In the news...

January 27th, 2015

This week, SciDev offers a big-picture look at what key science issues will impact African development in 2015. High on this list is rethinking the role of higher education – including considering whether theoretical courses should be dropped for applied studies such as agriculture. This emphasis on education echoes the Gates Foundation’s optimistic statement that Africa will feed itself within the next 15 years due to breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education — in concert with genetic advances and improved management.

In biosciences news, Nature reports that researchers have successfully created GM microbes that can’t escape the lab by making them entirely dependent on amino acids that do not exist outside the lab. This breakthrough method – which has been successful in bacteria and will be extended to plants and animals – promises to greatly reduce the risk that genetically modified organisms can escape and proliferate in natural ecosystems.

In China, scientists have successfully mapped the genes of Tibetan highland barley, an important staple crop in the region. This discovery will help researchers understand how the plant evolved to thrive in extreme environmental conditions, and help breeders cultivate higher-yield strains of the grain.

From Africa, an interesting piece tells of how Ethiopia’s wild coffee farmers are taking care to preserve the forest habitats in which the plants grow, in order to profit from the rarity of the product. A beautiful photo gallery published by SciDev highlights how fruits, plants and spices enrich Tanzania’s island Zanzibar, showcasing its rich biodiversity and how it benefits the people there. In our other focus countries, Nigerian farmers are placing their hopes in the new, improved Maruca-resistant cowpeas, while from Uganda, B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali writes in with an article about tips on improving farm production.

Thank you for joining us this week. We look forward to receiving your questions, comments, and story links at

Biosciences & plant genetics around the world

Report says Chinese-grown GM rice ‘significantly reduces pesticide use’, improves farmer health 
Genetic Literacy Project (Read the downloadable report, ”Impact of insect-resistant GM rice on pesticide use and farmers’ health in China”.)

Newly created: GM microbes that can’t escape the lab

Scientists design biological safety switch for GMOs
IFL Science

Chinese publish genome of Tibetan Highland barley
Genetic Literacy Project

New website: DivSeek, the recently launched initiative that will mine the world’s crop biodiversity for genetic information

UC Davis scientists work to ID food crops that can survive global warming
Daily Democrat

Expert predicts that genome editing will go mainstream in 2015
Genetic Literacy Project

Organic yield gap shrinking? Study actually shows it’s less sustainable than conventional ag
Genetic Literacy Project

FAO chief urges ‘paradigm shift’ toward sustainable food
Food Navigator

Pest ants help to improve Indonesian cocoa yields

Insecticide, the fall armyworm, and maize in Mexico

FAO: Genetic diversity a hidden tool in coping with climate change

Food genetic diversity under siege from global warming, UN paper says

Anti-GMO Scotland bucks UK support for growing genetically engineered crops
Genetic Literacy Project

The tricky terrain for GMO communication

Video: GMO – What’s the fuss? UCLA Prof. CS Prakash on the issues and controversy


Yes, Africa will feed itself within the next 15 years, says Gates Foundation
The Conversation

Africa Analysis: Key science issues that should impact development in 2015

Africa needs a lot of capital. Private equity offers lessons on how to get it there

Agribusiness begins to boom in Africa

How Ethiopian forest-dwellers protect and produce wild coffee

Africa bets on rice union to boost production
FarmBiz Africa

African countries focus on boosting rice production, Uganda to host conference
Daily Monitor

Rwanda: Agriculture at a crossroads

Rwandan, German food scientists join hands to promote food science & technology


Esoko calls for modernization of Ghana’s agriculture
Vibe Ghana

Ghana’s agriculture prospects slump
The Africa Report


Osun state gov addresses challenges facing ag, and its focus on young farmers

Will Nigeria be a beans exporter or importer by 2018? Farmers place hope in new Maruca-resistant cowpeas
News Agency of Nigeria

Price of beans continues to rise


Appropriate climate information to be a boon to farmers

How fruits, plants and spices enrich Zanzibar

Tanzanian government delegation paid biotech tribute to Uganda, became “born again”
Genetic Literacy Project

Tanzanian farmers to benefit from weather station technology
African Farming


Ugandan scientists develop virus-resistant banana, but law may prohibit it from reaching farmers
Genetic Literacy Project

Tips on improving farm production
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Farmers tell government to give GMOs a chance
Daily Monitor

Ugandan scientists develop virus-resistant banana, but law may prohibit it from reaching farmers
Genetic Literacy Project

Farmers reaping big from pasture seeds
Daily Monitor

Ugandan scientists embrace call for new approach in agricultural research
Daily Monitor

Featured image: Putting innovative farming techniques in the right hands. Photo: CGIAR Climate , CC BY-NC-SA