In the news...

September 20th, 2017 /

Cassava-disease breakthroughs dominate the news this week. A team of African and American scientists have identified genetic markers of resistance to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD) in East African cassava varieties Namikonga and Albert. The scientists crossed the two varieties via hand pollination, and the resulting offspring had genetic markers resistant to both diseases – both of which are responsible for massive losses in harvest in Tanzania and Uganda.

“Our findings show that Namikonga resists the virus by restricting its multiplication in the plant. This gives us new hope in our efforts to control the disease and revive cassava production,” says plant scientist Teddy Amuge, the project’s lead researcher in a story published by IITA, which also notes that this is the first large-scale study of how some cassava varieties can resist pests and disease. “We are very excited by these results, and are now working on approaches to allow plant breeders to quickly transfer this resistance into other, high yielding cassava varieties,” said corresponding author and principal investigator Morag Ferguson, in the same article.

Meanwhile, a groundbreaking new genomics tool is being deployed in Ugandan and Tanzanian cassava fields to help farmers fight CBSD and CMD. The Nanopore MinION, developed in Oxford, is a low-cost, portable DNA sequencer that has been used to monitor changes in Zika and Ebola. Now, a group of scientists working as the Cassava Virus Action Project is deploying it to identify which strains of virus are attacking cassava crops on specific farms in real time, allowing farmers to quickly respond to avoid crop loss. The 100-gram, $1,000 MinION puts the power of sequencing in the hands of African scientists who have direct access to farmers, obviating the need for sending samples overseas to be sequenced, a process that requires months and results in degraded samples.

In global biotech news, scientists belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement acknowledged the importance of and adopted a new resolution supporting biotechnology during a meeting on science and technology held  in Zimbabwe in late August. The meeting included experts from Cuba, Egypt, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In a keynote message, Zimbabwean biochemist Professor Christopher Chetsanga stressed GMOs safety for human consumption, stating, “Most African countries still fail to take full advantage of biotechnology in agriculture and industry… There are continuing false rumors about GMOs being health hazards to humans.”

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Lominda Afedraru, who writes about Ugandan scientists’ efforts to breed key crops such as maize, cassava, rice, sweet potato, banana using both conventional and biotech methods in a bid for higher-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant crops, and from Michael Ssali, who writes that the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and breeders at National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI), have introduced new varieties of robusta coffee that are both higher yielding and resistant to coffee wilt disease.

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Genetic markers against deadly cassava viruses found

Amsterdam wants to revive talks on new plant breeding techniques

Study reveals new opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions in India

Sweet potato genome provides insights on its revolutionary history

CRISPR-Cas9-mediated mutagenesis of SlMAPK3 reduces drought tolerance in tomato

India: Farm scientists from National Academy of Agriculture Sciences thrash GM critic’s arguments
Deccan Herald

Italy’s GMO corn ban unlawful, European Union court rules
Genetic Literacy Project

World hunger again on the rise, driven by conflict and climate change, new UN report says

Netherlands wants CRISPR gene-edited crops exempt from Europe’s GMO laws
Genetic Literacy Project

Closer look at popular organic fungicide copper sulfate–how does it compare to glyphosate?
Genetic Literacy Project

Talking Biotech: Activists push glyphosate cancer scare as proxy to limit use of GE crops
Genetic Literacy Project

Scientists unlock secrets of photosynthesis

Hidden hunger: How anti-GMO activists are blocking humanitarian biofortification in Africa and Asia
Genetic Literacy Project

Video: How insect-resistant Bt GMO eggplant rescued Bangladesh’s staple crop
Genetic Literacy Project

Innate spuds gaining foreign-market approval
Capital Press

Climate-smart crops: a necessity for future food & nutrition security

Grow vegetables in a maize-meal bag
Dr Martin Maboko, Agricultural Research Council (ARC)

Feed the Future and CGIAR partnership promotes agriculture-led growth

The Regulator’s perspective: Why some gene-edited plants are not GM-regulated in Sweden

Viewpoint: Outdated regulations responsible for recall, destruction of harmless GE petunias
Genetic Literacy Project


A new genomics tool is being deployed in East African cassava fields to help save crops and lives
TED Fellows

Non-Aligned Movement scientists adopt resolution supporting biotechnology

The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

Agribusinesses and African smallholders seize US$1 trillion food market: AASR
African Farming

AGCO leads sustainable business projects for African smallholders
African Farming

Making sense of knowledge life cycles in African agriculture

Announcing 2017-2019 Next Einstein Forum Fellows, Africa’s top scientists solving global challenges
Next Einstein Forum

Invest in smallholders, R&D to spur food security

Kenyan scholar Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o wins Africa’s top food prize

Training programme set to boost rice output in E Africa


Bié – Over 10.000 peasant families get agricultural inputs


Ghana, Equatorial Guinea sign MoU to modernise agriculture


Kenya tops Africa in enabling agribusiness, says World Bank
TheStar, Kenya

Concentrate efforts on agriculture, president urges counties

Text message network connects offline farmers in Kenya

Plant health agency ups fight against fake seeds

Kenya selected for Feed the Future, a global food security initiative
US Embassy in Kenya

3.4 million at risk of starvation as maize harvest falls short in 2017

Hybrid maize boosts yields for Kenyan farmers
Egghead, University of California, Davis


Madagascar to lay focus on land governance in its Agricultural Investment Plan
African Farming


Fall armyworm attack winter maize in Salima


Forecast for rainy season favorable for agriculture in Southern Africa
Southern African News


Nigerian govt, FAO seal pact to curtail spread of armyworm maize disease

Promoting bio-fortified crops
The Nation Online

Famine averted but millions still at risk, stresses top UN relief official

Pursuing food self-sufficiency with fertilizer investment

South Africa

Young farmers encouraged to push through challenges


Researchers solve mystery of how “Namikonga” variety can withstand effects of viral cassava disease

Armyworm invasion wipes off 12% yield

Dar saves 11 billion under fertiliser bulk procurement system


Scientists intensify crop breeding
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Do we need new coffee varieties?
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali


Zimbabwe govt drafts GMO labelling regulations

Farmers launch seed company

Opportunities and resources

European Commission Conference “Modern biotechnologies in agriculture”, Brussels, 28 September 2017

Accepting Applications for 2018 Borlaug Fellowships, deadline November 5, 2017