In the news...

December 2nd, 2015 / B4FA.org

CRISPR is in headlines this week as scientists debate controversial new methods of genetic research at the first International Summit on Human Gene Editing. As the technology pertains to crops, the Swedish Board of Agriculture has confirmed that plants edited using CRISPR – Cas9 does not fall under EU GM definition. This means that the technique may be used in plant science and breeding outside of EU GMO regulation, and can be grown without restriction. For those who want a want a quick refresher on genome editing, Nature has published a brief 7 facts about a revolutionary technology, while article “Using CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify crops” interviews scientists who have recently published research detailing their experience of using the gene-editing technology to modify barley and brassica.

In African biotech news, South African scientist Jill Farrant is leading global research into “resurrection plants”, which can survive extreme water shortages over long periods. During drought, the plant becomes dormant, but burst back into life within hours when it finally rains. Her goal: “to cater to the subsistence farmer, the person who wants to make enough food to live.” Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are joining a US-AID sponsored program to help curb the spread of Maize Lethal Necrosis by detecting, monitoring and containing the spread of MLN, especially via seed. Actions include coordinating the commercial maize seed sector to produce and help distribute disease-free, clean seed to farmers.

In Addis Ababa last week, 11 African nations gathered to implement seed sharing and conservation of plant genetic resources, with the goal of broadening and securing the continent’s ability to cope with climate change adaptation, food security and poverty alleviation. In Sudan, regulators, researchers and journalists from seven other African countries took a study tour to visit the cotton sector and learned that the key factor in ensuring acceptance of biotech crop commercialization was political goodwill. In the case of Bt cotton – which has helped Sudan reduce the incidence of African boll worms and increase harvests – a commitment by the Sudanese government helped ensure farmers’ willingness to adopt the crop.

From the B4FA Fellows this week, we hear from Lominda Afedraru, who writes about the release of new, disease-resistant maize and cassava varieties in Uganda; while Michael Ssali exhorts Ugandan farmers to store water now, during the rainy season and reports on a gathering of young farmers to discuss challenges – including how to ensure the purchase of good quality seeds and inputs.

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Biosciences & plant genetics around the world

The Swedish Board of Ag has confirmed that plants edited using CRISPR – Cas9 doesn’t fall under EU GM definition
Umea Plant Science Centre

Genome editing: 7 facts about a revolutionary technology
Nature

Using CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify crops
BioMed Central

Why biotech regulation needs to catch up with rapidly developing technologies
The Scientist

Coffee, Big Ag & why demonizing GE is counterproductive–Q&A w/ rice research scientist Dr Nir Oksenberg
BioFortified

University-made, generic Roundup Ready seeds ready for market
Harvest Public Media

Synthetic biologists make genetic circuits for programmable plants
ISAAA

Orphan gene’ from a relative of cabbages and broccoli could boost protein content of rice, corn and soya
ISAAA

Scientists sequence genome for “Resurrection Grass”, which regrows after extreme drought
ISAAA

Cornell Alliance for Science launches global conversation to end hunger
ISAAA

The State of Food and Agriculture 2015 – FAO
Eldis

What do the Sustainable Development Goals say about science and innovation?
Royal Society

World’s poorest hit hard as climate-related disasters put food security, jobs at risk: UN
Globe and Mail

Myth busting on ‘contamination’: GMO farms’ halo effect often protects organic farms
Genetic Literacy Project

OPINION: We need a voluntary international agreement to protect soil from erosion & degradation
Nature

Pan-Africa

Africa moves to curb maize disease
AllAfrica

Seeds without borders: using and sharing plant genetic diversity to adapt to climate change in Africa
AllAfrica

Africa’s expectations at UNFCCC COP-21
AllAfrica

Climate change and Africa’s Infrastructure: Adapt now, but do so wisely
World Bank

E-agriculture: How ICT is taking African farming into the future
IT News Africa

BecA-John Innes Centre Alliance to tackle African food security challenges
Business Weekly

OPINION | Why Africa needs to make agricultural sciences a sexy academic subject
GhanaWeb

Processing African cassava peels, potentially a billion-dollar business
ILRI

African Development Bank: Encouraging the production of value-added products is one goal, president says
News Fulton County

Project embeds young African climate researchers
SciDevNet

Are young people the answer to Africa’s food security?
IPS News

When it comes to GMOs, Africa can speak, decide for herself
Genetic Literacy Project

Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Fruit seedling supply as lucrative business for youth: Tadele Gobeze’s story
LIVES

Ghana

“Agriculture has a very bright future” says Adongo
AllAfrica

Why is Ghana’s agricultural sector contribution to the economy sliding?
AFK Insider

Kenya

New irrigation project transforms the lives of Kwale youth
AllAfrica

CIYMMT, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation save farmers maize disease headache
Media Max Network

Nigeria

The Nigerian agricultural sector needs to dwell less on the rhetoric of its predecessors
Ventures Africa

Climate change threatens food security: President Buhari states Nigeria’s postion at COP-21
AllAfrica

South Africa

Budget squeeze for South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council amid drought
AllAfrica

South African scientist adapting ‘resurrection plants’ to improve crop drought tolerance
Genetic Literacy Project

Sudan

Political goodwill key in Sudan’s adoption of Bt Cotton
ISAAA

Tanzania

Tanzania gives farmers U.S.$36 million in subsidies for inputs and improved seeds
AllAfrica

EcoEnergy – foreign investment flagship, or land grab? Tanzania waits for sweet salvation
The Africa Report

Uganda

Namulonge releases new maize, cassava varieties
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

It is time to store water during this rainy season
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Young farmers discuss challenges
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Roots, tubers and banana plants: Next-generation pig feeds
ILRI

Comesa launches seed catalogue for farmers, traders
Daily Monitor

Traditional vegetables bring a new perspective to Uganda
AVRDC World Vegetable Center

Airtel funds weather information programme in Uganda
African Farming

Zimbabwe

Using traditional seed varieties and other sustainable farming practices help keep hunger at bay in Zimbabwe
AllAfrica

Climate change – farmers have no choice but to adapt
AllAfrica

Opportunities and resources

EVENT | A Sustainable Food Future: Production, Supply and Consumption. 7-8 Dec, Chatham House, London

PUBLICATION | Voices & Views: Why Biotech? Personal essays on individuals
who follow and support biotech development. Via ISAAA

PUBLICATION | What have plants ever done for us? A new book tells of 50 key plants – from coffee to cotton to rice, rubber & rose. Via Oxford Science Blog