In the news...

February 9th, 2019

THIS WEEK’S HEADLINES

This week we highlight two stories reporting on the use of gene editing to destroy a virus that affects many of the bananas grown in Africa and to make Cavendish bananas, those sold in supermarkets worldwide, resistant to a disease that threatens to make it impossible to grow this variety commercially. In Africa, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kenya is working to breed banana streak virus resistant plants using a variety called Gonja Manjaya. Meanwhile a team in Australia has already genetically engineered the Cavendish to make it resistant to a fungal strain Tropical Race 4 that is devastating its plantations around the world but because of opposition in some areas to genetically modified organisms, scientists are now trying to introduce resistance using CRISPR gene editing.
 
We also highlight news from the John Innes Centre on the pioneering of a new method which allows scientists to rapidly recruit disease resistance genes from wild plants and transfer them into domestic crops. The technique called speed cloning has been developed by researchers in the UK, the United States and Australia to speed up the fight against pathogens that threaten food crops worldwide. It enables researchers to search a genetic “library” of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops so they can rapidly identify sequences associated with disease fighting capability.
 
The GM debate continues apace, and we report particularly on Uganda where scientists and researchers are concerned about their liabilities under the 2018 Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act, also from Nigeria where a coalition of civil society organisations(CSOs), including the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), and farmer groups have called on the Federal Government to revoke permits for the commercial cultivation of BT cowpeas in Nigeria. This is despite Director-General of the National Biosafety Management Agency explaining that the agency scrutinises all GMOs before permission is granted for use. From Kenya, we read of citizens shunning buying bigger tomatoes, mangoes, pawpaws or oranges at fresh produce markets for fear that they may be genetically modified.
 
Appropriately the week also saw the University of Queensland’s new Director of Crop Science, Professor Ian Godwin, making a plea for scientists to speak out about the benefits of new genetic technologies such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and gene editing, saying, “if we are to produce more sustainable and nutritious food to meet the growing global demand – in the face of challenges from pests and diseases, eroded soils, lack of water and climate change – we need to be able to take the best from the latest genetic technologies and from organic and agro-ecological farming practices”.
 
We also celebrate and congratulate Dr Agnes Matilda Kalibata being awarded the 2019 Public Welfare Medal by the US-based National Academy of Sciences for her work to drive Africa’s agricultural transformation through modern science and effective policy. Since 2014, Kalibata has been President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African-led organization founded by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to promote rapid, inclusive, sustainable agricultural growth and food security by giving farmers access to locally adapted and high-yielding seeds.

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
Genome editing has been used to destroy a virus that lurks inside many of the bananas grown in Africa
New Scientist, UK
 
Scientists successfully use gene-editing technology to develop first-ever plantain resistant to banana virus streak
IITA, Nigeria
 
Rapid gene cloning technique will transform crop disease protection
John Innes Centre, UK
 
Scientists urged to fight GMO fake news
University of Queensland, Australia
 
AGRA chair wins prestigious accolade
Journal du Cameroun
 
AgBio news
Wheat can be made gluten safe for people with coeliac disease by using gene editing
Wageningen University, Netherlands
 
Growth rate regulation is associated with developmental modification of source efficiency
Nature, UK
 
Modifying bananas: from transgenics to organics?
Queensland University of Technology
 
Biofortification of field-grown cassava by engineering expression of an iron transporter and
ferritin
Nature, UK
 
You can’t grow crops without phosphorus. To get it, farmers often rely on expensive, frequently unavailable fertiliser. But there could be a better – and easier – way
BBC, UK
 
New vectoring technology turns bees into soldiers in the war against plant pests
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Podcast: Talking Biotech: recruiting bees as soldiers in the war on plant pests
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Nigeria: biofortified cassava could help fight anemia, which impacts 75 per cent of preschool children
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Alleviating the malnutrition menace by biofortification
Technology News, Pakistan
 
Inside Nigeria’s efforts to protect its cowpea harvest with nation’s first genetically engineered seeds
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Companies use CRISPR to improve crops – editing plant genomes to feed a growing population
The Scientist.com
 
Golden rice will be available soon, said Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Dr Abdur Razzak
The Daily Star, Bangladesh
 
Best practice
Reap big from mixing farming with forestry
Sunrise, Uganda
 
The miracle method for sustainable rice – and bigger harvests
The Guardian, UK
 
Kenyan farmers beat dry spell with hydroponics fodder
News Ghana
 
Poor land use practices fueling forest degradation in Africa
News Ghana
 
Climate change and environment
Africa Center for Climate and Sustainable Development inaugurated in Rome
Africa News
 
Ongoing drought leaves farmers, agri-workers crippled
Food for Mzansi, South Africa
 
The Nigerian Meteorology Agency (NIMET) has warned farmers to expect lower and erratic rainfall
All Africa
 
Conservation agriculture and why we must move beyond the organic vs. conventional debate
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Development and Trade 
We need to end parachute research which sidelines the work of African scientists
Quartz Africa
 
Unlocking the value chain: private sector lends momentum to Ghana’s Planting for Food and Jobs Programme
Pulse.com, Ghana
 
Africa’s smallholder farmers are the vital link to the realization of the continent’s agricultural transformation
Pulse.com, Ghana
 
Tapping the potential of Africa’s futures
Global Forum on Agricultural Research
 
Precision farming enables cost savings in a tight economy
Engineering News, South Africa
 
Tanzania to seek international market for cashew nuts
All Africa
 
Chinese companies explore investment opportunities in agriculture and livestock sectors in Ethiopia
African Farming, UK
 
Restrictions on South African export of processed products relaxed by many trade partners
African Daily Voice
 
Uganda: poultry exports ban could soon be lifted
All Africa
 
How profitable is snail farming?
Daily Monitor, Uganda
 
Energy and innovation
The fourth industrial revolution: will Africa benefit?
The Patriot, Namibia
 
Thanks to the world’s love of avocados, Africa’s coffee producers are pivoting
Quartz Africa
 
Finnfund invests in sustainable avocado farming In Tanzania
iAfrica
 
World Vision and Panasonic Corporation have launched an off-grid solutions project in Narok County, Kenya to bring solar-powered electricity to the area
African Review, UK
 
Ghanaian agri-tech start-up Complete Farmer to expand operations to Ivory Coast 
Disrupt Africa
 
Food security 
Every year, Ugandan farmers struggle to increase agricultural production because of procurement of fake seeds that flood the market
Daily Monitor, Uganda
 
Rice sufficiency and food security drive
Leadership, Nigeria
 
Nigeria set to overtake SA as largest maize producer in sub-Saharan Africa
fin24.com, South Africa
 
Pests and diseases
FAO investigates reported outbreak of deadly tilapia virus in Africa’s largest lake
Xinhua, China
 
How do organic pesticides compare to conventional pesticides?
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Soil health – when synthetic pesticides are more sustainable than natural organics
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
New journal article calls for responsible use of herbicides by rice farmers in Africa
Phys.org
 
Policy
World Bank to invest $95 million for agricultural transformation in Malawi
Ventures Africa
 
AU, AfDB to host launch of African Leaders for Nutrition Accountability Scorecard
PML Daily
 
Reduce food wastage to enhance food security
New Times, Rwanda
 
Initiative aims to limit excessive red tape for African science
The Scientist, US
 
Economic justice in land restitution requires an ecological approach to land
Daily Maverick, South Africa
 
The GM debate
What is CRISPR? The revolutionary gene-editing tech explained
Wired, US
 
The rush for genetically engineered crops by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali 
Daily Monitor, Uganda
 
Uganda’s new biotech policies have left the researchers with a wrinkled forehead
Healthcare Herald
 
Question of liability: why researchers are worried about Uganda’s new biotech act
Genetic Literacy Project, US
 
Nigeria: CSOs, farmers seek revocation of permit for commercial GM beans
The Guardian, Nigeria
 
Nigeria: biosafety agency promises to scrutinise GMOs before granting permit
Von, Nigeria
 
Food security feared as Kenya readies to start growing GMO cotton
Xinhua, China
 
High expectations for GM rice research in Ghana
Alliance for Science, US
 
GE crops are seen through a warped lens – risks that pertain to all manner of new crops are often misattributed to genetic engineering
The Scientist.com
 
GMOs improve commerce and social justice
Biology Fortified, US
 
Opportunities and resources
Media skills for scientists – a free online course to teach scientists how to  use the media to reach non-scientists
SciDev.net, UK
 
Report: How innovation contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals
Agri-Food Chain Coalition
 
Report: WATER-WISE – Smart irrigation strategies for Africa
Malabo Montpellier Panel