In the news...

December 14th, 2017 /

This week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released its latest Red List of endangered species revealing that the wild relatives of modern crops humans rely on – including rice, wheat and yam – are listed as threatened. Wild relatives of food crops are crucial as genetic insurance to safeguard food security, particularly as the world’s staple foods lack genetic diversity, and our food supplies are therefore particularly vulnerable to pests, diseases, and environmental changes. Scientists say that these wild plants – including rice in Asia and Africa, wheat in the near and Middle East, and yams in Africa – are under threat from intensive farming, deforestation and urban sprawl.

A feature article published by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew takes a deeper look into the 41 species of threatened wild yams, primarily originating in Madagascar and southern Africa. “It’s thought that around 20 per cent of the world’s plants are threatened with extinction. While this level is shocking, our assessments of yams show that this group has around twice that level of risk, with over 40 per cent of the species we studied at risk of extinction,” says the article.

Two stories this week focused interestingly on the role of GM in both restoring soil health and trapping CO2 emissions in soil. In the case of the former, a recent study has demonstrated how microorganisms (Azotobacter chroococcum) were genetically modified to improve their nitrogen-fixing properties, resulting in a yield increase by almost 60% when used as a biofertilizer. If found safe and applied commercially, this method could cut down on the need for synthetic fertilizers. Meanwhile scientists at the Salk Institute hope to breed plants to work as “biological carbon scrubbers” – efficiently removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it into soil.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from both Lominda Afedraru and Michael Ssali in Uganda. Lominda writes about farmers’ representatives welcoming the adoption of biotech as well as research being spearheaded at Makerere University around ecosystem challenges like climate change, land degradation, and so on for increased food security in Africa. Michael Ssali writes a commentary on GMO technology in Uganda and the role of technology in farming.

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Wild relatives of modern crops deemed crucial for food security are being pushed to the brink of extinction

New Kew assessments reveal that over 40% of wild yam species in Madagascar and southern Africa are threatened with extinction

Restoring soil health: Synthetic fertilizer use could be cut, nutrients restored with GMO bacteria
Genetic Literacy Project

Climate change fighting plants: Genetically modified crops could trap half of human CO2 emissions in soil
Genetic Literacy Project

Salk Institute unleashes plants on climate issues
San Diego Union Tribune

Plant biologist Joanne Chory wins the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Genes found in drought-resistant plants could accelerate evolution of water-use efficient crops
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Combating climate change: Glyphosate herbicide ban would hurt no-till farming, conservation agriculture
Genetic Literacy Project

Perspectives on organic agriculture and new plant breeding techniques

Scientists see role for insects and ‘orphan crops’ in human diet
Financial Times

FAO calls for urgent actions to reverse the rise in hunger

The contribution of glyphosate to agriculture and potential impact of restrictions on use at the global level
Taylor Francis Online

Study identifies genetic basis of western corn rootworm resistance

New technique to help plant breeders develop drought resistant varieties faster

Scientists told to clear doubts on GM crops
The Hindu

Bringing new plant varieties to market: Plant breeding and selection practices advance beneficial characteristics while minimizing unintended changes

Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death | George Monbiot
Guardian, UK

A Seed of Maize: Kickstart on storytelling for impact!
Skoll Foundation

European Biotech Week 2017 – Interview with Nancy Kavazanjian

GM crops take the line of least resistance in their global spread
Financial Times

Bananageddon film examines how to save America’s favorite fruit

CRISPR-Cas9 and TALENs used to generate mutants for studying small RNA in legumes


Japan to support efforts targeting crop-destroying fall armyworm in South Sudan
CNBC Africa

Africa’s top 10 most food-secure countries. What do they have in common?
Biz Agriculture

African leaders convene to discuss ways to beat hunger and malnutrition
CNBC Africa

Sustainable yam systems in West Africa

AfDB approves new project to fight hunger in Africa
News Ghana

Weeding out striga from African drylands
Thomson Reuters

Experts meet in Dar to intensify war on aflatoxin
Daily News

Is digital agriculture the key to revolutionize future farming in Africa?

ECOWAS, and partners want protection of women’s rights in agriculture, which could increase food production
Africa News

ECOWAS, Oxfam, others urge gender equity in agric investment in Africa
Daily Trust

Remittances can harness Africa’s development, researchers say

Fair trade with Europe should depend on quality African exports

Moving beyond the green revolution in Africa’s new era of hunger
The Conversation

How Africa can feed itself and the world

Agricultural growth should drive structural transformation in Africa, says expert

African agricultural researchers trained on science communication

Burkina Faso

Special Report: How Monsanto’s GM cotton sowed trouble in Africa

Burkina Faso’s cotton sector settles dispute with U.S. seed maker Monsanto
India Blooms


Egypt’s food deficit is increasing: Minister of Agriculture
Egypt Independent


Govt to develop sustainable agricultural sector―president Akufo-Addo


Scientists in Kenya call for adoption of GM crops to fight emerging pests
Coast Week

Urging youth to take up farming key in addressing unemployment  
Daily Nation

Making farming a viable option for young Kenyans
Sustainable Food Trust


African Development Bank gives $148 million to support Namibia’s education, agriculture
Business Recorder


Nigerian scientists work out biotech solutions to ensure food sufficiency 

Orange-fleshed potato has lots of health, economic potentials

South Africa

South African farmer was GMO skeptic, but became biotech advocate when Bt maize increased her yields seven-fold
Alliance for Science

Op-ed: Mind the (food) gap: we need to address the more complex reasons why our modern food system leaves us hungry, heavy, and sick
Daily Maverick

Food supply problems mean 1 billion people go hungry every day
Business Day

South Africa’s Q3 GDP expands as agriculture soars
Mail Online


Tizeba warns suppliers of substandard maize seed

AflasafeTZ proves its effectiveness as it reduces aflatoxin contamination by over 85% in maize and groundnut in Tanzania


Farmers’ representatives welcome the idea of Uganda adopting biotech
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Makerere University spearheads research to fix ecosystems challenges
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Technology much needed on farming
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Comment: GMO technology in Uganda
The Independent, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Can a GM banana solve Uganda’s hunger crisis?
Guardian, UK

AfDB supports agribusiness development in Uganda
World Stage Group

Ugandan grains being fed to livestock carry cancerous substances, scientists warn


Zambia Seeks Collaboration In Food Security – Siliya
Zambia Reports

Zambia hit by fall armyworms; CABI to help
Daily Mail

Gov’t interventions boost maize yields

Opportunities and resources

African Innovation Foundation (AIF) calls for 2018 Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) applications. submission deadline 10 January 2018
Innovation Prize for Africa

Conference: Connected launch, a new project aimed at tackling plant disease in Africa – 29-31 January 2018, Bristol

Webinar/report on policies to support smallholder farmers in international food system