In the news...

January 20th, 2015

Big biotech policy news last week: the European Union passed a law allowing EU member states to decide for themselves whether they want to allow cultivation of genetically modified foods. To offer some perspective on this decision, we include articles by Mark Lynas, “EU GMO cultivation decision – science sidelined, but UK will get right to choose” and “Why Britain is going its own way on GMOs” from the Genetic Literacy Project. We will continue to follow the story as developments unfold.

In plant genetics, a new initiative called DivSeek aims to mine the genetic treasure in seed bank vaults in the hope of finding genes that would confer such benefits as disease resistance and drought tolerance. This may be the beginning of a global framework for systematically studying the wealth of information stored in the world’s 1,700 gene repositories. This seems to be part of a greater enthusiasm around preserving and reviving plant biodiversity: it is reported that an ancestor of the modern peanut, the Carolina African runner, brought by enslaved Africans to North America and once thought extinct, is once again being cultivated. This resilient and versatile plant was traditionally used for food, oil, forage, and as a cover crop. Also making the news rounds: the discovery of a salt-tolerant potato as well as identification of a gene that makes soybeans salt-tolerant.

From Africa, a recently published report by the Montpelier Panel states that more than half of Africa’s arable land is ‘too damaged’ for food production. (To view the original report, see “No Ordinary Matter: conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil“.) The panel recommends African governments invest in land and soil management. Meanwhile, Ugandan B4FA Fellows check in with stories about how farmers are benefit from processed bean innovation, by Lominda Afedraru, andwhat to do about banana bacterial wilt, by Michael Ssali.

Thank you as ever for reading, and please send questions, comments, and story links at [email protected].

Biosciences & plant genetics around the world

EU lawmakers pass controversial GMO food law
Phys.org

Why Britain is going its own way on GMOs
Genetic Literacy Project

EU GMO cultivation decision – science sidelined, but UK will get right to choose
Mark Lynas

DivSeek aims to mine the genetic treasure in seed bank vaults
Science

The original Southern peanut – the Carolina African runner – thought extinct, now being revived
Modern Farmer

Video: From the Netherlands to Pakistan: could salt-tolerant potatoes create a food revolution?
BBC

Research finds salt tolerance gene in soybean
Phys.org

Race is on to save banana from fungus wilt
SciDev

From dust bowl to bread basket: digging the dirt on soil erosion
Guardian

Comment on the next genetically engineered potato, Generation 2 Innate
BioFortified

GMO potatoes have arrived. But will anyone buy them?
NPR

Report: Revisiting the global food crisis: magnitude, causes, impact and policy options
Eldis

Organic farms industrializing as sustainability benefits of GMO crops rise
Genetic Literacy Project

New British minister backs GM crops as more eco-friendly
Genetic Literacy Project

Finding genetic traits in crops could help plants survive in warmer, drier world
Genetic Literacy Project

Newly released GreenPHABLET delivers personalized information to farmers, saving crops, raising incomes
ICRISAT

Science journalists: applications open for Erice International School of Science Journalism, deadline 15 Feb
Erice Int’l School of Science Journalism

Pan-Africa

More than half of Africa’s arable land ‘too damaged’ for food production
AllAfrica

UN agency warns of food insecurity amid ongoing instability in Central African Republic
AllAfrica

Windhoek: small city, big food problem
AllAfrica

Rwanda: Roll out post-harvest training for food security, higher incomes
AllAfrica

Soil: the sustainable alternative to oil income in Africa
Guardian

Reshaping agriculture Is Africa’s window to a diversified economic future
Ventures Africa

Ghana

Gov’t determined to promote agriculture – Fifi Kwetey
GhanaWeb

The mobile phone-powered lifeline for farmers in Ghana
Guardian

Nigeria

Nigeria on sure path to food sufficiency
AllAfrica

Farmers plead with Benue govt for pumping machines
AllAfrica

Tanzania

Avocados are the new ‘gold’ in Kilimanjaro
AllAfrica

Food security strategies bear fruit
AllAfrica

Fortified foods to save millions
AllAfrica

Uganda

Farmers to benefit from processed bean innovation
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Banana bacterial wilt – what we ought to do
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Banana growing gave me a new lease of life
Daily Monitor

Bio fertilizer doubles cane yields
Farm Biz Africa

Experts urge farmers to improve grain quality
Daily Monitor

Featured image: “Most farmers engaged in growing the bean legume crop have been doing it on small scale mainly for food consumption sold in markets within the country.” Photo: Daily Monitor, from the original article.