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March 16th, 2016 / B4FA.org

Over the weekend, NASA scientists sounded an alarm over the fact that “the planet had its biggest temperature spike in modern history”: rising 1.35 degrees Celsius above the 1951-1980 average, following a steady trajectory of atmospheric warming, exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon. In the shadow of this alarming development, Lancet reports on new research that has shown how climate change hurts global crop yields and may lead to more than 500,000 deaths globally due to changes in diet resulting from reduced crop productivity by 2050 – with the majority of deaths occurring in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Science Focus turned its lens on sub-Saharan Africa, citing a new study published in Nature Climate Change that aims to “prevent future environmental impacts from devastating the food supply chain in developing nations by providing a timescale and framework for improved food security”. Researchers worked with temperature rise predictions of 2-4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, suggesting urgent adjustments for how food is produced in these regions – such as switching to different crops.

“Countries who rely on maize like as Botswana, beans, such as Zimbabwe and bananas, which would mainly affect large areas of West Africa, face the greatest threat from climate change,” says the article. “In the case of bean-yielding regions, up to 60% of the land may be unsuitable for growing the crop by the end of the century.” Finally, the Economist sounded a more hopeful note with its feature “The farms of Africa are prospering at last thanks to persistence, technology and decent government” – laying out the current state of African agriculture, and how obstacles that have posed challenges to the continent’s “green evolution” are finally giving way.

Bananas and plantains featured this week, with news coming from Malawi, where The Malawi National Biosafety Regulatory Committee recently approved confined field trials for transgenic banana; Uganda, where the nematode and weevil tolerant “M-9” banana variety released by National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, has had unprecedented pace of adoption; and where the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)have developed new hybrid varieties resistant to the common diseases affecting plantains.

In other biotech news, the battle carries on over who should hold the patent to revolutionary gene-editing technology CRISPR. It’s not yet clear how this dispute will affect researchers using CRISPR, but a recently published piece addresses one benefit of the technology often neglected in the mainstream press: its potential effect on agriculture. Because CRISPR gene editing can avoid transgenic modification, says the article, the crops it produces will be indistinguishable from those created by conventional crossbreeding, thereby “avoid[ing] the regulatory mistakes of the past” – which will hopefully allow less-fettered development of improved varieties.

B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali this week joins us with two pieces: one about “family business in coffee farming: planning for the next generation” and another on “how to get the best out of using animal manure” – both published in the Daily Monitor.

And finally, we would also like to invite you to read B4FA’s evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry on EU regulation of the life sciences. It focuses specifically on the issue of the influence of EU regulation on UK life science research on crops directed to Africa farmers. It concludes: “It is imperative that the UK Government works to support research on GM and other recent genetic techniques and their application in the UK and internationally especially with the EU and its institutions and in Africa.” The submission was drafted by Dr David Bennett with the help of many B4FA and other experts in the UK and Africa.

As ever, please send questions, comments and story links to [email protected] Visit B4FA.org for further reading and useful resources, and add us on Twitter to keep up with daily news! Thanks for joining us.

Bioscience around the world

Food shortage, reduced crop productivity will mean more than 500K deaths in 2050 due to climate change, says report
ISAAA

How the US CRISPR patent probe will play out
Nature

Regulators should get out of the way of the new gene revolution on farms
Reason

New agri-genomics tools from Rothamsted Research
ISAAA

Robert Saik: Anti-science movement one of the biggest threats to modern farming and world food security
ISAAA

Stopping global hunger will require mix of high-tech, GM, organic methods
Genetic Literacy Project

How we can make crops survive without water: resurrection plants
TED

Talking Biotech: Story of the Hawaiian papaya – the man who engineered it and family farms it saved
Genetic Literacy Project

Talking Biotech: Kevin Folta answers glyphosate questions in German beer scare
Genetic Literacy Project

11 GMO Myths debunked, Part I: Frankenfoods and Franken-corporations
Genetic Literacy Project

11 GMO Myths, Part II: Do GMOs pose health and ecological dangers?
Genetic Literacy Project

Support for Biotech Labeling Solutions Act grows as it heads to full Senate
The Hill

Policy: Reboot the debate on genetic engineering
Nature

In defence of genetically modified food
MacLeans

Genetic tests help companies fight fabric fraud
Genetic Literacy Project

India: Cotton seed war: competition, not price control, needed in GM seeds
Business Standard

India: Don’t blame just private seed firms for Bt cotton problems
Financial Express

Why Monsanto’s biotech-food business isn’t growing in India
Wall Street Journal

Pan-Africa

Staple plantains at risk of same diseases as bananas
AllAfrica

Food security deadline set for Africa
Science Focus

Climate change set to wreck African bean farming
AllAfrica

Promoting production and consumption of traditional African vegetables in West and Central Africa
AVDRC

African agriculture: A green evolution
The Economist

Africa’s farmers need to act fast to adjust to a rapidly changing climate
TruthDig

8 tech solutions changing the agriculture industry in Africa
AFK Insider

AGRA keen on enriching farmers with financial inclusion services
Daily News

OPINION: Can agriculture in Africa sustain a nourishing rural non-farm economy?
Eyewitness News

Radio: Tuning into the needs of African women farmers
HuffPostImpact

Ethiopia

Drought-hit Ethiopia needs money for seeds as rains begin
AllAfrica

Rushing to relieve shortage of maize, wheat seeds
AllAfrica

Women in Ag: Ethiopia’s Makida Mohammed was first in her village to grow rust-resistant wheat
Alliance for Science

Ghana

Workshop for smallholder agriculture advocacy opens
Business Ghana

Malawi

Malawi approves confined field trials of transgenic bananas
ISAAA

Nigeria

Solving Nigeria’s food security challenges
AllAfrica

Tanzania

Revamping agriculture for food security, job creation, poverty reduction
IPP Media

Inclusive Green Growth programme set to liberate farmers
Daily News

Uganda

Family business in coffee farming: Planning for the next generation
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

How to get the best out of using animal manure
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

One African woman’s strategies for food security and sovereignty
AllAfrica

M-9 banana variety scores with farmers, consumers
AllAfrica

Naro develops five sorghum types that are tolerant to Striga and drought
AllAfrica

Opportunities and resources

Webinar: Marker-assisted breeding as next-generation strategy for genetic improvement of sweet potato in sub-Saharan Africa, 24 March 2016

Call for papers: “Research in root and tuber crops value chain” WAAPP-GHANA. May 1-7 2016, Fumesua, Ghana