project

New gene editing tool may yield bigger harvests
Voice of America

Methods matter: a meta-regression on the determinants of willingness-to-pay studies on biofortified foods
NCBI

The power of synthetic biology for bioproduction, remediation and pollution control
Embo Press

Agroecology’s potential to transform food systems for the better
BizCommunity

Best practice

Making sense of differences between African farmers’ evidence and experience
NewsDay

Ethiopia: Agency improving soil fertility, productivity
AllAfrica

Why farmers must wake up, smell the coffee
MediaMax

Uganda: How to grow the yellow passion fruits
Daily Monitor

Uganda: Easy ways to plant maize for high yields, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru
Daily Monitor

Biodiversity

Precarious fate of Ethiopian forest coffee
AllAfrica

Climate change

UN urges Africa to embrace traditional crops to combat climate chang
Xinhua

48 African countries meet in Nairobi to explore climate change technologies
CSR Wire

Climate change, desertification pose serious threat to Africa’s ability to feed itself
The Point

Development

Africa’s food security depends largely on organized farmers
News Ghana

The missing piece in fighting Africa’s malnutrition problems
Relief Web

Marrakech to host the second edition of Africa Women In Agriculture: Empowering Women In agriculture
AllAfrica

Africa needs to focus on agro-industrialisation of cocoa
African Farming

Agriculture, Africa’s link to global value chain
Business a.m.

Agro at forefront of transformation of African marketplace
International Policy Digest

China-Kenya ties in culture, agricultural technologies bearing fruits
Xinhua

Nigerian politicians and the propaganda of economic diversification through agriculture
The African Exponent

Rwanda: Agriculture will remain a priority sector – premier
AllAfrica

Uganda: Agribiotech can unlock business opportunities in East Africa
ISAAA

Energy and innovation

Nuvus Corp brings its bio-agriculture and Blockchain technology to Africa
African Farming

Wind-powered grain drying system could improve grain quality and people’s health in sub-Saharan Africa
University of Kentucky

This agricultural guide on a phone helps increase developing-world farmers’ yields
Fast Company

South Africa: biomass could be the future of SA energy – if we do it right
AllAfrica

Food security

Does food security agenda mean any good for farmers?
My Joy Online

Low awareness, high prices block progress on food loss
SciDev.net

Nigeria’s strides to self-sufficiency in rice production
Blueprint

Malawi: Food Insecurity – Emergency Plan of Action final report (MDRMW012)
Relief Web

Tanzania records surplus food production by 2.6 million tonnes
AllAfrica

Hershey using ‘Cocoa for Good,’ investing $500M to support farming communities
Sustainable Brands

Pests and diseases

The Mycotox Charter: Increasing awareness of, and concerted action for, minimizing mycotoxin exposure worldwide
Toxins

FAO capacitizes extension officers to control Fall Armyworm
AllAfrica

Kenyan maize farmers raise alarm as armyworms resurface
Xinhua

Kenya approves field trials of bollworm-resistant GMO cotton
Genetic Literacy Project

FAO creates massive awareness over possible rinderpest re-emergence in Nigeria
Vanguard

Hybrid swarm of ‘mega-pests’ threatens crops worldwide, warn scientists
The Independent

Policy

Africa can overcome her water challenges says Mwai Kibaki
Fifth Estate

Viewpoint: Health Canada right to approve GMO Golden Rice as ‘safe for sale’
Genetic Literacy Project

The GM debate

Fear holding back GM uptake
Weekly Times

Blanket ban on GM a fallacy, remove it to have food security
The Daily Nation

Opposing ‘Golden Rice’ Is Anti-Human
National Review

Opportunities

Invitation to the African Youth Agripreneur Forum (AYAF) and Agri-Pitch Competition: “Technologies and Innovations for Youth in Agribusiness”
AfDB

Applications are invited for MSc and PhD Scholarships by the Mobility for plant genomics scholars to accelerate climate-smart adaptation options and food security in Africa / GENES
For more information, contact Dr Celestine Afiukwa

Resources

Report: Chronic exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide and a synthetic pyrethroid in full-sized honey bee colonies
BioRxiv