The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are joining hands to support sustainable agriculture with focus on smallholder farmers to drive green growth and reduce poverty. Among the strategies being considered is the increased support to farmers by way of investments and scaling-up and accelerating government policies.
"Well-managed, sustainable agriculture can not only overcome hunger and poverty, but can address other challenges from climate change to the loss of biodiversity," said UNEP chief Achim Steiner. This statement was supported by Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD who said that "Smallholders in developing countries – the majority of them women – manage to feed 2 billion people, despite working on ecologically and climatically precarious land, with difficult or no access to infrastructure and institutional services, and often lacking land tenure rights that farmers in developed countries take for granted."
Nwanze also added that investments in sustainable smallholder agriculture must go hand-in-hand with policy and institutional reforms, investments in infrastructure and improvements in market access. Authorities must also be informed of the needs and problems of the rural poor.
More information on the news can be seen at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=38565&Cr=agriculture&Cr1.
Currently commercialized genetically engineered crops have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity. This has been possible through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, reduction of insecticide use, and use of more environmentally benign herbicides. Janet Carpenter advances these thoughts in Impacts of GE crops on biodiversity in the June 2011 issue of ISB News Report.
Carpenter reviewed the literature on the potential impacts of GE crops on the environment on three levels: crop, farm and landscape scales. "From a broader perspective," Carpenter noted, "GE crops may actually increase crop diversity by enhancing underutilized alternative crops, making them more suitable for widespread domestication."
Read the full article at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2011/Jun/Impacts-GE-Crops-Biodiversity.pdf.
A report on Growing a better future published by Oxfam, a registered charity in the United Kingdom, calls for urgent action to change the international food system to avert doubling of prices of staple crops in 20 years. Average international prices of key staples, such as maize, will increase by between 120 and 180 percent by 2030, with up to half of this increase due to climate change.
Other forecasts include:
Check out http://www.oxfam.org.uk/applications/blogs/pressoffice/2011/05/31/global-food-crisis-looms-as-crop-prices-set-to-rocket/ for more information.
The Nigerian senate enacted the Biosafety Bill into law on June 1, 2011, after several years of stakeholders' discussion and debate. The Bill went through the Senate procedure by Resolution and Concurrence after going through three readings. It was concurred without amendments to the draft Bill passed by the House of Representatives on July 20, 2010. The law now awaits Presidential assent upon which implementing regulations will be developed to pave way for its operationalization.
The passing of the bill was welcomed by stakeholders, who had expressed concerns earlier on the possible delay in passing the Bill, due to possible changes in the government after the May 2011 elections. The bill was among those highlighted by the Nigerian Bar Association last December as needing passage before 29 May 2011. The passing of the bill is a major step towards the safe and responsible use of biotech crops in the country. Currently, Nigerian scientists and partners are conducting field trials on genetically modified cowpea and cassava, both important major staple food crops in Nigeria and the sub-Saharan Africa at large.
For more information on the Biosafety Bill and biotechnology developments in Nigeria contact the Nigeria Biosafety focal point, Mr. Rufus Ebegba at email@example.com or Mrs. Rose S.M. Gidado, Principal Scientific Officer, Collaborations & Linkages Unit, National Biotechnology Development Agency at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a thorough assessment of Striga's deadly effect on corn farms and on the lives of the people, the parasitic weed is already being named as a plant ‘vampire' that robs farmers of their harvest. The weed has spread across Kenya and Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries causing yield losses of up to 80 percent and affecting approximately 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.
To help 200,000 maize farmers and 50,000 cowpea farmers, a $ 9.0 million project by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is being launched, with a $6.75 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The four-year project aims to improve and expand access to methods of Striga control and support research to identify the most effective means of controlling the parasitic weed under varying conditions. The project will evaluate and implement four approaches in a two year evaluation period: using Striga-resistant crop varieties; using a "push-pull" technology that involves intercropping with specific forage legumes that inhibit the germination of Striga; using herbicide-coated seeds; and deploying biocontrol of Striga.
It is hoped that the best approach can control witchweed and can generate an estimated $8.6 million worth of additional grain (maize and legumes) annually at the project locations—resulting in increased incomes, better nutrition, and reduced poverty, as well as employment opportunities from grain production to food markets.
The Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (SACAU) adopted a policy framework on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) during a meeting in Vereeniging, South Africa last May 18, 2011. The framework acknowledges that GM technology is one of the options that can increase production, improve productivity and income of farmers, and contribute to addressing food security challenges in the region.
In a press release, SACAU noted that the framework recognizes the need for evidence-based decision-making; the right of consumers to choose whether or not to consume GMO products; the need for more research and development as well as the widespread dissemination of the results of such research; and the importance of directly involving farmers in R&D in GMOs.
For further information, contact Ishmael Sunga at email@example.com.
At Cornell University's plant breeding and genetics department, researchers Mark Sorrells and Jean-Luc Jannink of USDA-ARS developed a system to increase productivity of crop varieties that smallholder farmers grow. Through the use of genomic selection, the researchers plan to boost the rate of variety improvements in maize and wheat up to three-fold.
In partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), genomic selection will be used to test varieties under development in the maize and wheat breeding programs considering the four efficiencies that may contribute to better yields. These include among other factors an increase in sample size of available data to examine complex, environment-dependent traits more accurately and will also allow an accelerated breeding cycle. Using genomic selection, plant breeders can help manage diversity so that the genetic gains will not be at the expense of traits needed in the future.
If successful, the model which received a US$3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to improve other important crops as well.
The full article can be viewed at http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June11/GatesGenomics.html.
"A simple and reliable way to distinguish between male and female seedlings has long been sought, not only for agricultural purposes, but also to promote basic date palm studies, which have been hindered by dioecy and long generation times," Joel Malek, director of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar's (WCMC-Q) genomics lab said on his research published in the online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The researchers found that the gender is under genetic control through an X-Y system of gender inheritance similar to that of humans. Gender determination in date palm has been an age-old question for thousands of years. The economically-valuable female trees bear fruit after five to eight years, thus, determination of the gender early at its seedling stage is of primary importance to date palm growers.
Equipped with the 2009 draft sequence of the date palm genome, the research team will also conduct studies on salinity and high temperature tolerance, hoping to improve the date palm germplasm through genetic modification.
The original news can be seen at http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June11/wcmcqDatepalm.html.
The yellow starthistle, a very obnoxious weed in cattle grass farms, is expected to proliferate as the global climate change. Climate change is expected to increase carbon dioxide, precipitation, nitrogen and temperature, and these are the optimum conditions for the yellow starthistle to thrive. In a paper published by Jeff Dukes, a Purdue University Professor of forestry and natural resources and the study's lead author in the online edition of the journal Ecological Applications, reported that the weed in some cases grew to six times its normal size, while the other grassland species remained relatively unchanged.
"The rest of the grassland didn't respond much to changes in conditions except nitrogen," said Dukes. "We're likely to see these carbon dioxide concentrations in the second half of this century. Our results suggest that yellow starthistle will be a very happy camper in the coming decades."
This problem is currently being looked at by land managers and crop growers as a major problem in the coming decades, thus, better controls should be developed to address invasive species that could cause significant damage to pasture, cropland and wildlands such as starthistle.
For details of the news, see http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/110531DukesStarthistle.html.
Bioengineers at Pratt School of Engineering in Duke University have developed a one-by-three inch chip which can make custom-made segments of DNA in two days. Production of DNA segments is currently done in two weeks, using large equipment and significant manpower. According to Jingdong Tian and colleagues, this breakthrough could have vital contributions in the production and screening of new drugs, and in gene cloning.
"Using current technology, it takes between about fifty cents to a dollar to create each base pair – using the new chip reduces costs to less than half of one cent per base pair," said Tian. "In addition, current methods create many ‘mistakes' that must be accounted for," Tian continued. "The chip-based method is self-correcting, in that whenever an error in copying is detected, it is automatically fixed…The chip basically combines the three steps into one, which can be completed in less than two days, and without all the labor currently needed."
Read the media release at http://www.pratt.duke.edu/duke_jingdong_dna.
Representative Stephen Fincher, a congressman from Tennessee, USA, introduced a legislation to speed up the process of approval for biotech crops. Fincher, who is also a farmer, called the bill as 'Expediting Agriculture Through Science (EATS) Act'. The legislation would allow Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to have 180 days "to approve or deny a petition for non-regulated status, with an additional 60 days if needed to ensure the safety of the environment and compliance is met before deeming the petition approved."
Fincher emphasized the need for a more efficient approval process to keep the U.S. farmers leaders in biotech crop production.
The original news is available at http://brownfieldagnews.com/2011/05/31/bill-would-accelerate-biotech-approvals/.
White wheat bread will soon be available in Eastern Canada. The Eastern Canada standards committee of the Canadian Grain Commission called for a new grade schedule for Canada Eastern hard white winter wheat called Whitebear, a new variety of hard wheat. This year, Whitebear is registered for production in Ontario, Canada.
According to Crosby Devitt, manager of market development and research for Grain Farmers of Ontario, hard white winter is different class from soft white winter, soft red winter and hard red winter wheat classes. Each class can have different varieties but at present, Whitebear is the only variety in the hard white winter class. He also stressed that Whitebear " has potentially more value" because it can be used in making Asian noodles and white bread that's whole wheat. Since most children prefer white bread, this new variety will help parents to feed their children with a more healthful kind of bread.
Read more details at http://www.betterfarming.com/online-news/new-wheat-variety-class-its-own-4282.
Asia and the Pacific
Australia's National Farmers' Federation led by its president Jock Laurie has acknowledged the importance of investments in agricultural research and development, and a resolution to the international trade talks to realize global food security. The launch of Oxfam's international GROW campaign attests to the role of Australian agriculture in addressing global food security.
"Food security has long been an area of concern for the agricultural sector, as Australia's and the world's farmers are being asked to produce more food to feed the growing world population, at the same as natural resources like water and arable land become more scarce," Mr Laurie said.
To answer the issues on how farmers produce more with less, and how to ensure all people have access to food, Mr Laurie said that, "The answers lie in investing in agricultural research, development and innovation in order to boost productivity; ensuring a balanced outcome in the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan; ensuring any carbon policy reduces emissions while also not loading additional costs into our industry; improving our freight transport infrastructure networks; and ensuring trade restrictions and protectionist measures that distort market signals and bleed inefficient resource allocations are removed."
The Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) responded to a study linking Cry1Ab protein in blood to GM foods. The study published by Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc entitled Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada claimed that they detected the Cry1Ab protein in the blood of pregnant and non-pregnant Canadian women, and in umbilical cord blood of fetuses.
FSANZ responded by highlighting the methodological and interpretative limitation of the paper that limits the relevance of the reported findings and conclusions about food safety. Technical limitations include insensitivity of the assay method used and unsubstantiated and invalid assumptions regarding the source of the Cry1Ab protein in the diets of test subjects.
For more details on the FSANZ response, see http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/gmfoods/fsanzresponsetostudy5185.cfm.
A consultation paper on what approaches to take to ensure food safety in fresh horticultural produce has been released recently by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). This action is in response to the periodic microbiological or chemical hazards that can arise in food that can put risk to the consumer.
"The horticulture industries in Australia have been quick to implement measures through audited industry schemes or other systems that address food safety. What we don't know is whether these measures are sufficient to provide a nationally consistent approach to food safety across the entire sector," said FSANZ Chief Executive Officer, Steve McCutcheon.
To this end, FSANZ is now working with industry to evaluate the effectivity and adequateness of the national requirement; and with growers, packers, wholesalers and industry bodies as well as other non-industry stakeholders who will wish to contribute. A call for written submissions on the paper must be lodged with FSANZ by 6pm (Canberra time) on 11 July 2011.
An interactive participatory process is essential to manage programs that allow technologies to reach intended users. This encourages local capacities and indigenizes local resources for sustainable development. This was forwarded in a paper Managing biotechnologies for resource poor farmers by P.S. Janaki Krishna and colleagues published in Asian Biotechnology and Development Review.
The process is referred to as Interactive Bottom Up (IBU) which creates learning processes between the various actors on the possibilities and constraints of a technological innovation and application. It combines research and development dimensions where the end-user is consulted and considered first before conceptualization of the program.
Email the lead author at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes annually the Red List, an update of the list of species which are threatened with extinction. In 2010, the list describes 17,390 species out of almost 50,000 species surveyed, which are extinct. In the recent estimates, about 20% of flowering plants are currently at risk of extinction. Among the factors that contribute to the endangerment of plant species include habitat loss and damage due to land and agriculture development, pollution, or competition with invasive species.
However, in a study conducted in MCGill University in Canada, results show that a plant species' risk of extinction is closely related to the age of the species. "In plants, we show that the processes of extinction and speciation [the evolutionary process by which new species arise] are linked - seemingly, the most vulnerable species are often the youngest. Young species may appear at high risk of extinction simply because their populations have not yet had time to grow and spread," explains Jonathan Davies, a member of the research team. "However, it is also possible that some plant species might be doomed to extinction from their very inception," he added.
Details of the news can be seen at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS_FP7&ACTION=D
Plants absorb water and nutrients from its roots. Amazingly, they are able to filter nutrients from the soil and protect itself from disease causing microorganisms. A recent paper by scientists from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland published in the journal Nature reports a transmembrane proteins called CASPs (Casparian strip membrane domain proteins) which can do the job well. CASPs are at the Casparian Strips which are specialized cell wall material present in the root endodermis that generate an extracellular diffusion barrier.
Niko Geldner, one of the researchers on the project said, "The CASPs form a sort of trellis on which other proteins then come to fix themselves to in order to form a sequence which leads to the creation of an extremely effective three-dimensional 'roadblock'. This fascinating discovery will allow us to better understand how the roots are capable of selecting good nutrients and eliminating the bad ones. In other words, how plants feed themselves."
This new knowledge can be a prelude to a cascade of research to improve the uptake of nutrients by developing plants which need less water and fertilizer, thus, a more sustainable type of agriculture.
Europe must change its agricultural policies and include farmers as participants in agricultural research. These changes must be made if Europe is expected to reduce loss of biodiversity. "Farmers' freedom to choose the seeds they plant and to use them to develop improved crop varieties and biodiversity-rich farming will be key to Europe's response to climate change," said Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a non-profit research institute based in London.
Read details of the article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55792
Since the use of Bt technology, safety concerns have been raised about its transfer in different parts of agricultural systems, though extensive environmental risk assessment was carried out prior to the approval of Bt crops. Thus, Helga Gruber of the Bacarian State Research Center fro Agriculture, Germany, and other scientists tracked the fate of recombinant Cry1Ab protein in a liquid manure field trial when feeding GM maize (MON810) to lactating cows. To quantify the protein, a validated ELISA was used in the agricultural chain starting from GM maize plants, feed, liquid manure and soil to crops sown on soils containing manure.
The scientists observed an abrupt decrease in the amount of the protein from the GM maize plant to the feed and liquid manure. About half of the residual Cry1Ab remained during storage for 25 weeks. After application to the fields, final degradation of the protein occurred and reported to reach below detectable amounts. It was also notable that Cry1Ab exhibited faster degradation compared to total protein in the agricultural processes.
Subscribers of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry can access the research article at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf200854n.
Fudan University scientist Xiao Yang and colleagues tested the effect of genetically-engineered insect resistance on the herbivory and fecundity of insects in advanced generations of crop-weed hybrids of rice. They created two filial generations (F2 and F3) of crop-weed hybrid lineages of GM rice using lines with two transgene constructs, cowpea trypsin inhibitor (CpTI) and a Bt transgene linked to CpTI (Bt/CpTI).
Results showed that CpTI had no significant effect on the insects' ability to reproduce, but decreased forage of the insects on the plants. On the other hand, Bt/CpTI significantly decreased insect damage to almost 80% and greater fecundity compared to non-GM controls and weedy parent. Slight fitness cost was observed in F3 progeny with Bt/CpTI when grown under conditions of low insect pressure and direct competition with transgene-negative controls.
Based on the results, the researchers concluded that Bt/CpTI transgenes may introgress into co-occurring weedy rice populations and contribute to greater seed production when target insects are abundant. However, the net fitness benefits that are associated with Bt/CpTI could be temporary if there is not enough insect pressure in the surroundings.
Read the abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1752-4571.2011.00190.x/abstract.
Wheat stem rust has re-emerged as a serious threat to production since the discovery of Ug99 in 1950s. Thus, the gene (SrWld1) in wheat that confers resistance to all North American stem rust races is very important, especially in hard red spring (HRS) wheat cultivars. A sexually recombined race of stem rust with virulence to SrWld1 was discovered in 1980s. This led D. L. Klindworth, a scientist from USDA-ARS, and colleagues, to determine the genetics of resistance to the race.
The recombinant race was tested with the set of stem rust differentials and a set of wheat cultivars composed of 36 HRS and 6 durum. Through the use of aneuploid analysis, molecular markers, and allelism tests, the location of the chromosomes were identified. Differential tests labeled the race as TPPKC, which indicates that it is different from TPMKC by having virulence to genes Sr30 and SrWld1. Seven genes in wheat were found to be effective against TPPKC. Further tests indicated that five HRS and one durum cultivar were susceptible to TPPKC, all of which had SrWld1 as their major stem rust resistance gene.
The researchers concluded that TPPKC will not pose a great threat similar to TTKSK but may cause loss of some cultivars if TPPKC infests the fields.
Read the original paper at http://www.springerlink.com/content/h7364l1672313k61/.
Beyond Crop Biotech
Current focus on plants as source of food has always been associated with health and longevity. Nutritionists encourage eating plant-based foods because it promotes health and reduce the impact of chronic diseases. A paper published by Cathie Martin and colleagues from John Innes Centre in the UK, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Milan on How can research on plants contribute to promoting human health describes how the science of plant biochemistry can make significant contributions to human health.
Investigations conducted in the USDA-ARS laboratory at the Western Regional Research Center focused on the effect of blueberry juice by-products on the plasma cholesterol of hamsters. Blueberry skins, fiber extracted from peels, or juice extracted from peels were fed to hamsters and the levels of total plasma cholesterol and very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) – a bad cholesterol were observed, as well as the genes responsible for these effects in the liver.
Future research will focus on the identification of the compounds in blueberry which trigger this reduced cholesterol levels, as well as to see whether a similar phenomenon occurs in humans.
Bypass surgery and hemodialysis patients need implants of new, functional blood vessels. Usually, the doctors get the patients' own arteries. However, thousands of patients do not have enough resources in their own bodies. Thus, Shannon L. M. Dahl of Humacyte, Inc. in the USA and colleagues developed tissue-engineered blood vessels made from human cells.
"We start out with human cells from a donor. And we seed these cells onto a degradable polymeric scaffold…the cells proliferate and secrete extracellular matrix proteins, which are the proteins in your tissues that give your tissues strength. And during the time of culture, the polymer degrades away. The polymer that we use is actually the same type of polymer that's used in degradable sutures," explained Dahl.
The bioengineered vessels can be stored up for a year, allowing clinics to have ample supplies of arteries and veins for patients undergoing surgery.
Read the original article at http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=bioengineered-blood-vessels-are-sta-11-02-07.
The Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) International Conference will be held in Kigali, Rwanda from 24-27 October 2011. The theme of the conference is Challenges and opportunities for agricultural intensification of the humid-highland systems of sub-Saharan Africa. CIALCA and the CGIAR Consortium Research program invites attendees to present papers and posters. The conference will be conducted in English and French and simultaneous translation will be available.
For more details, see the announcement at http://www.cialca.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=115&Itemid=118.
The "1st Biotechnology World Congress" (1st BWC 2012) will be held in Dubai, UAE, from February 14-15, 2012. It will focus on business development, strategic alliances, partnering trends, product opportunities, growth business models and strategies, licensing and pharmaceutical biotechnology, vaccines, protein engineering, plant and environmental technologies, transgenic plant and crops, bioremediation, microbial diversity research.
The details of the conference can be viewed at http://eureka-mkt03.com/conference/bwc.
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Updated versions of the following Pocket Ks are now available for download:
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications' (ISAAA) Pocket Ks are Pockets of Knowledge, packaged information on crop biotechnology products and related issues produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology. These publications are written in easy to understand style and downloadable as pdf for easy sharing and distribution. Other topics are also available at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in cooperation with the International Rice Research Institute, released an infographic titled "Growing Better Rice for a Hungry World." It features different rice traits being developed by IRRI and the potential increase in production that each type of trait can contribute by 2017. Know more and view the infographic at http://www.gatesfoundation.org/infographics/Pages/growing-better-rice.aspx.
Independent approval processes of GM crops occurring in different countries is a growing concern due to its possible effects on global trade. Different countries have varied regulatory processes and thus use up different length of time before a GM crop is approved. For instance, more than 40 GM crop events have been approved by 2009 in different countries but not one has been approved or submitted in the EU. EU implements zero-tolerance policy and this caused rejection of agricultural imports resulting to high economic losses affecting the world market. András Nábrádi and József Popp of University of Debrecen, Hungary, wrote a scientific paper on the economics of GM crop cultivation, and suggested solutions to this socio-economic dilemma.
Read the paper at http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/104659/2/1_Nabradi__Apstract.pdf.