In the news...

February 15th, 2017 /

This week, reports confirm that scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia have cracked the genetic code for quinoa, the ancient South American “superfood” has recently become prized in the United States and Europe for its highly nutritious seeds – and the FAO is promoting its cultivation in Africa. While the plant is already highly tolerant to harsh environments – including high altitudes and salty soil – genetic improvements may help further commercialize it by making the grains taste less bitter than normal, and by making plants themselves sturdier, allowing them to be grown in fields. If these improvements succeed, says an article on the BBC website, the price of quinoa could go down by a factor of five, making it accessible to a wider population and contributing to world food security.

In a somewhat related story, “Break down barriers between seed banks and field study – food biodiversity needs both systems”, makes the case that crop biodiversity needs to be conserved not only locked away in seed banks, but in the field as well. “Crop diversity stored in a genebank is less accessible to farmers, and is not exposed to changing environments – which means it does not evolve and adapt,” says the article, written by executive director of The Crop Trust Marie Haga and director general of Bioversity International Ann Tutwiler. “On the other hand, crop diversity in farmers’ fields and under other in situ conditions continues to evolve and adapt as a result of natural and human selections. As it evolves and adapts, this genetic diversity contributes directly to the resilience and sustainability of agricultural systems, as well as to farmers’ livelihoods and to their empowerment… if we stop looking at these two forms of conservation as antagonistic but rather as complementary, attention can be focused on what matters most: how best to safeguard this diversity for the future.”

In addition to the continuing concern about fall armyworm (see “Armyworms are wreaking havoc in southern Africa. Why it’s a big deal” and “South African maize crops threatened by fall army worm that has wreaked havoc in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe”), experts are worried about a new, aggressive rust that is imperiling wheat crops in Africa as well as in Europe and Asia, according to two new studies produced by scientists in collaboration with the United Nations. “These new, aggressive rust races have emerged at the same time that we’re working with international partners to help countries combat the existing ones, so we have to be swift and thorough in the way we approach this,” said FAO Plant Pathologist Fazil Dusunceli.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Michael Ssali, who writes about how genetics may guide coffee breeding in Uganda, and reports on how one young farmer is makingmixed farming work in a small space.

As ever, please send questions, comments and story links to [email protected], and visit for further reading and useful resources. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation.


Quinoa could solve the world’s looming food shortage, say scientists who cracked the plant’s gene code

Quinoa genome could see ‘super-food’ prices tumble

Break down barriers between seed banks and field study – food biodiversity needs both systems, just like pandas need zoos and bamboo forests
Global Plant Council

Shortage of plant breeders makes feeding growing world difficult
NZ Farmer

Low-cost, small-scale, locally produced soy thresher reduces smallholders work, improves grain and seed quality & reduces post-harvest loss

Why do people accept biotech in medicine but not GMO foods?
Genetic Literacy Project

Will – and should – gene edited animals be regulated?
Genetic Literacy Project

Transparency is key to consumer acceptance of new technology
Genetic Literacy Project

Is genetically modified wheat safe? A BBC world business report

CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas invites stakeholders to help to shape banana research priority setting
Biodiversity International

A new programme will address the fact that African soybean farmers access only to a few low-yield varieties give them more and better seed options
Soybean Innovation Lab

Search for targeted pesticides leads scientists to eavesdrop on crosstalk between plants & fungi
Genetic Literacy Project

Will biotechnology regulations squelch food and farming innovation?
Genetic Literacy Project

Work has begun to breed a tomato hybrid that restores flavour AND retains traits growers need to succeed
New York Times

Several African countries have made an offer of 90,000 hectares land on a long-term lease to agriculturists from Gujarat
Times of India

Monsanto & 2Blades Foundation collaborate to discover sources of genetic resistance to devastating corn diseases including stalk and ear rots
The Sainsbury Laboratory

The global pyrethroid insecticides market will reach $6.45 billion by 2021. Widely used, pyrethroids are effective in very low doses


New, aggressive rust imperils wheat crops in Europe, Africa and Asia

Armyworms are wreaking havoc in southern Africa. Why it’s a big deal
The Conversation, Africa

Intercropping or rotating legume crops with maize benefits soil fertility which increases maize yields

Mixed approach holds promise to African smallholders

African countries unable to develop their agricultural sectors are unlikely to successfully carry through their development agenda

In many African cities, urban agriculture generates most fresh food
The Conversation, UK

Africa’s rice farmers lose US$200 million annually to parasitic weeds
Africa Rice

Land grabbing in Africa ‘is fueling conflicts’ says new research from the Rights and Resources Institute
Deutsche Welle

How an Australian mentoring program is improving plant biosecurity in Africa

Trees may be easy to spot on the plains of Africa, but they often are overlooked as a source of income for farmers

Is Africa really undergoing a smallholder agricultural revolution?

World Poultry Foundation receives 4-year US$21.4mn grant from the Gates Foundation to help production in Tanzania and Nigeria
African Farming

Agricultural technology can’t be ignored – we’ll do better with them than without them. Kenya and Africa needs them
Standard Media

Study shows trees on African farms may help reduce rural poverty and maintain biodiversity
Science Daily


Ghanaian researcher, Alexander Wireko Kena says let science, not scare-mongering, guide our country’s GMO policy
Genetic Literacy Project

Ghanaian agriculture students welcome ‘Champions for Change’ initiative
Ghana News Agency


Taming ornamental plant Opuntia stricta — an invasive cactus weed – that has become harmful

Food security policies should be make or break points for leaders eyeing elective posts
Business Daily Africa

Government declares drought a national disaster

Kenyan farmer: We’ve been waiting for too long —government needs to let us grow GMO crops
Genetic Literacy Project


Nigerian biotech expert says GMOs won’t replace conventional seeds & refutes common GMO myths
Genetic Literacy Project

These seven wonderful CROPS will put Nigeria’s economy back on the track

Nigerian Federal Government adopts measures to reduce food prices


Experts call for measures to improve food security in cities

South Africa

South African maize crops threatened by fall army worm that has wreaked havoc in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Agriculture minister, UN Food Organisation to visit farms hit by false armyworm

South Africa issues permits to allow total imports of 1.3m metric tonnes of genetically modified white and yellow maize from the US


New technique developed by Ugandan researchers kills two maize pests at once – maize stem borer and leaf eater

Genetics to guide coffee breeding
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Making mixed farming work in a small space
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

At TexFad Vocational Incubator gifted hands spend hours adding value to the banana stem to make it count by using the fibres
Daily Monitor

What do I need to do to establish a commercial fish farming business?
Daily Monitor

Uganda makes strides in fortified crops
Daily Monitor

My mission is to unlock the potential of ‘orphaned’ African eggplant says Ugandan researcher at the BecA-ILRI Hub


Too much rain or not enough? Either way, let’s manage soil and rainfall better

Opportunities and resources

Free online course: ‘Global Food Security’ by Lancaster University

Fourth call Food & Business Global Challenges Programme now open – focusing on scaling up climate-smart agriculture
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Open call for proposals – CFC provides financing to support businesses in the field of commodity development, including agriculture, Common Fund