In the news...

December 7th, 2017 /

December 5th was the fourth annual World Soil Day, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s annual awareness-raising campaign focused on the importance of soil as a finite natural resource, calling attention to its role in food security as well as healthy ecosystems. According to the FAO, soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere, so it can help meet the challenges of a changing climate, 95% of our food comes from soil, and 33% of our soils are already degraded. Each year, says the FAO, 12 million hectares of fertile land are lost to urbanization, climate change, erosion and more.

According to an article in ReliefWeb, the problem is especially pronounced in Africa, where soils that are continuously cultivated are vulnerable to degradation. “According to the International Journal of Soil Sustainability, almost one-third of crop land in sub-Saharan Africa is degraded due to pressure from growing populations, inadequate environmental management, and a lack of nutrient replenishment,” says the piece. “That figure rises to almost half in areas of high agricultural activity like the highlands of Ethiopia.” The feature goes on to describe a conservation agriculture program supporting and training farmers in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya in improving soil quality to alleviate hunger.

Meanwhile, United Nations soil scientist Daniel Pennock is urging increased funding for soil research in African countries. And a piece in Scientific American discussed the potential of increasing crop yields by improving soil health while simultaneously improving soil’s carbon-storing potential.

In biotech highlights, the discovery of drought-resistant plant genes could accelerate evolution of water-use efficient crops, while a new high-yielding “super bean” variety developed in Uganda is proving popular because it matures quickly, is drought, disease and pest resistant, cooks quickly, and tastes good.

From the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Michael Ssali, who argues that if Ugandan coffee producers are to make the effort to widen the market, Ugandans should consume more coffee in support.

As we have previously mentioned, the current funding of B4FA is coming to an end, and we are urgently searching for future support. This is now imminent, so if you feel that this weekly newsletter, our Tweets and website ( are useful and that you could help, please contact us [email protected] as soon as possible for further details. We hope to hear from you.

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.


December 5th Is World Soil Day
Modern Ghana

World Soil Day 2017: Healthy soils key to ending global hunger
Relief Web

How dirt can clean the air
Scientific American

Drought-resistant plant genes could accelerate evolution of water-use efficient crops
Global Plant Council

A range of biotechnological approaches, including traditional techniques and modern interventions, can help ensure food security
Millennium Post

GM plant species numbers set to dramatically increase
Cosmos Magazine

Novel wheat microbiome analysis conducted under four management strategies
Global Plant Council

Prickly pear cactus is ‘miracle’ crop for dry regions, say experts

Corn research exposes mechanism behind gene silencing

How genetically engineered sugar beets impact the farmer, the factory and you

Use of CRISPR systems in plant genome editing: toward new opportunities in agriculture
Portland Press

Large-scale approach reveals imperfect actor in plant biotechnology
Phys Org

Food Evolution interview with Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Live Stream

Fewer crops are feeding more people worldwide – and that’s not good
The Conversation

Need to step up efforts to fight fast-spreading pests, diseases is urgent

Biotechnology and food security
Daily Times

New agricultural careers training module for girls

ICRISAT shares insights on using agricultural biotechnology to facilitate healthy and sustainable consumer food choices

For some crops, genetic engineering ‘only option’ to improve food security
Genetic Literacy Project

EU re-approval of glyphosate herbicide dodges farming economic woes-for now
Genetic Literacy Project

GMO cotton could prompt renaissance of Philippine cotton industry
Genetic Literacy Project

Germany’s weed killer approval gets a withering response from its EU neighbors

Planting the seeds of food security in Asia
Asian Scientist

EFSA releases scientific opinion on four-stack GM maize

Gates Foundation grants additional $6.4 million to Cornell’s controversial Alliance for Science
Independent Science News

Are natural pesticides really safer than synthetic ones?
Genetic Literacy Project

How plant science will change the world
The Biochemist

Argentina authorizes new herbicide-resistant GMO soybean seeds
Genetic Literacy Project

Mexico revokes Monsanto permit to develop GMO soybean seeds in 7 states
Genetic Literacy Project

Swiss bee expert laments exaggerated focus on insecticides

Addressing GMOs’ promise, problems
The Guardian

A range of biotechnological approaches, including traditional techniques and modern interventions, can help ensure food security
Millennium Post


UN soil expert urges Africa to increase funding for soil research
XinHua Net

‘Super beans’ raise hopes in hunger-prone parts of Africa  

AU and FAO speak loud and clear: biotechnologies can be decisive in bridging the food deficit gap in Africa
FAO Africa

Indigenous crops and small scale farms: Ruth Oniang’o on Africa’s agricultural future
The Guardian

Viewpoint: GMO crops are future of African farming—if anti-biotech activists get out of the way
Genetic Literacy Project

Innovation, technology, and development: Africa can leapfrog

African women are starting to take a lead in agricultural research

Agricultural Policy Research in Africa official launched in Addis Ababa
African Brains

Africa’s “Great Green Wall” aims to restore land and hope
Dogo News

ECOWAS charged to enforce gender-friendly & inclusive agricultural laws
Leadership NG

Science for the AU-EU partnership

Why Africa’s food security is at risk with Professor Joachim von Braun
Wits Journalism

How the world needs to change as regions get drier
African Independent

Southern Africa fall armyworm stakeholders’ meeting
CNBC Africa

Food security and social stability in Africa: New estimation methods for data-driven climate projections in data-sparse regions


What happens when leading social scientists and breeders from 11 CGIAR centers gather in Nairobi to strategize around gender and agricultural research for development?

Boost as hybrid coconut seedlings launched


Can Nigeria’s yams power a nation?

Nigeria pursuing GMO public education campaign
Alliance for Science

Policymakers, farmers, others gather for agriculture symposium

2.5 million children suffer from severe malnutrition in Nigeria – Unicef


Why is Tanzania importing coconuts?


Ugandan coffee producers’ efforts to widen the market should include our own liking for drinking it
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Kingdom rice to help fill Uganda’s 200,000 tonnes deficit


Will Zimbabwe’s agriculture revive and if so, how?
Biz Agriculture

Opportunities and resources

Course: Gender-responsive legume breeding, July 23-August 01 2018 & January 14-18, 2019, Makarere University, Kampala, Uganda

Course: Organised farmers as partners in agribusiness – 2018,  17 September to 5 October 2018, Wageningen University

Report: West Africa enhanced market analysis – September 2017
Relief Web

Report: Africa regional overview of food security and nutrition 2017

Newsletter: Kirkhouse Times
Kirkhouse Trust

Fact sheet: Sugarcane in Africa