In the news...

March 29th, 2019 /

WE HAVE CHANGED …Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) was set up to help African farmers unlock the continent’s huge agricultural potential. Initially we provided training, with the involvement of local scientists, to African journalists from both East and West Africa so they could communicate balanced, scientifically based information on best practice, innovation and entrepreneurship to decision makers, scientists, educators and farmers alike.

From this grew the B4FA Newswire, providing regular, accurate, unbiased and up-to-date information for those working to improve African sustainable agriculture and food security. You, our loyal and growing audience, suggests there’s an appetite for what we do.

Due to severely restricted funds, we are having to change what we do regularly. Our newsletter will now be published MONTHLY – on the last Friday – and this is the first of these. But we are still actively seeking additional funding so that we can revert to a weekly newsletter and broaden or activities.

Nevertheless, we will continue to tweet (@B4FA) daily, use Facebook (Biosciences for farming in Africa) and update our website (

We hope you value what we do. We have raised just enough fund to continue until the end of 2019, But we want to forge partnerships with African organisations so that through active cooperation we can together both continue and widen our activities. Can you help, or do you know of someone who might? Or have you any comments and criticisms about what we are doing, and how we could improve? Please contact Professor Christopher Leaver, CBE, FRS, FRSE or Bart Ullstein as soon as possibleWe really want to hear from you.


It is with great sadness that we headline Cyclone Idai that hit shores of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi on 21/22 March bringing with it death, devastation and destruction for so many. After flying over the vast, flooded plains of central Mozambique early last week, President Filipe Nyusii estimated that 1,000 people had been killed and the toll could be higher, as more bodies will be found as floodwaters drain away. An estimated 1.8 million people are in need of urgent help – water, food, medicines  and shelter and in response the UN has urged the international community to fund a US$ 282m emergency appeal for the next three months.

In an article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Nane Annan, widow of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, discusses how the ability of the ‘humble sweet potato’ to support climate adaptation is becoming increasingly important. This root, a staple in many parts of Africa, offers the quickest nutritional returns in the face of increasingly challenging weather conditions. Instead of waiting up to a year for yam or cassava to mature, sweet potato – with all its nutritional benefits – is ripe and ready in as little as three months. And now the International Potato Center (CIP) scientists have developed climate-smart sweet potato farming practices, which protect valuable roots and planting material in drought conditions so that farmers continue to have vines for early planting when other resources are limited.The Genetic Literacy Project reports on the use genetic engineering to turn annual crops into perennials. Most staples, like maize, wheat, sorghum and other grains are annuals. This means they must be replanted each year from seed, require large amounts of expensive fertilizers and pesticides, poorly protect soil and water, and provide little habitat for wildlife. Their production emits significant greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change that can in turn have adverse effects on agricultural productivity. Perennials, meanwhile, have longer growing seasons and more extensive roots, making them more productive, and more efficient at capturing nutrients and water from the soil. Replanting isn’t necessary, reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, and reducing the need to use tractors and other mechanical planters in fields. Erosion also can be reduced. It’s been estimated that annual grains can lose five times more water and 35 times more nitrate than perennial grains. As a result, scientists are working to turn annuals into perennials.

A piece from the UK’s Independent reports on an alarm sounded by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, former chief scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme, on climate change threatening to poison the food supply of some of the world’s poorest people as crops respond to rising temperatures by pumping out dangerous chemicals. Experts are already concerned about the devastating impact extreme weather can inflict on vital crops, but these conditions also pose subtler hazards. When drought strikes, plants like maize, beans and cassava response by flooding themselves with nitrates and hydrogen cyanide – substances that can be fatal to livestock and humans alike. Further problems arise from the spread of toxin-producing fungal infections under warmer conditions, which are already responsible for thousands of liver cancer cases in Africa every year.

We also headline an article in Science that argues International data show a clear association between low agricultural productivity and high rates of undernourishment. Global studies have also shown that rapid reduction of extreme poverty is only possible when the incomes of smallholder farmers are increased. Therefore, sustained improvement in agricultural productivity is central to socioeconomic development and that with careful deployment and scientifically informed regulation, new plant breeding technologies (NPBTs) such as genome editing will be able to contribute substantially to global food security.

This month we have slightly expanded our reports of and suggestions for good practice, with a range of contributions from B4FA Fellows Loninda Lominda Afedraru and Michael Ssali. But we also include  pieces on how to boost local fertiliser production from Nigeria, on contour farming from Uganda, on farmers growing their own fodder, and on how African farmers increase yield with fertiliser app.

We welcome questions, comments and story links to [email protected]. Please also visit for further reading and useful resources – and follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation.

Cyclone Idai crisis deepens as first cases of cholera confirmed in Mozambique
The Guardian, UK

The humble sweet potato can help power Africa in the face of climate change says Nane Annan
Daily Telegraph, UK

Using genetic engineering to turn annual crops into perennials could bolster global food production
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Climate change threatens to poison the food supply of some of the world’s poorest people as crops respond to rising temperatures by pumping out dangerous chemicals
The Independent, UK

New plant breeding techniques for food security
Science, US

UNEP urges Africa to promote organic fertilizer, healthy soil
Sundiata Post, Nigeria

FAO, ICBA ink agreements to save plant genetic resources, boost food security in world’s marginal areasRelief Web, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Biotech can aid environmental conservation, scientists say
Genetic Literacy Project, US

GMO debate and development
How genetically engineered crops can boost Africa’s fight against malnutrition
Genetic Literacy Project, US

African farmers want GMO seeds to help weather climate change
Alliance for Science, US

How genetic engineering can help Africa cope with climate change by tweaking crops, animals
Genetic Literacy Project, US

International project working to beat wheat rust
Weekly Times, Australia

The global plant breeding and CRISPR plants market is projected to grow from USD 7.57 billion in 2018 to USD 14.55 billion by 2023
Future Farming, Netherlands

Corn and other important crops can now be gene edited by pollen carrying CRISPR
Science, US

Critical ‘orphan’ food crop focus of global cassava research – B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru reports
Alliance for Science, US

A more humane livestock industry, brought to you by CRISPR
Wired, US

ISU scientists overcome repetitive DNA to sequence the genome of devastating soybean pest
Iowa State University, US

The glyphosate debate
Is it time to give up glyphosate?
Agribusiness Global, US

Glyphosate use in Asia and implications of possible restrictions on its use
AgBioForum, US

Podcast: Roundup resistance—new tactics help farmers keep glyphosate-resistant weeds in check
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Infographic: Global regulatory and health research agencies on whether glyphosate causes cancer
Genetic Literacy Project, USAgro-ecology

African governments must prioritise agro-ecology in climate change strategies
Business Ghana

Forty-five agro-ecology and environment CSOs have called on African governments to place agro-ecology at the centre of their climate change adaption strategies
News Ghana

Viewpoint: Agroecology is a ‘dead end’ for African farmers trying to achieve food security
Genetic Literacy Project

Precision agriculture
Precision agriculture for Africa’s food security
The Standard, Kenya

The future of plant protection
Farming without plant protection products – can we grow without using herbicides, fungicides and insecticides? Report from European Parliamentary Research Service
European Parliament, Belgium

Genetic engineering creates alternative to chemical pesticides
Alliance for Science, US

RNA-based pesticides are coming, but how will they affect the ecosystem?
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Malawi’s Bt cotton research experience provides African agri-biotech researchers with invaluable lessons

What are the benefits of a new genetically modified beans variety known as Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea
Leadership, Nigeria

Unregulated GM products dangerous for Nigeria – NBMA
Daily Trust, Nigeria

Uncertain future of Uganda’s GMO law spurs anxiety, confusion among biotech supporters
Genetic Literacy Project, US

Uganda GMO banana research progresses despite legal uncertainty – B4FA Fellow Lominda Afredraru reports
Alliance for Science, US

Quest for disease and pest-resistant rice: Ugandan researchers turn to hybrid, GMO breeding programmes – B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru reports
Genetic Literacy Project, US

How to boost local fertiliser production
The Nation, Nigeria

Feedback: tips on farming garlic profitably
The Nation, Kenya

Growing own fodder can cut feeding costs substantially
New Era, Namibia

African farmers increase yield with fertiliser app
Future Farming, Netherlands

Make your hill productive with contour farming
Sunrise, Uganda

Make more money from potatoes
Daily Monitor, Uganda

What farmers growing hybrid vegetables should do – B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru reports
Daily Monitor, Uganda

B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru reports on  the best ways to fatten cattle
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Livestock feeding a key factor in gainful farming, says B4FA Fellow Michael Ssakli
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Get good seeds for planting says B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Growing beans successfully begins with good seed bed preparation – says B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Indigenous seed companies in the sub-Saharan African region have proved more adept at reaching out to small-holder farmers when compared to their multinational peers
Business Report, South Africa

Access to safe water is crucial to sustainable development
African Farming, UK

Why African farmers must consider drought tolerant crops

The fight to save coffee from climate change heats up
Sustainable Food Trust, UK

Call for cooperation in West Africa to enhance information for farmers impacted by climate change
Webwire, US

Citizen science helps farmers adapt to climate change, UK

Irrigating Africa: can small-scale farmers lead the way?
The Conversation, UK

Ethiopia: Africa’s next powerhouse?
Brookings Institution

Study shows which policies succeed in developing agriculture
Farmers’ Weekly, South Africa

Transforming the African agribusiness sector
African Independent, South Africa

Is agribusiness the problem or the solution?

McKinsey: Seven ways how companies can pursue the African agricultural opportunity
How we made it in Africa, South Africa

What is biochar? New initiative to boost use of ‘game-changing’ soil amendment
Global Landscapes Forum

Mauritius ponders being an Organic Island
African Daily Voice

How good urban farming can combat bad eating
African Arguments, UK

Connecting food waste and sanitation services can help African farmers

How Africa can solve global food shortages using cassava
African Exponent, Tanzania

Fighting ‘hidden hunger’ with micronutrients in fortified foods. Lack of key nutrients in food impedes growth 
Ghana Web

What is food loss and food waste? Around one third of the weight of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted
FRCN Foodsource, UK

Golden rice has been formally registered as safe as food, feed, or in processed form by four industrialised countries, and applications are pending in developing ones
The Golden Rice Project

Orange fleshed cassava a real deal
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Rwanda: promoting urban agriculture for food security

Preparing for invasive pests before they arrive
UnDark, US

How you can manage diseases, pests – from B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru
Daily Monitor, Uganda

Chinese researchers isolate strain of African swine fever in ‘first step’ towards vaccine
South China Morning Post, China

The East African Community wants armyworm pesticides ready by May
The Citizen, Tanzania

Fall Armyworm attack: Ethiopia wakes up as pest wreaks havoc
Down to Earth, India

Researchers get grants to find solution to aflatoxin
The East African, Kenya

Opportunity: PhD Fellowships for women scientists from science and technology lagging countries
Organization for Women in Science in the Developing World

Opportunity: 10 journalists from developing countries sponsorships to attend the International Wheat Congress, an international gathering of scientists working on wheat research, July 21-26, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
CGIAR Research Program on Wheat