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July 26th, 2017 /

Many worthy people objected to the production of hybrids on the ground that it was an impious interference with the laws of Nature. – Maxwell Masters, 1899

This quote by botanist and taxonomist Maxwell Masters opens a lucid and useful essay published by plant pathologist and geneticist Pamela Ronald in Geographical Review this week, laying out clearly and even-handedlythree modern genetic approaches to plant breeding – genetic engineering, marker-assisted breeding, and genome editing – as well as their benefits and perceived risks.

“The hybridization described by Masters in 1899, the genetic engineering of crops launched in 1996 and the genome editing of tomorrow are examples of a continuum of new technologies aimed at helping farmers produce food in a productive and ecologically-based manner,” writes Ronald, who is widely respected as a bridge-builder in the crop biotech debate.

“I believe it is important to frame discussions about agriculture in the context of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of agriculture – the three pillars of sustainable agriculture. Rather than focusing on how a seed variety was developed, we must ask what most enhances local food security and can provide safe, abundant and nutritious food to consumers. We must ask if rural communities can thrive and if farmers can make a profit. We must be sure that consumers can afford the food. And finally we must minimize environmental degradation. This includes conserving land and water, enhancing farm biodiversity and soil fertility, reducing erosion and minimizing harmful inputs.”

This article comes at a time when the tide seems to be shifting in favour of more fact-based, balanced dialogue regarding crop biotechnology, with positive reviews of documentary Food Evolution rolling in (read an interviewwith its director, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, published in Salon) and global news about the positive effects of genetically modified crops, including Colombia’s success with water-saving maize, cotton and soybeans and theapproval of insect-resistant Bt sugarcane in Brazil.

Turning to Africa: in Accra, Ghana, this week, the FAO convened a three-day meeting of experts on fall army worm from Brazil, Mexico, North America, South Africa, Benin, Uganda, Cameroon and Ghana to exchange ideas and best practices on how to manage the pest in the short, medium and long term. According to an article about the meeting, published in Ghana Business News, as of June 2016, more than 25 African countries have been confirmed with armyworm infestations since the first official report of the pest’s presence in Nigeria, in January 2016.

Meanwhile, scientists are distributing anti-striga maize seed to farmers in East African countries. Known as StrigAway, this is the first herbicide-tolerant maize seed commercialized in Africa, and prevents infestation of striga, otherwise know as “witch weed” – a parasitic plant that attaches to maize roots and causes major crop losses, particularly in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Denis Kyetere, Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), said the expansion aims to improve the productivity of maize in the region and increase the food security of thousands of smallholder farmers. Meanwhile in Kenya, farmers are turning to cultivating chillies as the plants have proven tolerant to drought, and do well with drip irrigation.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Lominda Afedraru, writing in the Uganda Daily Monitor about advancing from genetic modification to synthetic biology in plant breeding and agricultural scientists discussing ways to ease communication about science. We also hear from Michael Ssali, who writes about the importance of preventing post-harvest losses.

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.


Plant genetics, ecologically based farming and the future of food – by Pamela C Ronald
Geographical Review

15 years after debuting GMO crops, Colombia’s switch has benefited farmers and environment
Genetic Literacy Project

With GMO insect-resistant sugarcane approval, Brazilian farmers poised to reap benefits of biotech
Genetic Literacy Project

Development of eggplant materials for adaptation to climate change
Global Crop Diversity Trust

Science, if used correctly, has no political affiliation: director Scott Hamilton Kennedy on “Food Evolution”

Stalling Bt brinjal has caused harm to India, says expert

The future of food production in 12 charts

Time for a new EU regulatory framework for GM crops?

Zero till climate-smart wheat-rice-bean crop rotations in India curb emissions

Unlocking a key to maize’s amazing success

China grants more access to US GM food
Global Times

The Genesis of Food Evolution: Film Review and Analysis

China: Scientists unlock planthoppers’ potential to control future crop disease

Scientists identify link between plant nitrogen uptake and greenhouse gas reductions

Scientists discover plants use calcium to send internal warning signals of aphid attacks

New report highlights the important relationship between forest landscapes and healthy diets

Scientists discuss upcoming biosafety law in Egypt

Policy perspective: how implementation of the SDGs can put an end to undernutrition
Global Nutrition Report

Food Evolution: ‘Activists present their case while movie shows science isn’t on their side’
Genetic Literacy Project


FAO hosts international experts to manage Fall Armyworm
Ghana Business News

17 issues raised, agreed at FAO experts meeting on Fall Armyworm in Africa
My Joy Online

Scientists launch alliance to hasten crop improvements in Africa

A new, data-based approach to help end malnutrition in Africa
World Policy

Elumelu: agriculture, electricity, entrepreneurship will create jobs in Africa
BizNis Africa

AfDB president to commission $700,000 building for youth agripreneurs

Sustainable agriculture to fight climate change and involuntary migration
African Farming

These African farmers carved an important message to the world – into the soil

New approaches, sustainable partnerships needed to enhance food security in Africa
CNBC Africa

Scientists expand anti-striga seed to East Africa
News Ghana

Why SADC cotton farmers are harvesting poverty and misery

Calls for scientists to simplify information on biotechnology
New Vision

Will Africa’s Great Green Wall discourage migration to Europe?

GEF programme targets smallholder farmers in Africa

21 next-generation African leaders announced as winners of the resolution social venture challenge
Modern Ghana

Stop bemoaning Africa’s lack of scientists – start funding them
World Economic Forum


Agroforestry insights bring new hope to Cameroon’s farmers
National Geographic


Ghana aims 1.5 mmt annual cocoa production
African Farming


Chili farming takes root in West Pokot after proving tolerant to drought
The Star Kenya


Nsanje District for solar powered irrigation to cope up with its tough weather patterns


Nigeria can earn additional N15tr from cassava

More people turning to farming in Southern Kaduna

Boost for cocoa entrepreneurs
The Nation

Food security risk – lessons from Osun State
Nigerian Observer

Ogbeh insists on adherence to global standard in food production

Famine, malnutrition loom in Nigeria, experts warn


Ministry of water resources signs initial survey contract for using solar power pumps for irrigation

Fall Armyworm outbreak in South Sudan


Agricultural scientists discuss techniques of communicating science
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Advancing from genetic modification to synthetic biology in plant breeding
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

First Lady mediates in GMO Bill debate

Post-harvest is very important
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Farmers urged on Irrigation
Daily Monitor

Ugandan government supports passage of Biosafety Bill


AGCO Future Farm Zambia hosts young agripreneurs for farm mechanization & business workshops

Opportunities and resources

Take stock of the challenges & start to measure progress in achieving the SDGs with the SDGIndex & Dashboards
SDG Index

Job op: ILRI vacancy: Research Assistant – Rangeland Management
Closing date: 24 July, 2017

ILRI vacancy: Senior Scientist-Molecular Breeder
Closing date: 20 August 2017

Conference: Agri4D 2017: Rural Transformation and Urbanization
20 Sept, Uppsala Sweden