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September 13th, 2018 / B4FA.org

Last weekend, the 2018 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) concluded in Kigali, Rwanda. Besides the launch of a new consortium to fight the invasive Fall armyworm threatening African maize, sorghum and other crops, the three-day conference featured the announcement of a farmer-led irrigation initiative, the Irrigation for Smallholder Farming Enterprises, a program that will help smallholder farmers acquire and operate irrigation systems to help stabilize rain-reliant farming regions.

Other focal points included new pledges of financial investment in African farms and agribusiness, attracting youth to agriculture, agricultural trade between African countries and technical assistance partnerships with China and Israel.

During the gathering, the Africa Food Prize was also awarded to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – the first institution ever to receive this award. Based in Ibadan, Nigeria, the IITA is a non-profit research institution that focuses on ensuring food security in sub-Saharan Africa in the face of pests, diseases and climate change, with an emphasis on African staple crops. The IITA has developed many improved and high-yielding varieties of such crops as cassava, banana, cowpea, maize, soybean and yam.

“From the cassava we’re still eating today, to the valuable and nutritious soybeans we now grow in our fields, to maize varieties that can withstand drought and deadly toxins—our diets and our agriculture businesses would be much poorer today without IITA’s leadership, and its willingness to forge powerful bonds with African farmers and African communities,” said H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria and chair of the Africa Food Prize Committee.

In biotech news, scientists led by Dr Simon Bull at the Institute of Molecular Plant Biology in Switzerland have used CRISPR-Cas9 to edit cassava genes to alter the quality of the starch it produces in favor of the type preferred by consumers as well as to accelerate flowering–which will help breeders create improved varieties of the plant more quickly.

A feature written by Devan Mehta, one of the researchers involved, engagingly explains the technology behind the breakthrough as well as why it could provide new market opportunities for smallholder farmers in Africa. In pointing out how CRISPR-led breakthroughs do not only benefit the global North, he makes the case that CRISPR-derived plants should not be subjected to the same regulations as GMO plants if the technol is to help the rest of the world.

“This study is an excellent demonstration that CRISPR can be rapidly deployed by public institutions to benefit crops and farmers who’ve been long ignored by the seed industry,” he writes. “For the subsistence farmers growing cassava today, the legal distinctions between genome-editing, mutation breeding, and GMOs are far less important than finally being able to support their families. I can only hope that regulators in Africa and Asia heed the message and embrace new breeding technologies like ours.” The original paper may be accessed at Science Advances.

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Headlines

Major highlights from the African Green Revolution Forum 2018
Ventures Africa

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture wins 2018 Africa Food Prize award worth $100,000
Business Insider

Scientists use CRISPR-Cas9 to accelerate breeding for modified starch in cassava
ISAAA

Cassava, an African staple food crop, could be poised to become a major source of industrial starch thanks to CRISPR
Massive Science

AgBio news

A ground-breaking project to cultivate grass pea in drought-prone areas has been awarded £1.2m funding from GCRF, in bid to unlock the potential of the resilient and highly nutritious legume
John Innes Centre

Blue-green algae promises to boost yields of important food crops
ISAAA

Embracing biotech crops and why Nigeria’s GMO fight is far from over
Genetic Literacy Project

Chinese agricultural experts help Tanzanian farmers increase crop yield
Global Times

Nigeria: Government to support 1000 cotton farmers
Journal du Cameroun

African leaders commit to stop ‘blame game’ on poor agriculture yields
KT Press

“Scientists must keep fighting fake news, not retreat ”
The Guardian

Ensuring food fortification in Nigeria
AllAfrica

Syngenta announces plans to engage stakeholders in agriculture
CNBC Africa

GMOs are not agriculture’s future–biotech is
Scientific American

To save iconic American chestnut, researchers plan introduction of genetically engineered tree into the wild
Science

Researchers find new genes in soybean linked to aphid resistance
ISAAA

Method for production of non-transgenic gene-edited plants, developed for cloned plants
ISAAA

Argentina and GMOs: Exploring the nation’s long relationship with biotech crops
Genetic Literacy Project

Scientists find molecule for boosting plant growth with less nitrogen
ISAAA

Sorghum’s weed-killing power transferred to rice
ISAAA

Nitrogen fixation engineering in cereal crops moves a step closer
John Innes Centre

South Africa tells the continent: “Learn from our biotech example”
Alliance for Science

Thailand offers solution to local cassava virus
Khmer Times

Biodiversity

Take a look at some of the billions of organisms that keep our soil healthy
Ensia

You might not be familiar with alfalfa, but this member of the pea family is one of the world’s most important crops for feeding livestock
Crop Trust

Climate change

New initiative to boost smallholders’ climate resilience in the Horn of Africa
Reliefweb

Development

Uganda: Youth strikes gold in farming
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Uganda: Farming can reduce youth migration
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

World Bank pours hundreds of millions into African science
Nature

Bank of Ghana to establish GHC500m fund for agricultural growth – Akufo-Addo
GhanaWeb

Political support more important than seeds, weather and soil in Africa’s agriculture progress, says new report
AllAfrica

African agriculture’s future lies in cultivating youth, not only crops
AllAfrica

On the brink of innovative ag technology acceptance: a Kenyan farmer’s perspective
Global Farmer Network

Young Pitch AgriHack entrepreneurs awarded during Presidential Summit
CTA

Nigeria: Food Assistance Fact Sheet – September 4, 2018
Reliefweb

Uganda: Invest in typical agricultural institutions – Prof Nhamo
The Observer

Agriculture is the way out for Africa – Rockefeller Foundation
Moneyweb

Aid spending can help stabilise ‘fragile’ African countries; investment in farming creates jobs, improves food security and tackles radicalisation
Financial Times

Energy & innovation

Food security: vertical farming sounds fantastic until you consider its energy use
The Conversation

Kenya: Tech initiatives have not benefited smallholder farmers
AllAfrica

Technology for agriculture? Design with farmers at the center
Forbes

Food security

Hunger is on the rise, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report
FAO

Demand for healthy food can only grow
Gain

Southern Africa: Invest in irrigation to ensure food security
The Herald

World’s top universities join forces to fight hunger
ISAAA

Pests and diseases

Crop-eating pest could hit Africa food supplies: experts
Phys.org

Cassava mosaic virus now affecting at least five provinces in Cambodia
Khmer Times

UN calls emergency meeting over African swine fever as China confirms ninth case
The Telegraph

First genetically modified mosquitoes set to be released in Africa
Telegraph

Policy

Glyphosate on trial
McGill

Crispr-edited crop research could be crippled by European court ruling
Chemistry World

European politicians must put greater trust in plant scientists
Nature

The GM debate

When farmers and food scientists meet
Medium

Comments on two recent publications on GM maize and Roundup
Nature

Is it time to change our mind on GMOs
Newsroom

Study: 20 years of GM adoption in Brazil increased farmers’ profits, boosted economy, and preserved the environment
ISAAA

Opportunities & resources

Apply for the AWARD pan-African Fellowship
Deadline 08 October 2018
FAO

E-conference : Responding to Fall Armyworm in Africa
22-26 October
Sustainable Development Solutions Network

Next Einstein Forum Africa Science Week Zambia celebrations start today, launching the second edition of the NEF Science Week in 35 African countries throughout the months of September, October & December 2018
Africa Science Week

Last chance to apply for an exciting new career opportunity at Kew: Phylogenomics  Postdoctoral Researcher: Plant & Fungal Trees of Life Project (PAFTOL). Applications close 16/09
Kew

Calls for proposals from The African Academy of Sciences now open
Deadline October 8
EU Science Hub

Event: Brussels Briefing 52: Food safety and the food system in Africa, Sep 19, 2018 at 9:00 AM
Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

Vacancy: SME Development Specialists for Uganda and Tanzania
African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP)

Program: Congress FOOD 2030: Towards sustainable agri-food systems
University of Hohenheim