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7 provinces to produce ‘golden’ rice

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By Franz R. Sumangil

May 27, 2022

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THE Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) has chosen Maguindanao province as one of the seven areas in the country and the first in Southern Mindanao to sow “Golden Rice.”

The agency made the announcement during a meeting with rice stakeholders in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato City last Wednesday.

Dr. Ronan Zagado, program leader of Golden Rice, said Maguindanao will be one of the seven provinces in the country chosen to produce Golden Rice this year.

Zagado said they have chosen Maguindanao because it has one of the highest cases of stunting among infants and children ages five years and below.

He also said that once there is enough supply of Golden Rice, Maguindanao will be the first province to reap its health benefits.

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Zagado added that two hectares of land will be dedicated to the production of Golden Rice in the province with the help of BARMM’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Reform.

Golden Rice is one of the newest kinds of rice produced through modern biotechnology wherein its nutritional benefits are enhanced.

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Ronan Zagado Mindanao Department of Agriculture Philippine Rice Research Institute Cotabato city Ministry of Agriculture

What role can genetics play in ‘designing’ more sustainable crops, livestock and trees?

Rodolphe Barrangou | National Academy of Engineering | July 1, 2022

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Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink
Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink

The ability to engineer genomes and tinker with DNA sequences with unprecedented ease, speed, and scale is inspiring breeders of all biological entities. Genome engineers have deployed CRISPR tools in species from viruses and bacteria to plants and trees (whose genome can be 10 times larger than the human genome), including species used in food and agriculture (Zhu et al. 2020).

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Starting small, bacteria used in food fermentations have had their genomes enhanced to optimize their functional attributes linked to the flavor and texture of fermented dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. The fact that CRISPR-Cas systems provide adaptive immunity against viruses in dairy bacteria led to the commercial launch, more than a decade ago, of bacterial starter cultures with enhanced phage immunity in industrial settings. Most fermented dairy products are now manufactured using CRISPR-enhanced starter cultures. Since then, a variety of bacteria, yeast, and fungi (figure 2) involved in the manufacturing of bioproducts has also been CRISPR enhanced to yield commercial products such as enzymes, detergents, and dietary supplements.

Moving along the farm-to-fork spectrum, most commercial crops—from corn, soy, wheat, and rice to fruits and vegetables—have had their genomes altered (figure 2). Genome engineering is used to increase yield (e.g., meristem size, grain weight) and improve quality (e.g., starch and gluten content), pest resistance (e.g., to bacteria, fungi, viruses), and environmental resilience (e.g., to drought, heat, frost). For instance, nonbrowning mushrooms with extended shelf life can be generated, and tomatoes with increased amounts of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) to enhance brain health have been commercialized. In addition, efforts are underway to enhance nutritional value.

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Credit: NAE

Livestock breeders have joined the fray, with genome engineering of main farm species such as swine (leaner bacon), poultry (CRISPR chicken), and cattle (for both meat and dairy). Swine have also been edited with a viral receptor knockout to prevent porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome; the approach is being evaluated for regulatory approval (Burkard et al. 2017). Breeding applications include hornless cows (for more humane treatment), resistance to infectious disease (tuberculosis in cattle), and removal of viral sequences in the genome of elite commercial livestock,[1] notably swine. The CRISPR zoo also encompasses genetically diverse species—fish (tiger-puffer and red sea bream), cats (efforts are underway to develop hypoallergenic variants), and even butterflies (wing pattern)—illustrating the ability to deploy this technology broadly.

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Viewpoint: ‘Win-win for food security’ — Why Uganda needs both biotechnology and agroecology to feed itself as climate change roils farming

Henry Lutaaya | Sunrise | June 30, 2022

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Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images
Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images

Over the past decade or so, many ordinary farmers especially in developing countries including Uganda, have been thrown into a polarizing debate about what steps to take to achieve food security in a hotter and more populous world.

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On the one hand, is a group that has advocated for the adoption of modern agricultural technologies such biotechnology that involves use of biology to solve environmental stresses such as pests, or develop useful products such as vitamin-rich bananas.

On the other hand, another group that has come to be known as the agroecology movement, comprising mostly the civil society and movements of smallholder farmers, has gained momentum in recent years by opposing industrial farming as characterized by consistent use of improved seed, mechanization, and use of chemical fertilizer. Instead, they have advocated for use of saved seed, organic fertilizer, diversity in food and decentralized marketing.

There is increasing realization that intensification and use of modern tools such as biotechnology and agro-ecology are not conflicting targets. Indeed, both approaches can reinforce each other in a mutually supportive way to achieve food and nutrition security.

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Kenyan gene hacker moves to defeat witchweed

Prof Steven Runo has edited the DNA of sorghum to give it resistance to the notorious, parasitic weed

In Summary

•Traditionally, farmers would attempt to control Striga by simple, physical means. These included physically uprooting the plants, which wasn’t particularly effective, considering that the weed knots itself within the host’s roots.

•Prof Runo is an associate professor of molecular biology at Kenyatta University.

Among the towering names in genome editing in Kenya is Professor Steven Runo

The world is making tremendous strides in the novel science of genome editing, which has wide-ranging applications in medicine and agriculture, among other fields.

Kenyan scientists have also joined the effort, with several pioneering research projects underway right within the country.

Among the towering names in genome editing in Kenya is Prof Steven Runo, an associate professor of molecular biology at Kenyatta University. Part of his research work targets Striga, also known as witchweed, a notorious weed that threatens maize, sorghum, rice and several other cereal crops.

Known in parts of western Kenya, where it is particularly rife, as Uyongo or Kayongo, Striga is a predatory plant that attaches itself to the roots of the host plant, from where it saps vital nutrients from the host. This invariably leads to stunted growth and vastly diminished production.

“Genome editing is a new technology for not only plant breeding but also animal breeding,” Prof Runo said.

“It’s a very simple strategy. Think about the DNA, which is what determines the traits of organisms. How tall or short we are, and how much yield you get from a crop, is determined by the genetic code”.

With this in mind, scientists like Prof Runo are able to introduce changes to an organism’s DNA, with an aim to alter specific traits in the organism.

“Genome editing involves going into the genome and introducing beneficial changes, and very precisely at that,” he said. “So, you can go into a specific trait and alter one or two bases – or DNA sequences – to achieve the trait that you are looking for. One of the ways that genome editing can be done is using CRISPR Cas9 technology, a very simple alteration of DNA sequence for beneficial traits”.

Traditionally, farmers would attempt to control Striga by simple, physical means. These included physically uprooting the plants, which wasn’t particularly effective, considering that the weed knots itself within the host’s roots.

And upon maturity, the weed deposits its seeds in the soil, which makes it difficult for farmers to control it.

Farmers would also practice crop rotation or intercropping with legumes, which helps control Striga’s germination. They would also apply inorganic fertiliser to enrich the soils, as Striga thrives in poor soils within low-rainfall regions.

The use of pesticides would also be recommended as a control measure against Striga, but chemical controls are normally not within reach of many small-scale farmers.

“While a few control measures have been moderately successful, the problem still persists, especially in western Kenya, eastern Uganda and lake zone of Tanzania, where farmers have frequently voiced their frustrations at the ubiquity of this invasive weed,” states The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

That’s where biotechnology chips in, with novel technologies that aim at controlling the proliferation of pathogenic plants, and minimizing the labour and costs in pesticides that farmers would ordinarily incur.

Prof Runo’s project, titled “Evaluation of Striga resistance in Low Germination Stimulant 1 (LGS1) mutant sorghum”, seeks to confer resistance to this parasitic weed in sorghum, an important cereal crop in Kenya and many parts of Africa.

A proof of concept has already been done for the project, and the program awaits other stages in product development, which will ultimately culminate in trials.

“This weed is present in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Kenya is one of those countries that is heavily infested by the parasite,” Professor Runo told Tuko recently.

“Depending on the level of infestation, Striga can cause between 30-100 percent in yield losses. We estimate this to cost about US$ 7 billion globally every year. This is a substantial amount of money, considering that this weed affects cereal crops, mostly grown by small-scale farmers”.

Many counties in Western Kenya have Striga infection, he adds – from Busia to Siaya, Kisumu and Homabay.

“Almost all countries within western Kenya have Striga infection”.

He is honored to be at the forefront of such groundbreaking research, and appreciates the opportunity to deploy his expertise in this highly complex science towards finding solutions for common problems that have dogged local farmers.

“You’d be happy to know that Kenya has very good human resource in terms of very well trained scientists. What we want to showcase is that these scientists can do research that is comparable to research that is done in other countries. Again, we have a long-standing history of using advances in plant sciences to develop and grow better crops”.

There are plenty of good reasons to support local scientific expertise, he adds, citing the case of Asia.

“The success that we are seeing in Asia, in terms of agricultural advancement, was because scientists were supported. They’d say, we have a critical number of scientists that have innovations, and they’d use science-based and evidence-based facts to support and make decisions and policy in agriculture. Such an approach goes a long way towards growth improvement, and ultimately improves food security”.

African scientists lead the continent’s gene editing research

BY MODESTA ABUGU AND DORIS WANGARI

JUNE 23, 2022

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Research using gene editing technology is being undertaken on the continent largely by African scientists to provide solutions for Africa, according to a panel of scientists and regulatory experts.

Their work is drawing upon the efficiency and precision of gene editing to restore staples that African farmers prefer, like banana and sorghum, they said. The goal is to support food security and better incomes for farmers, especially in the face of climate change challenges.

The panel of scientists included Dr. Leena Tripathi, director of Eastern Africa for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture;  Prof. Steven Runo, associate professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, and Josphat Muchiri, deputy director technical services at Kenya National Biosafety Authority (NBA). They made their observations in a recent Alliance For Science Live webinar, in which they noted that gene editing can improve Kenya’s food security.

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“Gene editing is valuable in addressing problems associated with plant diseases and climate resiliency in Africa,” Tripathi said. “We are using this tool  to develop disease-resistant banana varieties, focusing on banana bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt and banana streak virus. Banana is an a very important staple food crop in East Africa, and in many countries like Uganda banana consumption is much more than any cereal crop. However, the crop faces numerous production constraints particularly many pathogens and pests, which often co-exist, worsening the problem of crop loss.’

Unfortunately, traditional plant breeding technologies have not been effective in solving these challenges because the process takes a long time. But with gene editing, scientists can make small, targeted changes in the banana genome to make it resistant to diseases — without altering the appearance or taste.

Growing disease-resistant banana varieties would mitigate the negative impacts of plant diseases and pests on banana production, improving farmers’ income and enhancing food security, she noted.

Runo, a botanist fascinated with plants, initially had no idea he would be conducting gene editing research or working on sorghum. However, his  passion for solving Kenya’s agricultural problems led him to obtain his PhD in plant genetics and molecular biology. He eventually moved into applying gene editing to combat the striga weed in sorghum. Striga, also known as witchweed, is a notorious weed that threatens several cereal crops including maize, sorghum and rice.

Striga is present in most parts of sub-saharan Africa (SSA) and can cause almost 100 percent yield loss. Crops worth some US$7 billion are lost to striga globally every year. Traditional control measures, such as crop rotation, intercropping and hand weeding, are ineffective over time. Runo’s collaborative research focuses on conferring resistance to this parasitic weed by editing the low germination stimulant 1 (LGS1) gene in sorghum. This will potentially increase yield and nutrition for millions of people in Africa, he said.

When asked about the cost of the gene-edited banana and sorghum products to farmers, the scientists affirmed that the improved products will be sold at the same price as conventional crops.

Muchiri, speaking on the regulatory status of gene-edited products, assured participants that these products are safe for human and the environment.

“As the National Biosafety Authority, we have set up a regulatory framework to monitor this technology as it advances,” he explained. “The Kenyan regulatory framework is transparent and offers the researchers an opportunity to engage with NBA, the early consultation process, where we determine whether the technology will be regulated or not based on presence of foreign DNA.”

“We are confident in the future of the technology and the opportunities it presents for increasing income for farmers and feeding millions of people,” Muchiri said.

This webinar was moderated by Doris Wangari, a biotechnology regulatory expert in Kenya.

Image: A farmer weeds striga from her maize field. Photo: Alliance for Science


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Nigeria is ready to meet strong farmer demand for GMO cowpea seeds

BY NKECHI ISAAC

JUNE 27, 2022

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Nigerian farmers should have ample access to insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) cowpea seeds for this summer’s planting season, scientists say.

Though last year’s demand outstripped the supply, the public sector scientists who developed Nigeria’s first GM food crop — the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea, or SAMPEA 20T — say they have gone to great measures to make sure farmers can obtain certified seeds this season.

Some 2,000 farmers planted the improved seeds in 2021 — a number expected to triple this year, said Prof. Mohammad Ishiyaku, executive director of Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) and principal investigator of the PBR project in Nigeria. In response, researchers are expanding seed production eight-fold from the 10,000 tonnes available last year.

Farmers last year reported they were able to achieve higher yields and significantly reduce their use of pesticides by growing GM cowpea, which provides inherent protection from the destructive pod borer pest.

Dr. Rose Gidado, country coordinator for the Nigeria chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, said farmers who want to grow the crop this year should be able to obtain seeds.

“The demand was so high and is getting higher and higher because those farmers that planted last year had very overwhelming, exciting stories and more people want to get involved,” she said. “Even people who are not regular farmers — civil servants, public servants, etc. — now want to plant PBR cowpea.”

Dr. Onyekachi Nwankwo, West Africa representative for the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), said Nigeria had initially planned for 10,000 tonnes of certified seeds last year but was only able to produce 3,000 — resulting in a shortfall. He attributed the deficit to poor management of seed multiplication by contract farmers, drought and insecurity problems.

In response, scientists and farmers planted seed stock during the normal cropping season and used irrigation to grow during the dry season in hopes of meeting farmer demand this year, Nwankwo said.

Researchers also trained more seed companies and seed certification officers on production guides and certification-related issues to ensure the availability of quality seed. Additionally, the IAR, as well as Maina Seeds, Tecni Seeds and SARO Agrosciences, produced more seeds during the off-season to ensure seed supply meets demand in the coming season.

“To be conservative, we are expecting between 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of seed for the next cropping season, and it is going to increase progressively as the years go by,” Nwankwo said.

Farmers are growing GM cowpea in all in 36 states of the Federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ishiyaku said.

Gidado noted that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari “has directed that we grow what we eat and eat what we grow.” Researchers improved the cowpea variety preferred by Nigerian farmers to add traits that can help growers overcome the serious problem of crop loss due to pod borer infestation and reduce the need to import the popular food, known as beans.

Even though the start of the planting season varies — it begins in June in the north-western region and in August in the northeast and north-central regions — farmers across the country will have enough sufficient seed supply because seed production is higher, she assured.

Image: A Nigerian farmer weeds the GM cowpea he planted next to his maize crop. Photo: Alliance for Science


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Ghana’s food vendors hope GM cowpea brings lower pricesAfrican scientists lead the continent’s gene editing researchPartnership on track to give Bangladeshi and Indonesian farmers disease-resistant GMO potatoesPitting agroecology against biotechnology is fundamental 

Video: As Ghana appears poised to approve its first GMO — a insect-resistant cowpea — here’s the story of the country’s science journey

Joseph Gakpo | June 24, 2022

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Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Ghana is on the verge of approving its first genetically modified crop, the pod borer resistant (PBR) cowpea. In this documentary, Joseph Opoku Gakpo discusses Ghana’s GMO journey.

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  1. Photo series: Nigeria welcomes GMO cowpeaJoseph Gakpo et al., Genetic Literacy Project, 2021
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Partnership on track to give Bangladeshi and Indonesian farmers disease-resistant GMO potatoes

John Agaba | Cornell Alliance for Science | June 29, 2022

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Reducing fungicide use and protecting yields, this Bt potato holds huge promise for the world. Credit: Cornell Alliance for Science
Reducing fungicide use and protecting yields, this Bt potato holds huge promise for the world. Credit: Cornell Alliance for Science

Researchers will be testing genetically modified potatoes in Bangladesh and Indonesia this year in hopes of providing farmers with an alternative to spraying fungicides.

Multiple confined field trials of GM late blight-resistant (LBR) potatoes will be conducted in both countries under a Feed the Future Global Biotech Potato Partnership.

Potatoes are some of the most important crops grown in Indonesia and Bangladesh. Indonesia produces about 1.3 million metric tones of potatoes annually, while the tubers are the third most important food crop after rice and wheat in Bangladesh.

But late blight disease is a serious problem in both countries, destroying 25 to 57 percent of the crop.

Akhter Hossain of Bangladesh compares healthy potatoes (right) to potatoes infected with late blight fungus. Credit: Alliance for Science

Unlike other pathogens, late blight — or Phytophthora infestans — can be complicated to control once it has appeared and farmers can actually see it, said Janet Fierro, communication and advocacy global resource lead at the Feed the Future Global Biotech Potato Partnership.

So, farmers begin to spray fungicides very early in the cropping cycle to stop the fungus from appearing. In some cases, farmers in Indonesia spray between 20 and 30 times during the growing season, which can last 75 to 160 days.

Fungicides are expensive to keep spraying. Credit: Zubrod et. al.

But this can be expensive for smallholder farmers, Fierro said. The synthetic chemicals applied also can adversely affect human and environmental health if not used properly.

However, the GM potato promises to change all that. It is expected to reduce fungicide applications by 90 percent.

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Partnership progress

Under a partnership funded by the United States Agency for International Development, Michigan State University (MSU), the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology Genetic Resources Research and Development, among others, are working to develop and commercialize an LBR potato in farmer-preferred varieties in Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Researchers in the partnership isolated late blight-resistant genes from wild potato species in South America and transferred them into farmer-preferred Asian varieties, using genetic modification.

Origin of the pernicious blight. Credit: Kentaro Yoshida et. al.

Then researchers at Simplot Plant Sciences screened more than 30,000 potato varieties until they zeroed in on the 10 best performing lines. Simplot sent the 10 selected lines to MSU for further greenhouse and field trials, which identified lines that were then imported into Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Indonesia has already conducted several field trials with the lines and Bangladesh recently completed a greenhouse trial. Results have shown the lines provide complete resistance to late blight disease.


A close-up of a potato ruined by late blight disease. Credit: Alliance for Science

“All of our research and data shows that this is a good product,” said Muffy Koch, senior regulatory manager at J.R. Simplot Co. “It is late blight-resistant and very safe.”

Data also show that the LBR potato performs “extremely well” in Indonesia’s humid areas.

Scientists in Bangladesh and Indonesia will now test LBR potato in multiple confined field trials to collect the necessary data to submit a regulatory dossier for general release.

Researchers have already applied for permits in Bangladesh to start the multiple confined field trials and hope to plant the varieties during the next planting season in November.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Fierro said. “So, we will probably go through at least two or three cycles of multi-location field trials before we test the varieties in farmer fields.”

Trials will take several seasons. Credit: Wharton PS

Farmers eager

Farmers should begin to access the varieties in the next three to four years, pending regulatory approval, she said.

The researchers do not expect delays related to biosafety regulations once the varieties have gone through all the required processes.

“Both Indonesia and Bangladesh have functioning regulatory systems,” Koch said. “And Indonesia has already approved growing GM cotton and GM sugar cane while Bangladesh has approved planting of insect resistant eggplant [Bt brinjal]. So, there is precedent that things are working.”

And farmers want the varieties.

“Farmers are familiar with the idea of improved seeds because they have seen the successes of Bt eggplant,” Koch said. “The performance of Bt eggplant has showed them that they can actually spend less on inputs and harvest more when they plant these improved seeds.”

“We have also had studies that show how Bt eggplant has improved farmers’ lives in Bangladesh and how it is safe,” Koch added. “All of this has driven the demand for adoption of these technologies.”

Bt brinjal was eagerly adopted in Bangladesh. Credit: A. Roy

Fierro said farmers she visited in Indonesia and Bangladesh are “very excited about this potato. They have seen what the potato looks like and can do. They are excited about the opportunity and potential this potato can give them.”

It appears the potential is huge. Apart from stabilizing crop yields, the late blight-resistant potato will significantly cut reliance on fungicides.

“Farmers will not have to spend [money] on fungicides that could be harmful to their health and environment,” said Fierro. “We expect that these improved late blight resistant varieties will reduce reliance on fungicide sprays by up to 90 percent.”

John Agaba is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. Find John on Twitter @jonnyagaba

A version of this article was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science and has been reposted here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly

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How is Rwanda faring in agricultural bio-technology?

Michel NkurunzizaBy 

Michel NkurunzizaPublished : June 28, 2022 | Updated : June 29, 2022

Agricultural experts are making a case for adopting agricultural biotechnology as crop production remains insufficient for both local consumption and exportation yet Rwanda’s economy relies on agriculture.

Plant or agricultural biotechnology bio-technology can be defined as the use of tissue culture and genetic engineering techniques to produce genetically modified plants that exhibit new or improved desirable characteristics.

Bio-technology has helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding crops against devastating diseases.

According to the recent publication “Plant biotechnology: A key tool to improve crop production in Rwanda” published in African Journal of Biotechnology by  Leonce Dusengemungu, Clement Igiraneza and Sonia Uwimbabazi, intensive and appealing discussions about agriculture economic importance, production of improved crops and the use of all necessary resources to ameliorate agricultural production need more attention.

Agricultural experts are making a case for adopting agricultural biotechnology as crop production remains insufficient for both local consumption and exportation yet Rwanda’s economy relies on agriculture. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.

The study aimed at gathering the information on Rwanda’s agriculture based on different research reports and Rwandan’s government established policies to identify constraints to agricultural production faced by farmers and applicability of plant biotechnology.

“Rwanda as any other Sub-Saharan African countries are in need of free-disease plantlets for highly cultivated crops and to achieve this, plant biotechnology holds the key to high agricultural productivity.

Use of plant biotechnology has to be highly considered as a means to solve some agri-related problems since its benefits can speed up the economy and stimulate the research processes,” they said.

According to the researchers, Rwanda’s farming suffers shortage of quality planting materials due to few production companies or organizations of good quality seeds.

“It is desirable for farmers to use quality seeds that are of high value that can benefit them. That is why more proper seed storage units, tissue culture production units and other possible alternative methods to increase the number of quality planting materials are needed,” they said.

The trio said that the use of biotechnology tools to protect seed distributed among farmers, biological control agents and testing varieties of seed identity and purity before their distribution are primary tools that can benefit African farmers.

“In this context, it is recommended for developing African countries to start thinking about pursuing gene transfer to breed-disease and introduction of pest resistant varieties in order to meet the future food’s needs,” they recommended.

The modern agriculture biotechnology, they said, is needed as the conventional agricultural research does not keep an equal distribution between the high demand of food and the supply chain.

Despite the difficulties in sharing information between scientists across the country, they said, the information gathered about the current status of plant biotechnology in Rwanda from some researchers in Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) have reported the use of tissue culture: in vitro cultivation of cash crops like banana, coffee, potato, sweet potato, pineapple, passion fruit, Tamarillo also known as a tree tomato.

“Several private companies have also initiated in vitro production of crops including bananas. The effort made still does not provide enough for the high demand of plantlets from the farmers. Disseminating resistant varieties produced using plant breeding technology is highly recommended since most of the varieties that are brought from abroad sometimes fail to adapt,” the trio suggested.

They suggest more research is needed to identify and use suitable domestic breeding techniques for popular varieties in the country, and this should be widespread to other crops since the only crops receiving research attention are common beans, bananas, cassava and sweet potatoes.

Plant biotechnology status in Rwanda

Rwanda’s plant biotechnology is mostly dominated by tissue culture of medicinal plants and micro-propagation of disease-free food crops mainly bananas, potato, sweet potato and cassava.

“To ensure food security, appropriate measures to increase the capacity of plant biotechnology should be a priority,” they said.

Tissue culture practiced in Rwanda is one of the techniques that is believed can solve agriculture production problems because it has so many advantages, one of them being the high multiplication of plantlets in a short time and space.

The plants produced with tissue culture techniques are also known to be free of viruses and other diseases; thus, are all with high survival rate in the field.

In Rwanda, University of Rwanda (UR), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), INES-Ruhengeri, FAIM.CO are all among the few organizations that have undertaken the biotechnology programme, and it has been a few years now, but the impact of that program on Rwandan people’s livelihood is still debatable.

“Further, it is mainly because the research that is conducted does not initiate the production of affordable products that can reduce the need of costly agrochemicals and deleterious effects of diseases and weeds thus promoting agricultural productivity,” they said.

Considering the potential benefit that plant biotechnology holds, it should be considered in the framework of the agricultural sector at large perceiving scientific, technical, regulatory, socio-economic and political evolution, they recommended.

It will be very wise to allocate necessary funds for experimentation and research of applicability of modern biotechnology programs: tissue culture, genetic engineering, use of GM crops, use of plant molecular markers especially in developing countries since the demand to apply that technology will always be high, and the future of agriculture will definitely depend on modern plant biotechnology, the study further says.

Janvier Karangwa, the Marketing and Communication Specialist at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board told Doing Business that , “  in Rwanda, biotechnology is used in breeding, rapid cleaning plant material multiplication via tissue culture technology, diseases diagnosis and surveillance management.”

Will GMOs be adopted in Rwanda?

The reason why farmers in most developed countries have adopted the use of GM crops is because they have seen a very positive income.

According to researchers adopting GM crops will come with a lot of tangible benefits cutting down the number of herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals to control pests.

However, Juliet Kabera, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) recently said that the institution is closely working with Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) to ensure that any biotechnology that is used is safe.

“We are the authority to handle biotechnology after Rwanda ratified Cartagena protocol to ensure bio-safety,” she said.

She said that Rwanda has designed a bio-safety strategy to ensure Rwandans are conscious.

“In the strategy we now have a draft of law on biosafety which is going to be discussed in the cabinet and later on in the parliament. We are establishing laboratories and raising awareness to be able to know what we are doing on the market especially when it comes to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs),” she said.

According to RAB, to fight Potato late blight disease, a new variety of Irish potatoes, produced through biotechnology, which will not require using agro-chemicals could soon be imported and tried in Rwanda.

According to researchers, in order to revolutionise the plant biotechnology industry in Rwanda and Africa as a whole, initiatives to build strong long-term policies to promote this technology starting by training individuals and increasing the scientific capacities and infrastructures that specialise in plant biotechnology should be recommended.

“Rwandan government should reinforce its current agricultural policies: documenting the available plant breeds by increasing the number of community gene bank and installing proper research units in the whole country, renovating and improving the current plant breeding techniques and training the new generation of plant breeders, limiting the use of agrochemicals to protect the environment,” they suggest.

Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) was recently launched in Rwanda with the aim of promoting biotechnology.

OFAB, a project of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to officials, the experiences and practices in the field of biotechnology will be shared in the countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Nigeria.

OFAB is a partnership platform in Africa that contributes to creation of an enabling environment for biotechnology research, development, and deployment for the benefit of smallholder farmers in Africa.

It aims to contribute to informing policy decision making processes on matters of agricultural biotechnology through the provision of factual, well researched and scientific information.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

Largest UK weed survey reveals Italian ryegrass challenge

Farm Weekly

© Blackthorn Arable© Blackthorn Arable

Results from the UK’s largest survey on Italian ryegrass has shown a complex and variable picture of herbicide resistance in the weed, emphasising the need for growers to test and understand the populations on their farms to achieve better control.

However, rising levels of resistance to commonly used herbicides are not the only cause of control difficulties, reveals weed specialist John Cussans of Niab, who also highlights application timing and better use of diversified modes of action as important actions.

See also: Tips on tackling five weed issues in no-till systems

“There is scope to improve practice, as there are too many fire brigade treatments being made,” he advises.

“It’s a complicated landscape when it comes to resistance mechanisms, but better attention to detail will help to avoid poor decision-making.”

Conducted by Niab with funding from Bayer, the survey of 197 samples from across the country investigated current on-farm control practice, as well as testing each Italian ryegrass sample for sensitivity to flufenacet, pinoxaden (Axial) and ALS herbicides (Atlantis).

In addition, 22 of the weed samples were used in a cross-resistance study, to understand any correlations between sensitivity to a wide range of herbicides, including glyphosate.

Post-emergence herbicides

“While the performance of post-emergence herbicides is significantly affected by resistance, it was lower than expected,” says Mr Cussans. (see “Post-emergence herbicide sensitivity”)

“The fact that a large number of samples are still susceptible to herbicides goes against the perception that many have about post-emergence chemistry.”

Dropping the use of perfectly good herbicides tends to happen when the resistance threat is exaggerated, he explains, which is why a better understanding of the situation on individual farms is so important.

Pre-emergence herbicide

When it comes to pre-emergence herbicides, all 197 samples were tested for sensitivity to straight flufenacet.

One-third of them showed either reduced sensitivity or resistance, reflecting that the selection pressure has been there for some time.

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“If you pile on flufenacet, you will select resistance to it,” he says. “Of course, in practice it isn’t used alone – it is tank-mixed and sequenced with other actives.”

There are some populations of Italian ryegrass that are completely resistant to flufenacet – which makes it different to the situation with blackgrass, where there has been a shift in sensitivity, rather than complete failure.

Post-emergence herbicide sensitivity (% of samples)
 Atlantis  Axial
S45.645.6
R7.7   6.2
RR24.132.3
RRR 22.615.9
Pre-mergence herbicide sensitivity (% of samples)
 Flufenacet
Sensitive70.6
Significantly Reduced17.3
No Control9.6

Resistance testing

Further analysis showed regional differences between the three herbicides tested, with control from flufenacet being lower in the South East, North and Midlands.

“If you have an emerging issue with pre-emergence herbicides, you need to know about it. Get resistance testing done, preferably on a field-by-field basis – national statistics will make no difference to managing your weed populations.”

Even populations collected from two fields on the same farm can show differences in herbicide sensitivity, he warns, reflecting the very variable herbicide sensitivity present around the country.

Cross-resistance findings

A subset of 22 populations was used to test more herbicides and understand any correlations between them, as well as to look at glyphosate sensitivity.

The strongest correlation is between the existing pre-emergence actives – flufenacet, pendimthalin and prosulfocarb – while aclonifen is weakly correlated with sensitivity to existing pre-emergence products.

“If you have flufenacet resistance on the farm, you need to bring in other modes of action,” advises Mr Cussans. “Where three actives are combined, such as Liberator + Proclus, it largely overcomes flufenacet resistance.

“Broadening the base by combining modes of action helps to stabilise ryegrass control. That fact that we have two new modes of action this year in aclonifen and cinmethylin, and another coming next year, will help.”  

Having a stronger, more diverse base for Italian ryegrass control is important, he stresses.

“Ryegrass is more capable of overcoming herbicides and we know there is a degree of cross-resistance between existing pre-emergence chemistry.

“For this reason, it’s important to combine modes of action.”

Glyphosate sensitivity

There has been a shift in sensitivity to glyphosate in some problematic UK Italian ryegrass populations, but it is not resistance, confirms John Cussans.

The status of 50 difficult weed populations collected in 2019 was checked for their sensitivity to glyphosate at a range of doses, with some variation showing.

“We do not have glyphosate resistance in the UK, but we are as close as we’ve ever been to it,” he cautions. “That’s why we must monitor it and steward the product.”

Glyphosate sensitivity is totally independent of in-crop herbicide use, with the correlation between glyphosate sensitivity and sensitivity to other herbicides being very poor.

However, there is no doubt in Mr Cussan’s mind that poor practice will lead to glyphosate resistance, as it has been possible to select for glyphosate resistance in high-risk scenarios in glasshouse work.

“We must avoid any survivors of glyphosate applications going on to set seed.”

As a result, growers must take ownership of this issue and follow published guidance, he advises.

That is a view shared by Roger Bradbury, technical specialist at Bayer, who stresses the need to apply glyphosate at the right time, with the right dose for the target weed and with good application technique.

He refers growers to the latest Weed Resistance Action Group guidelines, which recommend a maximum of two glyphosate applications after harvest, before drilling the next crop, and stress the importance of monitoring herbicide performance and investigating any reasons for poor control.

“Everyone needs to be aware of the risks and do all they can to prevent resistance to selective herbicides.”

Aclonifen approval in barley

Bayer’s Proclus (aclonifen) has been approved in a tank-mix with Liberator (flufenacet +  diflufenican) for pre-emergence weed control in winter barley, adding a new mode of action and expanding the options for grassweed control in the crop.

A lower application rate of 1 litre/ha + 0.6 litre/ha Liberator, compared with 1.4 litres/ha in winter wheat, means the levels of weed control are slightly less – with a 7% uplift in Italian ryegrass recorded in Bayer trials and a 5-6% improvement in blackgrass control.

Winter barley’s earlier drilling date and more limited herbicide choice can make it a challenging crop for weeds, says Bayer’s Tom Chillcott, who points out that including aclonifen in the pre-emergence mix gives more protection and helps with resistance management.

“Having a new mode of action in barley adds another layer of protection and helps to take the selection pressure off flufenacet.”

As aclonifen sits on the soil surface, weeds have to grow up through it before it takes effect, he adds.

“That means seed-bed preparation, drilling depth and application timing all matter, especially as aclonifen can be a bit hot in some scenarios, and barley is a more sensitive crop.”

A minimum sowing depth of 3.2cm and application within 48 hours are important, as is avoiding heavy rain soon after application.

It will be sold as a co-pack of Proclus and Liberator, as in wheat, and will add £10/ha to pre-emergence costs in barley.

JUNE 22, 2022

Timing is everything for weed management

by Jim Catalano, Cornell University

Timing is everything for weed management
Bryan Brown, integrated weed management specialist for New York State Integrated Pest Management, stands in a soybean field that lost 50% of its yield to weed competition, even after several herbicide applications. Credit: Cornell University

Farmers can tailor their efforts to control weeds more effectively by pinpointing when a particular weed will emerge, according to a new Cornell University study.

Researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences reviewed past studies on the peak timing of emergence for 15 troublesome weed species in the Northeast, as well as potential ways to use this knowledge, in their study, “Improving Weed Management Based on the Timing of Emergence Peaks: A Case Study of Problematic Weeds in Northeast U.S.,” published June 21 in the journal Frontiers in Agronomy.

“There are lot of different weed management tactics out there, and most of them can be improved with some consideration of what weed species you have and when they emerge,” said lead author Bryan Brown, integrated weed management specialist for New York State Integrated Pest Management and adjunct assistant Professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science’s Horticulture Section, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “In this paper, we provided a framework starting with those tactics that are easiest to tailor or adjust—all the way up to revamping a cropping system—based on avoidance of certain weed species.”

As an example, Brown pointed to common ragweed. “We found that in most of the literature, common ragweed had finished up its emergence by June 1,” he said. “So, if you’re able to wait to till and plant your field until after June 1, then you’ve effectively avoided common ragweed for the season.” Conversely, if a field is riddled with mid- or late-season weeds, planting earlier can help give crops a head start to outcompete them.

When it comes to controlling weed seedlings using herbicides or shallow tilling, control is most effective soon after weeds emerge, so knowing when different weed species grow can help farmers plan ahead.

Farms with flexible crop rotations can leave the ground bare, or perhaps cover-cropped, during the period when their most problematic weed emerges. By controlling that species, they essentially remove its weed seeds from the soil so it will be less of a problem in the future.

The researchers found that the timing of weed emergence varied among previous studies due to factors such as weather, soil temperature and moisture.

“Naturally, that’s going to vary from year to year and from study to study,” Brown said. “But the big surprise to me was that among previous studies that modeled weed emergence, when we input identical weather data, there was still variation in when they expected weeds to emerge. That highlights the regional differences in soils and weed genetics.”

As the models improve by incorporating regional differences, the researchers hope to work with the Network for Environment and Weather Applications to give farmers direct access to weather-based weed emergence predictions.

“As weed management becomes more challenging, I think that this type of planning is going to become more important,” Brown said. “Hopefully, as those emergence models become more accurate we’ll be able to use these tactics to even better use and really fine-tune the timing of our weed management.”


Explore further

Examining the impact of herbicide-resistant crops on weed management


More information: Bryan Brown et al, Improving Weed Management Based on the Timing of Emergence Peaks: A Case Study of Problematic Weeds in Northeast USA, Frontiers in Agronomy (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fagro.2022.888664

Provided by Cornell University