In the news...

February 22nd, 2017 /

Several interesting biotech developments around the world this week. First, Washington State University scientists have introduced a new perennial grain dubbed Salish Blue – a cross between wheat and wild wheat grass. The goal of this breeding project was to create a wheat-like grain that regrows every year, so that farmers don’t have to till the soil and replant crops annually, saving on labour as well as preventing erosion. The grain is being grown in a small trial but is not yet ready for widespread consumption.

Meanwhile, Mark Lynas writes for Cornell Alliance for Science that a field trial of drought-tolerant maize – Tanzania’s first-ever genetically modified crop – is soon to be harvested. The confined trial, conducted by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), is intended to benefit small-scale farmers suffering the effects of climate change. According to Lynas, this trial is one of five in African countries taking part in the WEMA project, whose GM and conventional hybrids are being developed in Africa, are owned by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and national plant science institutions, and will be offered to farmers royalty-free at competitive prices.

In Australia, a trial of genetically modified bananas is planned to begin in the hope of developing a variety resistant to Panama Tropical Race 4, a devastating fungal disease that threatens the world’s banana crops. The five-year trial received approval from the gene technology regulator several months ago, and will comprise modified lines of Cavendish bananas grown over 6 hectares in Australia’s Litchfield region.

Finally, millet – a grain that fell out of favour over time in India as rice and wheat took precedence – is now being encouraged as a supplemental crop and staple by Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka state’s Minister for Agriculture. Compared to rice and wheat, millet is a more sustainable staple crop as it requires less water, is resistant to high temperatures, can grow in saline soil and is more nutritious. The government is also asking food writers, chefs, doctors, and the media to help convince newly affluent, health-conscious Indian consumers of millet’s benefits.

We also point our readers to an overview the Fall armyworm situation in southern Africa, which considers the pest’s biological makeup to understand why it’s hard to control; and to a useful infographic on the global mycotoxin threat, extracted from the 2016 BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey, which covered more than 8,000 samples from 81 countries.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Michael Ssali, who writes about a farmer who’s making wine as a way to preserve and add value to his banana crop.

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.


Salish Blue: Wheat-like grain that regrows annually could help limit farm soil erosion

Australia: GM bananas set to return to Northern Territory
ABC Rural

A forgotten group of grains might help Indian farmers – and improve diets, too
Maine Public

Infographic: The Global Mycotoxin Threat 2017

Nina Federoff: Trump admin. has opportunity to base biotech regulations on science, not fears
Genetic Literacy Project

Policy making manifesto: squaring science with the human factor

International Year of Pulses closes with call to build upon strong momentum
African Farming

Kevin Folta: Harvard School of Public Health accused of scare-mongering about conventional food
Genetic Literacy Project

Dan Rather interviews Nobel Laureate Paul Nurse: GMOs are safe, what matters is end product not the mfg process
News and Guts Media

Facts aren’t enough to convince public on science issues
University of Adelaide

Is organic farming better for the environment?
Genetic Literacy Project

Technology in farming and food: Farmers and producers need to build trust
Genetic Literacy Project

Agribusiness says politics trumps science in EU Commission move
Feed Navigator

Drought tolerant corn moving east
Corn and Soybean Digest

9 agriculture technology startups to keep you fed

Australian OGTR issues license for field trial of GM Indian mustard

Researchers review targeted genome editing techniques in horticultural crops

Scientists explain how plants resist drought

Without glyphosate, what would farming look like?
Genetic Literacy Project

Video: the long and strange history behind coffee, and why it’s under threat today

Cereal prices continue to rise, defying improved supplies
Responsible Business SDG Centre


Why it’s hard to control the Fall armyworm in southern Africa
The Conversation Africa

African Agricultural Technology Foundation spent $16m on beans optimisation for 8m African farmers, says Kyetere
This Day Live

U.S. scientists develop new way to measure African crop yields from space

Invasive plants and food security in Africa: the potential of Earth Observation Data

Scientist inspires girls in Africa to embrace agriculture careers
Thomson Reuters

Online tool to track African women in STEM

Mixed approach holds promise to African smallholders

Experts seek ways to reduce food wastage in Africa

Economic transformation in Africa should be spurred by agriculture – ACET
Ghana Business News

Worst drought in decades drives food price spike in East Africa
IPS News

East Africa food prices reach record levels due to drought: UN

New IFAD boss elected amid food crisis in Africa
Daily Nation

Pests, disease seen hitting southern African food output

Food security at risk as dreaded pest slips into African countries


Onions stop tomato aphids attack
Farmbiz Africa

Sack farming cuts irrigation water
Farmbiz Africa

In pictures: Kenyans share their dinner to save livestock


Farmers appeal for pesticides against worms


Govt to launch U.S.$300 million loan project for young farmers

15,000 farmers to benefit from Dangote’s rice project in Sokoto

Nigerian farmers urged to embrace organic fertilizer
Sahel Standard

Church leaders in Nigeria support agri-biotech research


Govt seeks more youth engagement in agriculture

Over 3,000 farmers to receive coffee treatment skills


UN: World must act now to save lives in Somalia

British urge action to prevent Somalia famine

South Africa

E Cape small scale farmers given drought resistant seed

On a South African farm, despair over armyworm attack


Mark Lynas: Drought-tolerant maize shows promise in Tanzania
Cornell Alliance for Science

ACT Wazalendo Party: More money for food production, please?

SAGCOT says it doesn’t use GMOs because not yet approved by government

The food insecurity situation is getting worse, says government


Farmer turning banana to wine
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali


Zimbabwe hosts emergency meeting on armyworm infestation

Zimbabwe losing plot on food security due to marginalisation of women

Opportunities and resources

Event: Symposium on Climate Change and Droughts Resilience, 16-18 October, Nairobi

Opportunity: Newton International Fellowships, Royal Society

Opportunity: AWARD Website Consultant, Nairobi. Application deadline February 28, 2017

Online event: Ask Ag About… Positive Youth Development 

Online event: Role of ICTs in Sustainable Crop Production Intensification of horticulture crop based sys 6-27 March

2017 African Dev’t Bank Annual Meetings: Transforming Ag for Wealth Creation in Africa 22-25 May Ahmedabad, India