Archive for the ‘Food Security’ Category

CRISPR is on the cusp of revolutionizing food and farming. Here is a global regulatory primer

Kyle DiamantasOlga BezzubovaPatricia Campbell | JD Supra | August 26, 2022

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Credit: Varsity
Credit: Varsity

The ability to edit eukaryotic DNA entails an almost limitless ability to alter the genetic makeup of the plants that become our food. Recently, scientific attention has been directed to applying a class of new gene-editing techniques that utilize CRISPR to food crops for the introduction of commercially desirable traits. Gene-edited crops can have a positive impact on food productivity, quality, and environmental sustainability, and CRISPR is unique in its relative simplicity, robust flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and wide scope of use.

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In general, the EU subjects agricultural products edited with CRISPR technology to the full suite of genetically modified organism (“GMO”) premarket approval, safety, and labeling requirements.

In contrast to the EU approach, the United States does not currently regulate CRISPR-edited agricultural products as GMOs. The United States regulates biotechnology and genetic modification in food through a “Coordinated Framework” between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), and Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).

The regulation of CRISPR-edited agriculture is continuing to develop across the world, with notably different approaches and outcomes. While the European Union expressly considers CRISPR-edited agriculture to be “genetically modified” and subject to associated regulations, the United States generally does not currently consider CRISPR-edited agriculture to be “genetically modified.”

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Kenyan farming experts urge permanent lift of GM ban to address animal feed shortage

Peter Theurl | Standard (Kenya) | August 17, 2022

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Kenyan farmers are far too familiar with the devastation that resource shortfalls cause to their livestock. Credit: Jaspreet Kindra via IRIN
Kenyan farmers are far too familiar with the devastation that resource shortfalls cause to their livestock. Credit: Jaspreet Kindra via IRIN

Punitive local tax regimes, technical restrictions, challenges in access to foreign currency and logistics disruptions — most of these exacerbated by the pandemic — have been dragging Kenya’s bid for seamless [grain] importation back. A problem with accessing yellow maize due to a tough stance by the government on importation of non-genetically modified maize worsened the feed problem in the past few months.

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“This situation, where people can no longer profit off their livestock, is dangerous and is a threat to security as livestock farming is a socio-economic activity,” says [Secretary General of the Association of Kenya Feeds Manufacturers Martin] Kinoti.

Stephen Mugo, the director of the Centre for Resilient Agriculture for Africa (CRA-Africa), says Kenya experiences a shortage of nearly 11 million 90-kilo bags of maize a year. This year, which has experienced delayed rainfall amid increasing demand for maize, could be worse, with Dr Mugo saying that “2022 is particularly a food-insecure year”.

In the short term, Dr Mugo says the government could focus on targeted food imports, and should lift the ban on GM foods. It could also offer famine relief food for people living in Northern Kenya, where the drought hits hardest.

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A New Green Revolution Is in the Offing

Thanks to some amazing recent crop biotech breakthroughs

RONALD BAILEY | 8.10.2022 5:00 PM

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man stands in wheat field facing away from camera with outstretched arms

(Noam Armonn | Dreamstime.com)

A recent spate of crop biotech breakthroughs presage a New Green Revolution that will boost crop production, shrink agriculture’s environmental footprint, help us weather future climate change, and provide better nutrition for the world’s growing population.

The first Green Revolution was generated through the crop breeding successes pioneered by agronomist Norman Borlaug back in the 1960s. The high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties bred by Borlaug and his team more than doubled grain yields. The Green Revolution averted the global famines confidently predicted for the 1970s by population doomsters like Stanford entomologist Paul Ehrlich. Other crop breeders using Borlaug’s insights boosted yields for other staple grains. Since 1961, global cereal production has increased 400 percent while the world population grew by 260 percent. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his accomplishments. Of course, the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are currently roiling grain and fertilizer supplies.

Borlaug needed 20 years of painstaking crossbreeding to develop his high-yield and disease-resistant wheat varieties. Today, crop breeders are taking advantage of the tools of modern biotechnology that can dramatically increase the rate at which yields increase and drought- and disease-resistance can be imbued in crops.

The Green Revolution’s crops required increased fertilizer applications to achieve their higher yields. However, fertilizers have some ecologically deleterious side effects. For example, the surface runoff of nitrogen and other fertilizers not absorbed by crops spurs the growth of harmful alga in rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. In addition, excess nitrogen fertilizer gets broken down by soil bacteria such that there are rising atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which, pound for pound, has 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The good news is that in the last month, two teams of modern plant breeders have made breakthroughs that will dramatically cut the amount of nitrogen fertilizers crops need for grain production. In July, Chinese researchers reported the development of “supercharged” rice and wheat crops, which they achieved by doubling the expression of a regulatory gene that increases nitrogen uptake by four- to fivefold and enhances photosynthesis. In field trials, the yields of the modified rice were 40 to 70 percent higher than those of the conventional varieties. One upshot is that farmers can grow more food on less land using fewer costly inputs.

Some crops like soybeans and alfalfa get most of the nitrogen fertilizer they need through their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. Soybeans supply the bacteria living on their roots with sugars, and the bacteria in turn take nitrogen from the air and turn it into nitrate and ammonia fertilizers for the plants. However, nitrogen-fixing bacteria do not colonize the roots of cereal crops.

A team of researchers associated with the University of California Davis reported in July their success in gene editing rice varieties to make their roots hospitable to nitrogen-fixing bacteria. As a result, when grown under conditions of limited soil nitrogen, the yields of the gene-edited varieties were 20 to 35 percent higher than those of the conventional varieties. The researchers believe their gene-editing techniques can be applied to other cereal crops.

This new biotech-enabled Green Revolution promises a future in which more food from higher yields grown using less fertilizer means more farmland restored to nature, less water pollution, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

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Preventing late blight with GMO potatoes could ease food insecurity

Photos courtesy of MSUGMO late blight resistant potato plants

BLIGHT RESISTANCE: Researchers have developed GMO late blight-resistant plants, pictured here alongside conventional plants.

Commentary: Stop GMO critics from making choices for farmers in Africa or Asia.

Dave Douches | Aug 10, 2022


For many decades, my research has focused on genetically improving potatoes. Many think of potatoes as a less-than-ideal nutrition choice. The potato itself is a nutritional powerhouse, but it’s how we choose to prepare and eat them that often overshadows their nutritive benefits.

Nutritionally, potatoes produce a large amount of energy-rich carbohydrates and are high in vitamin C and potassium. Through crossbreeding, I have also developed a deep, purple-fleshed potato that is high in antioxidants typically found in fruits.

As the third-most important human food in the world, potatoes can play a critical role in global food security. Over the past few decades, world potato production growth has primarily been in developing countries. As the highest-yielding staple crop per acre, potatoes provide countless savings in land use across the globe.

Despite increased potato production and high-yield potential, yields in developing countries have not reached their full potential. Smallholder farmers often lack access to quality seed and knowledge of effective disease management practices.

One of the most important potato diseases because of its effect on crop yield is late blight (the disease that caused the Irish potato famine in 19th century). Late blight disease is recognized as one of the most destructive diseases of potatoes and is a major constraint of profitable potato production worldwide. Late blight management costs and losses from yield reductions are estimated at more than $6 billion per year globally.

The best way to overcome the problem of late blight is to produce a potato with durable resistance to the disease. An innovative solution to the grand challenge does exist, but the solution does not enjoy a consensus of support around the globe.

Late blight disease resistance can be achieved in potatoes through the introduction of three strong disease resistance genes from a wild species of potato into varieties preferred by consumers and farmers. These resistant varieties cannot be obtained by conventional crossbreeding. 

Genetically modified organisms

The late blight resistant potato I refer to was developed using genetic engineering, a scientific process that can insert and express genes (DNA) to improve an organism. This technology has been celebrated or villainized, depending on whom you trust.

As a plant breeder, I believe GE expands the toolbox that a breeder can use to solve challenges, especially in vegetative crops such as potatoes, where specific varieties are preferred in the market.

In medicine, one of the most recognizable examples is in the production of human insulin, which is manufactured using recombinant DNA technology. It has been licensed for human use since 1982 and widely prescribed to treat diabetes. GE has been widely accepted by the public in medical applications.

potatoes growing in field

YIELD ROBBER: Late blight disease is recognized as one of the most destructive diseases of potatoes and is a major constraint of profitable potato production worldwide. Researchers say the best way to overcome the problem of late blight is to produce a potato with durable resistance to the disease. Pictured is the difference in yield between LBR potato plants and conventional potatoes.

In agriculture, despite over 25 years of successful commercial production of many staple crops, GE crops still endure stiff criticism. The anti-GMO movement is well-funded and well-organized. Three claims of anti-GMO advocates are that GE is harmful to human and environmental health; that GMOs are unnatural; and were developed by large multinational corporations looking to control the seed sector and farmers.

These beliefs persist even after overwhelming scientific evidence continues to prove that current GMOs are safe to eat, and that disease- and insect-resistant GMOs can be good for the environment and health of farmers, and in many cases reduce input costs.

Risk or benefit?

A recent review offers a risk-benefit analysis of GMOs. The authors note that scientific evidence shows the technology is not only safe, but can also provide economic, environmental and health benefits. In addition, legal frameworks that regulate GMO crops exist to ensure safe products for people, animals and the environment.

As director of the Feed the Future Global Biotech Potato Partnership supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I have seen firsthand the benefits of the GE technology. The partnership is working to develop late blight resistant potato varieties in developing countries. Our late blight disease-resistant potatoes have demonstrated complete protection against the disease.

We have held field trials in Indonesia, where late blight disease is so prevalent, it can strike soon after plant emergence and destroy an entire potato field within weeks. On average, Indonesian farmers spray up to 17 times during a 90-day cropping cycle. That equates to two to three times a week where farmers are exposed to fungicides sprays, and oftentimes they apply without proper protective clothing.  

Science and regulatory agencies around the globe have consistently found crops and food developed by GE to be safe. In fact, 159 Nobel laureates to date have signed an open letter to the leaders of Greenpeace (an outspoken opponent of the technology), the United Nations and governments around the world in support of biotechnology, noting, “There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.”

The opportunity of choice

Wherever you may land in the GMO trust conversation, the technology is growing and expanding. In 2019, 190.4 million hectares of biotech crops were grown in 29 countries. The U.S. leads the world with 71.5 million hectares, with an average 95% crop adoption rate for GE soybeans, maize and canola. According to the USDA, more than 90% of U.S. corn, upland cotton and soybeans are GE varieties.  

In the U.S., which many consider a privileged society, people have many options and choices when it comes to making their food decisions. We are fortunate to have the opportunity of choice. Many developing countries struggle to achieve food security and cannot produce enough nutritious food to feed their people.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization notes that 149.2 million, or 22%, of children younger than age 5 were affected by stunting, and 45.4 million children were affected by wasting (low weight for height).

More than nine out of 10 of all children affected by stunting or wasting are in Africa and Asia. The study also reports undernourished people in Africa (418 million) and Asia (282 million) rose by 103 million people from 2019 to 2020.

We cannot just ask farmers to grow more of what they’ve been growing to solve global food security. Farmers need to have a choice to grow more strategic crops and varieties that achieve higher and more stable yields resilient to climate shocks and threats.

This choice is even more critical in developing countries such as Bangladesh where we are working to bring the late blight disease resistant potato to smallholder farmers. Genetic engineering can offer disease- and pest-resistant and climate-tolerant crop plants for the farmers. GE crops can also lead to improved and enhanced nutritional traits in food products for the consumers.

In industrialized countries such as the U.S. and Europe, agricultural productivity can be easily increased through new technologies and innovations at every point within the food-value chain. We are afforded the luxury of opportunity.

However, for the smallholders in a country like Bangladesh, farming can be an entirely manual process, from plowing to planting and weeding, to harvest by hand. Technology and innovation are often out of reach for these farmers.

Bangladesh potato farmers at harvest

HARVEST: Bangladesh potato farmers work at harvest.

Many of those from the developed world can choose to select which organic, GE or conventionally bred food products to buy at a nearby store full of options. Billions of others are not afforded this choice. However, many GMO critics are making the choice for a farmer in Africa or Asia on which crops to grow and feed their communities by fighting against their use.

These opinions of distrust of the technology are often loud, misleading of the science, and influence leaders of developing countries to ban their farmers access to the technology. I believe every country and every farmer should have the right to make safe choices on their food security without the influence of disinformation and dissatisfaction of others.

We need to trust data, science and facts to solve global grand challenges. Sharpening our media literacy and critical-thinking skills will enable us to avoid disinformation, eliminate participation in misinformation sharing, and become advocates of truth.

Douches is a professor and director of the Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, and director of the Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Graduate Program in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. He is also the project director of the Feed the Future Global Biotech Potato Partnership.


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Biotech will mitigate food insecurity – OFAB

Published 4 days ago

on July 4, 2022


 Open Forum on Agricultural bio technology Nigeria OFAB an International Organisation has urged Nigerians to embrace bio technology to mitigate issues around climate change and ensure food security in the country Dr Rose Gidado Country Director OFAB Nigeria said this at the sideline of the science hangout organised by the Alliance for Science Nigeria ASN on Monday hellip

Open Forum on Agricultural bio-technology, Nigeria (OFAB), an International Organisation, has urged Nigerians to embrace bio-technology to mitigate issues around climate change and ensure food security in the country.

Dr Rose Gidado, Country Director, OFAB Nigeria, said this at the sideline of the science hangout, organised by the Alliance for Science Nigeria (ASN) on Monday in Abuja.

She said the meeting was to discuss “the status of genetically modified food” and how best to deploy bio-technology to ensure food security in Nigeria.

Gidado explained that conventional Agriculture might be failing due to a lot of reasons related to climate change, including incessant high rise in temperature, gully erosion and desert encroachment.

“Also, we have other environmental reasons why conventional agriculture is failing; the oil spillage, insecurities on our farms and a lot more.

“Bio-technology has been adopted in Nigeria, a seed launch was held last year in Kano and farmers are testifying to greater yields and one of the economic benefits is 20 per cent yields increase per hectare.

“With the use of this technology, we are saving Nigeria N16 billion, which is normally used to import cowpeas; these crops undergo rigorous testing, making them safer for consumption compared to organic crops,” she added.

According to her, what makes genetic modification unique is its flexibility to adopt desired genes from donor plants and input into a crop aimed at improving given best desired results and helping also with resistance in certain crops.

Also, Prof. Hamzat Lawal, , Follow The Money, said that although GM- crops were facing issues around conspiracy theories, there were data and evidences to show that the technologies were straightforward science.

“Six million people in Nigeria go to bed hungry on a daily basis; the issue of food insecurity is at a critical stage globally.

“That’s why the bio-technology innovation is here to stay; it is an intervention that will save us from food shortage in the country.

“Until now, there were debates around climate change too; people will naturally reject what they don’t know because there is no trust yet which is only expected.

“The best we can do is to educate the public and carry out more sensitisation on this technology that will change a lot of things and ensure we eat safer food,” he added.

NewsSourceCredit: NAN

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It takes three: the genetic mutations that made rice cultivation possible


  • July 1, 2022
  • Graduate School of Agriculture
  • News

Applications in preventing seed scattering and increasing rice yield

Rice has a long history as a staple food in Japan and other parts of Asia. The results of a new study by an international research collaboration suggest that the emergence of cultivated rice from wild rice plants is the result of three gene mutations that make the seeds (i.e. the grains of rice) fall from the plant less easily.

In their investigations, the researchers discovered that each of the three mutations individually have little effect but when all three mutations are present the panicles of the rice plant retain more of their seeds- resulting in a greater crop yield.

It is believed that the domestication of wild rice began when our ancestors discovered and started to cultivate rice plants that do not drop their seeds easily, paving the way for stable rice production. It is hoped that these research results can contribute towards future improvements to the ease in which rice seeds fall (i.e. making the crop easier to thresh) and the development of high-yield rice cultivars where every grain can be harvested, reducing waste.

This discovery was made by an international collaboration which included researchers from Kobe University’s Graduate School of Agriculture (Japan), the National Institute of Genetics (Japan), University College London (UK), the University of Warwick (UK), Yezin Agricultural University (Myanmar) and the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

These research findings were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on June 23 (JST).

Main points

  • The researchers discovered the causal mutation in the qSH3 gene that is necessary to prevent rice seeds from falling (referred to as seed shattering).
  • In the qSH3 gene mutation, there is a single nucleotide substitution on the gene (YABBY). This mutation is found in the vast majority of cultivars for the world’s most widely farmed rice species (indica and japonica).
  • The researchers found that plants with only the qSH3 gene mutation dropped their seeds naturally. However when the qSH3 mutation was combined with the previously reported sh4 gene mutation, the abscission layer (which is required for seed shattering) was partially inhibited.
  • Seeds still fell with the qSH3 and sh4 mutation-mediated partial inhibition of the abscission layer, however the addition of a mutation at SPR3 that causes closed panicle structure resulted in the majority of seeds remaining on the plant, thus increasing the crop yield.
  • An analysis of structural mechanics was performed to determine the relationship between panicle opening and closing and inhibition of the abscission layer. The results showed that with all three mutations present, shattering was suppressed and the seeds remained stably attached to the panicles.
  • It is thought that our hunter-gatherer ancestors happened to observe the visual characteristics (i.e. closed panicles) of certain rice plants that had a higher yield and began to cultivate them, paving the way for rice to become a staple crop.

Research Background

Figure 1: Cultivated rice was developed from wild rice, which is a weed.

Oryza sativa (often referred to as Asian rice in English) is widely grown and consumed worldwide. It is known to have originated from the wild rice weed Oryza rufipogon (Figure 1). It is believed that rice began to be cultivated when hunter gatherers in ancient times chose individual wild rice plants that had suitable characteristics for this purpose. Wild rice plants perform a seed shattering process which scatters their seeds, enabling them to propagate efficiently. However, when cultivating rice, this seed shattering must be suppressed in order to obtain a stable crop (Figure 2A). In 2006, the sh4 gene was discovered: this gene is necessary for the commencement of seed shattering in plants including rice, and it was proposed that a mutation in this gene enabled the cultivation of rice. However the current research team showed that this sh4 mutation alone is insufficient to prevent seed shattering loss, suggesting that other gene mutations are also involved. With a focus on the early history of rice cultivation, this study brought together specialists in plant genetics, archaeobotany and structural mechanics to elucidate how increasing yields of rice came to be cultivated.

Figure 2: Seed shattering in wild rice and cultivated rice.A. Comparison of the panicles of wild rice and cultivated rice:
When wild rice seeds ripen, seed shattering occurs in which they naturally fall to the ground.
B. Comparison of the seed bases between wild rice and cultivated rice:
Seed shattering is caused by the breakdown of the abscission layer that forms at the base of the seed.
C. Comparison of the structural positioning of the abscission layer in wild rice and cultivated rice:
In wild rice, abscission layers are fully formed around the vascular bundles. However, in cultivated rice (japonica), the abscission layer isn’t formed at all.

Research Methodology

Figure 3: Discovery of the qSH3 gene related to seed-shattering loss in wild rice

Seed shattering is caused by a structure called the abscission layer that is formed at the base of each rice seed (Figure 2 B and C). The researchers found that a single nucleotide substitution (from cytosine to thymine) in the DNA of the qSH3 gene is required to inhibit the abscission layer (Figure 3), in addition to the aforementioned sh4 gene mutation. This qSH3 gene mutation is found in the main types of rice that is cultivated worldwide (indica and japonica). Individual mutations related to seed shattering, for example in genes sh4 and qSH3, cannot prevent shattering in wild rice plants on their own. However, the researchers discovered that when sh4 and qSH3 mutations were combined, this partially inhibited the formation of the abscission layer, which is required for seed shattering (Figure 4). Despite this, they concluded that such a small inhibition would not be enough to produce a stable crop yield, as seeds drop easily in a natural environment. Thus, they decided to focus on panicle shape next. Panicle refers to the clusters of thin branches at the top of the rice plant that carry the seeds.

Figure 4: Combining qSH3 and sh4 gene mutations partially inhibited the abscission layerWild rice plants with the double mutation exhibited slight abscission layer inhibitions around the vascular bundles (as indicated by the arrowhead) and it was determined that the seed was attached to the rachis. However even with this partial abscission layer junction, the seeds still tend to fall easily in a natural environment.
Figure 5: Panicle shape in wild rice (open panicles)When wild rice produces seeds, the panicles open to allow the seeds (i.e. grains of rice) to be efficiently shattered. On the other hand, the panicles on cultivated rice are closed.
Figure 6: Seed gathering rate results for rice plants with a combination of three genetic mutations (in sh4qSH3 and SPR3)The panicle shapes of 8 plants (above) and the seed gathering rate for each plant when grown on cultivated land (below).

Wild rice has an open panicle structure which enables the seeds to fall easily (Figure 5). Through hybridization, the researchers produced 8 wild rice plants, each with a different combination of three gene mutations: a mutation at the SPR3 that causes the panicles to close, and the aforementioned sh4 and qSH3 mutations. They then investigated the yield of each plant. They found that individual mutations had little effect and that even combining two mutations did not result in a large yield increase. However, when all three gene mutations were present, the yield increased exponentially (Figure 6).

An analysis of the structural mechanics of the closed panicle alteration and the abscission layer inhibition revealed a complementary relationship between the two. The burden of gravity on the seed base’s abscission layer is lower in closed panicle plants than in open panicle plants, which potentially brings about an even greater crop yield by further reducing seed shattering. ‘Non-seed-shattering behavior’ caused by sh4 and qSH3 mutations and ‘closed panicles’ caused by the SPR3 mutation are completely unrelated characteristics, however the incidental collaboration between these characteristics is considered to be what enabled rice to become a crop.

In the three arrows parable, 16th century Japanese warlord MORI Motonari gave each of his three sons an arrow and they were able to break the individual arrows easily. However, a bundle of three arrows is stronger and by showing his sons that three arrows together could not be broken, he explained that the three of them should work together govern the land. In rice cultivars, three mutations that have little effect on their own incidentally work together – an important stepping stone towards the success of rice as a crop.

Rice has been a source of daily energy for people for thousands of years and some Japanese rice cultivars are considered cultural works of art. These research results not only reveal the seed shattering mechanism, they also give us insight into the long history behind the improvement of rice growing.

Further Developments

Even though rice is an essential crop worldwide, it is still not fully understood how it was domesticated. Advances in agricultural techniques were accompanied by the development of rice cultivars that dropped their seeds less and less easily, suggesting that the acquirement of non-seed shattering behavior is the result of multiple gene mutations. It is hoped that by further investigating these mutations, the cultivation process for rice can be elucidated. In addition the amount of seed shattering could be controlled utilizing genes with many of these mutations, leading to the development of new rice cultivars where all the seeds produced by the plant can be harvested.


This research was funded by the following:

  • Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grant-In-Aid for Scientific Research (C) (JP 18KO5594)
  • JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research in Japan  (JP 16F16095)
  • JSPS Fund for the Promotion of Joint International Research (JP 15KK0280)
  • JSPS Bilateral Open Partnership Joint Research Projects (JPJSBP120189948/JPJSBP120219922)
  • Nikki Saneyoshi Foundation
  • Kinoshita Foundation
  • National Institute of Genetics (Japan) Joint Research Fund (NIG-JOINT 82A 2016-2018)

In addition, the wild rice accessions used in this study were provided by the National Institute of Genetics (Japan) and the National Bioresource Project (NBRP) of the Ministry of Education, Culture Sports, Science and Technology, Japan.

Journal Information

Title“A stepwise route to domesticate rice by controlling seed shattering and panicle shape”DOI:10.1073/pnas.2121692119AuthorsRyo Ishikawa, Cristina Cobo Castillo, Than Myint Htun, Koji Numaguchi, Kazuya Inoue, Yumi Oka, Miki Ogasawara, Shohei Sugiyama, Natsumi Takama, Chhourn Orn, Chizuru Inoue, Ken-Ichi Nonomura, Robin Allaby, Dorian Q Fuller and Takashige IshiiJournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)

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Soil Health and Pest Management: Challenges in the European Union



Jackie Pucci of AgriBusiness Global sat down with Dr. Arben Myrta, Corporate Development Manager with Certis Belchim B.V., based in Italy, to discuss developments in soil health and pest management solutions at the company and wider trends he is witnessing in the space.

Dr Arben Myrta, Certis Belchim B.V.
Quality produce with good soil pest management
Damage by Fusarium wilt in melon
Destroyed tomato plants from the attack of Meloidogyne spp.
Damaged roots of tomato by the nematode Meloidogyne spp.
Nematode damage in carrots from Meloidogyne spp.

Can you talk about some of the key developments in ‘soil health management’ in agriculture and what is driving adoption in Europe?

Soil health in its broad scientific definition considers its capacity, thanks to biotic and abiotic components, to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants and animals. A soil may be healthy in terms of the functioning of its eco-system but not necessarily for crop production. In agriculture, good soil pest management remains a cornerstone for the quantity and quality of production at farm level. When farmers cultivate the same plants for a long time in the same soil without crop rotations or other agronomic measures, the soil starts to evidence nutritional and phytopathological problems for the plants. This is more evident in horticulture, and particularly, in protected crops in Europe, where this problem is of major importance.

In the past, in Europe, soil pest management in horticulture was mostly covered by chemical fumigation, lead first by methyl bromide (MB). MB was later globally banned for depleting the ozone layer, while other fumigants, which were intended to replace it, were not approved during the regulatory renewal process, thus creating a gap between the farmers’ needs and the possibilities to have adequate solutions for their cropping.  Meanwhile, in the last decades there has also been huge progress in research and technology, developing more effective biorational soil products (beneficial microorganisms, such as fungi, bacteria, etc.., plant extracts, etc..) and increased public awareness around human health and the environment, followed by more restrictive legislation on the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Driven by the legislation and the general attention of society on the use of plant protection products in agriculture, the industry has been proactive in looking for new solutions with safer tox and eco-tox profile, focusing on biorational products, whose number, as new plant protection products for the control of soil-borne pests and diseases, is continuously increasing in the EU.

How important do you see soil health and soil pest management in the complete picture of agricultural productivity, and how has that view changed?

Soil health and good soil pest management practices in crop production have always been considered important. In Europe, the level of attention and knowledge on this topic has been higher among professionals and farmers working in horticulture, the ornamentals industry, nurseries and particularly protected crops, basically everywhere where long crop rotations are not easily practiced, and pest-infested soils become a big problem for the farmers.

The rapid banning or limitation of several traditional synthetic products used to control soil pests raised the question for field advisors and farmers of how to deal with soil problems in the new situation. In recent years European farmers have been facing particular difficulties in controlling plant-parasitic nematodes.

Biorational products available today in EU countries represent a very good tool for the management of several soil pests in many crops and targets, but are still not sufficiently effective to guarantee full satisfaction to the growers in important crops like protected fruiting vegetables, strawberry, carrots, potato, ornamentals, etc., which explains why ‘emergency uses’ are still granted at EU country level following the request of grower associations to cover the needs of their farmers. The continuous increase in the numbers of new biorational products in the future, and particularly the innovative formulations that will follow, will be of paramount importance for their role in soil pest management.

A second, but important obstacle, is the generally limited knowledge on soil components (including its fertility and capacity to suppress pests by beneficial microorganisms) and the correct use of the biorational products, which cannot be expected to be effective quickly or be used as solo products, as the ‘old’ chemicals were. They should be seen more in programs with other soil management solutions, as recommended by the integrated production guidelines. Here, a further important obstacle is the lack of an effective public extension service to advise farmers, which is limited or totally lacking in many European Countries.

Everybody in the EU is now convinced that soil management in the future will rely on biorational and integrated solutions, but the question is how to reach this objective gradually, being pragmatic and reliable, balancing the environmental, economic and agricultural perspective. Legislation always steers the direction of progress but should be carefully considering the real product capabilities to make it happen in a short time and not focusing on ‘emergency situations’ as has now been the case for more than a decade.

What are some of the perceptions, either correct or incorrect, and other challenges you are dealing with in the region with respect to products for soil health?

This market has seen a rapid change from chemistry to biorational solutions, but in the meantime is facing a lot of challenges in order to meet the expectations of the farmers for quantity and quality of produce. This topic is widely discussed in dedicated scientific forums like that of the International Society of Horticultural Sciences, of which the last International Symposium on Soil and Substrate Disinfestation was held in 2018 in Crete, Greece. A dedicated round table was organized with soil experts to discuss the important challenges faced by the European growers due to the lack of plant protection solutions for an effective control of several soil pests, most of all nematodes. I participated in that round table discussion, whose main conclusions were the following concerns, considered as target actions for the scientific community:

  • the farmer needs various tools for soil disinfestation (SD) in the light of the limited current arsenal of SD tools;
  • the lengthy and unpredictable European registration process (sometimes more than 10 years from dossier submission to the first national approval) of new plant protection products (including biorational) and the cautious approach of EU regulation, as well as restrictions imposed, has led to a reduction of active ingredients available in the past years;
  • a more effective and faster evaluation system is needed, especially for naturally occurring and low risk products (biological, plant extracts, etc.). That is, all products which are essential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs;
  • following the implementation of Regulation EC 1107/2009, the only tool available to fill the gaps in local production systems is Art. 53 of the above-mentioned Regulation, which provides “derogations” for exceptional authorizations of plant protection products. Such authorizations increased exponentially in the last years, indicating that existing solutions in the European market are not considered sufficient;
  • the above-mentioned EU Regulation has a high socio-economic impact on various production systems in Europe and a Spanish case shows clearly the importance of maintaining a sustainable agricultural activity in local communities that, in the case of protected crops area, includes 13% of the active population employed in agriculture;
  • several European agricultural sectors are affected as the EU authority is allowing increased importation from extra-EU countries, considered unfair competition due to their more flexible registration system for plant protection products than that of the EU;
  • reduced capacity of soil pest research, where experts are retired and not being replaced, alongside weak, or in many areas non-existent, extension services together are causing the loss of soil knowledge and good advice for our farmers. Today, soil diagnosis is frequently completely lacking or insufficient before any soil pest and crop management decisions are taken.

The clear message from the scientific experts at that meeting was that these issues must be correctly addressed at all levels of stakeholders, in such a way that all available tools, including sustainable use of soil disinfestation, may be used in a combined IPM system to allow sustainable production in Europe.

What are some of the most exciting developments at Certis Belchim in soil health and pest management?

Since the establishment of Certis Europe in 2001, we have focused on soil pest and disease management. In 2003, Certis built the first CleanStart program providing integrated solutions for sustainable soil management, combining cultural, biological and chemical approaches. After more than a decade, in the mid-2010s, the CleanStart integrated approach started combining biological and chemical inputs with agronomic services (training to farmers and field advisors, soil pest diagnosis support for partner farms and stewardship product advice for applicators and/or farmers) to provide sustainable soil management for the future, aligned with the principles of the Sustainable Use of pesticides as per the EU Directive. All these activities were carried out successfully thanks to a wide international network created with many research institutes across Europe on soil pest management topics. This approach facilitated our participation in soil research projects funded also by the EU. Thanks to this experience we have been able to prepare and share many publications and communications, in particular the coordination for several years of an International Newsletter on Soil Pest Management (CleanStart).

Last year we were also granted a SMART Expertise funding from the Welsh Government, which is co-founded by Certis, in a research project lead by Swansea University, with Certis Belchim B.V. the industry partner, alongside major Welsh growers, Maelor Forest Nurseries Ltd and Puffin Produce Ltd. This project, now ongoing, looks to develop new and innovative products to control soil pests, primarily nematodes.

Thanks to this team involvement on soil topics, our present soil portfolio includes several biorational solutions such as Trichoderma spp. (TriSoil), Bacillus spp. (Valcure), garlic extract (NemGuard), etc. and this is continuously increasing through our research and development pipeline. With the soil biorational products we have developed a good knowledge not only on the products, but also in their interaction with biotic and abiotic soil components and with other similar products.

Our new company, Certis Belchim, in the future will continue to be particularly interested in this market segment and will be focusing mostly on biorational products. Our plans mainly encompass: (i) label extension to more crops and targets for the existing products; (ii) development and registration of new active ingredients for the control of soil borne pathogens, insects and nematodes; (iii) development of innovative formulations for soil use with focus on slow-release; (iv) field validation of effective programs with bio-solutions and other control methods.

In all these research and development activities, supported by the long experience we have in such topics, we are looking to generate our own IP solutions for soil pest management.

How have you seen this space evolve over the past of years, and what are you expecting the next years will bring?

From a technical perspective, we expect the nematode problems to increase globally in the future. This is due in part to the gradual global increase in average temperature, now recorded over recent decades, which will allow the most damaging nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., to establish at higher elevation and higher latitudes while in areas already infested, they will develop for a longer damaging period of time, thus leading to larger nematode soil population densities by the end of the crop cycle and, in turn, to greater damage to the succeeding crops.

From a regulatory perspective in Europe, if the approval process for new effective nematicides is not shortened and remains as restrictive as today, less effective solutions will be available, and there will be more reductions in rates and crops on which their use is permitted (e.g. not every year). This again will certainly lead to an increase in the severity of the nematodes that in many areas could be overlooked.

From a quarantine perspective, the globalization of trade has facilitated the introduction into Europe of new damaging nematodes and diseases and pests in general, events which are expected to increase in the future. The most critical situation can occur in protected and nursery crops, and for the production of healthy propagating material of annual crops, such as potato seed, bulbs and seeds of bulbous plant crops, including flowers, strawberry runners, woody nursery plants, of both crop and ornamental plants, and in all crops for which quarantine issues must be considered, especially when seeds, bulbs and any kind of plant propagating material are to be exported out of the EU.

The expectation is also that positive results will come from public research (more focus on resources is needed) and private industry where work is ongoing to bring to the market new biorational solutions and innovative methods with higher efficacy in controlling soil pests and to fulfill the increasing needs of this market. However, this will only be realized if regulatory hurdles are reduced in the EU, for example for low risk biorational solutions.

How are external factors (e.g., soaring input costs) impacting the adoption of these products?

Today agriculture and plant protection products, like the whole economy, are affected by higher prices due to the increased cost of energy and raw materials globally. Considering that the costs in agricultural production are already high and sometimes, those of soil pest control are not applicable for several crops, any further increase in production costs may lead to the abandonment of effective solutions, resulting in additional increase in the complexities of soil problems on our farms. This trend, if allowed to persist, will severely affect our agricultural sector.

This said, there will also be a potential increase in the new solutions entering the market in the coming years, which will face higher costs during development and the registration process as well.

From a technical perspective, the only way to reduce such risks is to support farmers with the right knowledge on how to use new soil products correctly (dose rate, timing and method of application, etc..) and increase cost effectiveness.

Can you share highlights of research and case studies that your company has conducted with respect to soil health?

Our company has been involved in many research and market studies dedicated to the soil pest management sector. The last important one was ‘Sustainability of European vegetable and strawberry production in relation to fumigation practices,’ prepared by a European team of independent soil experts. The aim of the study was to understand technically the role and economic impact of chemical soil fumigation in key European areas of vegetable and strawberry production. Three cases of representative crops were investigated: strawberries, solanaceous/cucurbitaceous crops cultivated under protected conditions and carrots as a relevant open field crop.

The study concluded that vegetable production is a key agricultural sector in Europe: including high-value crops like solanaceous and cucurbitaceous crops produced under protected conditions (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and melons), carrots and strawberries, the production value at farmer level is €12.5 billion; the cultivated area involved is roughly 330,000 ha. The importance of these crops is even greater when the entire food value chain, in economic and social terms, is also considered.

High standards in terms of food quality/safety and certificated production, along with affordable consumer prices and consistent availability across the seasons are demanded of European vegetable production and, as a consequence, are the drivers for the growers who have to protect such crops effectively and economically. The growers face very significant issues deriving from soil-borne pests, which are the key limiting factor to achieving quality and economically sustainable yields. As strongly indicated by farmers and crop experts, among the soil-borne pests, nematodes present the most impactful and frequent challenges.

According to the survey carried out in key EU countries (Spain, Italy, France, Belgium,…), the most common soil management practices for vegetable crops and strawberries are: chemical fumigation, crop rotation, resistant cultivars and rootstocks, followed by soil-less systems, non-fumigant treatments, soil solarization, biological products, organic soil amendments, catch and cover crops.

This shows clearly that soil pest management today and in the near future will rely on IPM systems combining and rotating different management practices, with a different degree of implementation depending on the cropping system.

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mardi station

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

Pearl Millet breeding brings adapted and high-yielding varieties to smallholder farmers to enhance productivity and food security in West Africa.

Pearl millet is a staple food for millions of people, especially many of those living in extreme climatic production areas and economic poverty. In West Africa, pearl millet is one of the top cultivated crops by area. These are just two of the reasons why it’s important to concentrate on pearl millet production to increase farm productivity and food security for communities in West Africa and other countries.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) is supporting key research and improved seed to address this challenge. The Genetic Enhancement of Pearl Millet for Yield, Biotic and Abiotic Stress Tolerance in West Africa (GENMIL) project was started in 2018 to accelerate pearl millet innovations to increase food security and income.

Since its beginning in 2018, the GENMIL project has seen collaborative efforts from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN) and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) through the Centre d’Etudes Régional pour l’Amélioration de l’Adaptation à la Sécheresse (CERAAS). In fact, modernizing the INRAN and ISRA breeding programs was a major feat of the project.

Dr. Ndjido Kane (CERAAS director, SMIL Senegal coordinator, and SMIL GENMIL project principal investigator) said, “We are modernizing breeding programs in Western Africa. As a program, we benefit from the technology we are bringing into the region because we can share the findings of what we develop for Senegal with other partners in the region since we share the same Sahelian drought-prone environments. We’re focusing more on trait discovery and product development and have new investments that can screen for drought tolerance.”

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs
Farmer Input is Necessary to Increase Adaptation and Food Security

Even with new technologies, none of these advancements would be made without direct and frequent dialogue between scientists and farmers. This back-and-forth is critical for a high adoption rate of the innovations created by the scientific community. During this project, at least 160 farmers visited plots of pearl millet varieties in Senegal. With their feedback, resistance to biotic stresses such as Striga, downy mildew and drought were identified as the most important traits they consider when selecting a variety to grow in their field.

“We have to give credit to farmers. It’s their management systems and knowledge we are using to see how we can improve those practices and systems in combination with the new varieties we are proposing to them,” said Kane.“We don’t want to propose something they do not want to use, so it is easier to ask them what they need. Each farmer brings their own knowledge and we add technical or scientific knowledge to move forward together.”

This collaboration has resulted in three open-pollinated varieties and the first-ever hybrid from the ISRA pearl millet program — all dual-purpose, high-yielding and richer in nutrient content compared to the most cultivated variety, Souna 3.

Farmers are adopting these new varieties, which is resulting in tripling the population of the crop being cultivated. This yield increase will result in improved food security and greater income and possibly new jobs being created. 

“I use this example: the farmers will use one-third of their production as table food, but if they tripled production, they now have two-thirds left that they can sell, export or keep for the next year,” said Kane. “The result is increased income for the farmer and more readily available products for consumers.” 


This collaboration has resulted in three open-pollinated varieties and the first-ever hybrid from the ISRA pearl millet program — all dual-purpose, high-yielding and richer in nutrient content compared to the most cultivated variety, Souna 3.

Farmers are adopting these new varieties, which is resulting in tripling the population of the crop being cultivated. This yield increase will result in improved food security and greater income and possibly new jobs being created. 

“I use this example: the farmers will use one-third of their production as table food, but if they tripled production, they now have two-thirds left that they can sell, export or keep for the next year,” said Kane. “The result is increased income for the farmer and more readily available products for consumers.” 


farmers provided feedback to researchers

Empowering Human and Institutional Capabilities

Another pillar of this project is to empower human and institutional capacities. Many of the scientists on this project are young scientists in Senegal who are trained and work at one time in the U.S. This is a reflection of the desire of SMIL to train young scientists to conduct research and make a positive impact in their own countries.

Dr. Timothy Dalton, director of SMIL, said, “I really appreciate that SMIL is pairing American expertise and ingenuity with the best and brightest globally, and training students in developing countries and the U.S. By doing that, we’re ensuring the next generation of food systems leaders are equipped and empowered to address the food security challenges that we know are coming tomorrow as well.” 

The partnership with SMIL and the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Niger and Senegal addressed and supported the GENMIL project needs and provided resources to strengthen the research being conducted on a regional level. An example is the farming practices coping with disease or ecological factors are being added to the breeding product profile. All identified cultivars are integrated into local breeding programs and are evaluated on-farm for performance and their ability to scale. The involvement and mentoring of young scientists, as well as farmers and seed producers, will contribute to the goal of increased human and institutional capacity. This is essential to modernize and create sustainable breeding programs throughout West Africa.

The breeding program is dynamic, adjusting to demands and evolving as needs change. Kane added, “We have to think ahead on different challenges and demands. If you wait for something to happen, by the time you develop a product, the need has already changed. So the most challenging thing in the breeding program is to anticipate future demand and preference, and start the work now.”

This is another reason why equipping local scientists to work on projects like GENMIL is so important, and is not possible without supportive partnerships like SMIL.

CERAAS partners with nine USAID funded Feed the Future Innovation Labs, and Kane said, “The partnership we have with SMIL is one of a kind. SMIL was the first innovation lab that came to us and asked about the demands we wanted to address and how they could support us in meeting our goals. That made the partnership very beneficial and positive. It strengthened our ability to collaborate and achieve common goals. I hope that will be the case with future partnerships.”

Nat Bascom, assistant director of SMIL, summarizes it this way: “It boils down to how we can help the institution and the people within that environment grow. How do we help them develop as researchers and leaders? For the long-term, we will have helped West African researchers in their aspirations and long-term capacity to bring research to bear toward development goals in their country. That’s the legacy of a partnership like this.”

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

“We have to give credit to farmers. It’s their management systems and knowledge we are using to see how we can improve those practices and systems in combination with the new varieties we are proposing to them. We don’t want to propose something they do not want to use, so it is easier to ask them what they need. Each farmer brings their own knowledge and we add technical or scientific knowledge to move forward together.”

Dr. Ndjido Kane

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

For more details:

Genetic Enhancement of Pearl Millet for Yield, Biotic and Abiotic Stress Tolerance in West Africa (GENMIL)

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Fall Armyworm Control in Action March 2022 – Issue #8

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reported fall armyworm (FAW) infestations in fields in Najran Governorate, with in Al-Kora Governorate of Al-Baha Province illustrating continuous spread of FAW in NENA region. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture announced the insect pest was detected on maize plants. In response, authorities have implemented phytosanitary measures, destroyed infested maize crops, installed traps around infested sites, and is managing FAW populations in neighbouring crops.
In Zambia, FAW has reportedly reached concerning population levels in ten provinces and in 96 out of 116 districts, illustrating the need for continuous capacity development in FAW management. FAO,
under the aegis of the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control (GA), will support the government of the Republic of Zambia in improving capacities for FAW management among farmers and extension workers. FAW has reportedly affected 129 517 households and 96 222 hectares of maize fields.
Based on lessons learned during the work conducted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) technical working group on FAW quarantine and phytosanitary measures, a new work programme on banana Fusarium wilt (TR4) is under way. The IPPC Secretariat is holding a virtual workshop series on Fusarium TR4
diagnostic, surveillance, inspection and simulation exercises. The first of three sessions is scheduled for 24 March 2022, followed by sessions on 19 April 2022 and 10 May 2022. The three sessions
will be held in English, and two of the sessions will have simultaneous interpretation in French and Spanish through an in-kind contribution from the Comité de liaison Europe ACP (COLEACP).
The Cameroon workshop discussed the use of biological control, botanicals, and farmer trainings. It was opened by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mbong Epse Bambot Grace Annih.

FAW was named as top national priority for key pest control in the People’s Republic of China for 2022 in February as the National Agricultural Technology Extension and Service Center (NATESC) renewed the annual strategy for FAW control. This followed a national expert working group meeting organized by NATESC to analyse FAW data and control measures that had been implemented in 2021. The working group also presented conclusions to facilitate the delivery of early warning messages with regard to FAW at the national level.
Resource mobilization training was conducted on 28 February 2022 for 30 people including national focal points and FAO focal points in country offices. A general overview of the resource mobilization situation with regard to the Global Action was provided during the session. The training was based on the new GA resource
mobilization guide and was also interpreted in the French language.
In the Republic of Cameroon, a three-day training workshop began on 28 February 2022 to enhance capacity of national focal points from central Africa countries in FAW monitoring, early warning and sustainable management of the pest. The workshop also aimed to strengthen coordination between GA demonstration
and pilot countries through theory as well as farm-level practical sessions. The 25 participants, including including leaders of farmer organizations, extension officers, researchers and FAO facilitators,
were asked to validate the strategy document at the central Africa geo-zone level. The workshop included participants from the Republic of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, the Gabonese Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.
The Republic of the Philippines Bureau of Plant Industry hosted seven geo-zone webinar training events in January and February 2022 covering multiple topics, including monitoring and early warning, host plant resistance, biological control, biopesticide and pesticide application.

Contact information:
Plant Production and Protection – Natural Resources and Sustainable Production
Email: Fall-Armyworm@fao.org
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, Italy
Some rights reserved.
This work is available under a
CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO licence
Communications and Partnerships
A GA resource mobilization guide has been finalized and will be
available for public download. These guidelines provide a framework for mobilizing essential resources to support the work of the
GA and the FAW Secretariat.1
New Technical Cooperation Programmes have been initiated,
including a USD 500 000 emergency response to strengthen the
management and preparedness capacities of five North African
countries – the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, the State of
Libya, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the Kingdom of Morocco,
and the Republic of Tunisia – to mitigate the impact and risk of FAW.
New Developments
By comparing genetic characteristics of FAW populations collected
from 22 sub-Saharan countries between 2016 and 2019, Nagoshi
et al. (2022) inferred that the strain preferring maize as the host
plant predominated the FAW populations in Africa. Additionally,
a broad grouping of genetic characteristics of FAW collected in
East and West Africa seem to indicate limited natural migrations
of FAW at a continental scale. The authors suggested that smallerscale movement through trade probably contributed to the initial
spread of the pest across Africa. Nagoshi, R.N., Goergen, G., Koffi, D.
et al. Genetic studies of FAW indicate a new introduction into
Africa and identify limits to its migratory behavior. 2022. Sci Rep
12, 1941.2
A study led by icipe and NIBIO showed that FAW density levels
could be predicted using host availability as well as climatic data.
The study utilized FAMEWS data, among others, to validate the
predictions. The authors suggested that further detailed data on
the natural enemies of FAW, their occurrence and efficiency in
regulating FAW populations, will further strengthen the predictive
mode. Harnessing data science to improve integrated management
of invasive pest species across Africa: An application to Fall
armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) (J.E. Smith) (Lepidoptera:
Noctuidae) – ScienceDirect.
©FAO, 2022
1 https://www.fao.org/3/cb8910en/cb8910en.pdf
2 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-05781-z
3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989422000580?via%3Dihub
Field stories
In Burkina Faso, field work by two university partners of the
GA – Université Nazi Boni (UNB) and Université Joseph Ki Zerbo
(UJKZ) – has included trials to evaluate a number of potential
FAW control measures including: production of Telenomus remus
parasitoid; selection of maize varieties for FAW tolerance; the
efficacy of several types of FAW traps; efficacy of local strains of
entomopathogens; biological control potential of local arthropod
natural enemies; and effectiveness of combining other crops with
maize (herbs, pigeon peas and other species) on FAW.
In the Republic of Cameroon, a field visit was organized following
the training workshop that began on 28 February 2022. The field
visit included the area around Ntui in central Cameroon, and around
Foumbot in the western region, with the goal of identifying sites
for large-scale demonstrations of integrated pest management
(IPM) technology. Foumbot holds particular significance because
it is also the first site where FAW was reported in Cameroon.
During the field visit, members of a young farmers cooperative, local leaders and
extension agents were consulted to discuss collaborations for successful
implementation of the GA in the Republic of Cameroon as the demonstratio

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Research Finds Protecting Pollinators is Critical For Food Security in Africa

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Agrilinks Team

Nov 06, 2020

Photo Credit: Aleksandra Georgieva

This post is written by Sunday Ekesi, Michael Lattorff, Thomas Dubois, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).


Pollination is crucial for food production, human livelihoods, and the preservation of biodiversity in natural ecosystems. Global crop production is highly dependent on pollinators. Approximately 75% of all crop plants are dependent on animal-mediated pollination and a recent analysis estimated the annual market value of pollinator services at US$235-577 billion. Thus, pollinators and the pollination services they provide serve a crucial function in food security. In many developing countries, agricultural production has become increasingly dependent on pollination services, as the relative number of pollination-dependent crops has increased three times compared to developed countries over the past 50 years. Pollination of crop plants by insects also contributes directly to human nutrition by increasing the availability of critical micronutrients. Animal-pollinated crops contain the majority of the available dietary lipid, vitamin A, C, and E, which are critical for the physical and intellectual development of children, as well as of key importance to other vulnerable groups including pregnant women, populations in disease risk regions (e.g. malaria endemic regions), and immuno-compromised individuals (due to malnutrition or pre-existing conditions). Beyond supporting crop production and human health through a diversified diet, pollinators are also a source of several commercial products (e.g., honey, wax, bee venom, royal jelly and resins) important for cosmetics, medicine, and cultural identity. Yet, despite their importance, pollinators are under increasing pressure and populations are declining worldwide.

Pollination R4D to improve food security: Examples from the International Centre of Insect Physiology & Ecology (ICIPE)

Assessing pollinator diversity

Globally, declines in insect pollinator populations (due to diverse factors including unsustainable agricultural practices, habitat destruction, and climate change) are threatening crop production amidst the growing demand for food driven by human population growth. To conserve and augment the population of pollinators for horticultural crops, we first need a basic understanding of their diversity. In this regard, we have undertaken surveys on avocado along the altitudinal gradient of the Eastern Afromontane region of Taita Hills, Kenya. Diverse pollinators belonging to 28 species in 14 families were observed visiting avocado. Overall, the proportion of honeybee (Apis mellifera) visits were the highest. In Murang’a, Kenya, a richer assembly of flower visitors was observed — including 73 species in 29 families. The most abundant families were ApidaeCalliphoridaeRhiniidae, and Syrphidae. Honeybees comprised 95.8% of Apidae. Other bee species included Braunsapis sp.Ceratina (Simioceratina) sp. (both Apidae), and Nomia sp., Lasioglossum sp., Pseudapis sp. (both Halictidae). On macadamia, stingless bee species from the genus Hypotrigona and Liotrigona have also been identified as efficient pollinators to enhance pollination and increase the productivity of the crop.

Understanding pollinator deficits and exploring opportunities to utilize pollinators to increase crop yields

Intensification of agriculture is leading to losses of wild pollinator species and hence of pollination services required to increase crop yields. As a result of the threats facing honeybees and other pollinators, ICIPE has been developing tools to utilize alternative managed pollinators (e.g., honeybees, stingless bees, and carpenter bees). In one of the major avocado growing areas of Kenya (Murang’a county), we analyzed the pollination deficit in avocado. This is the decrease in crop yield due to lack of sufficient pollination services. We found a 27% loss of fruits due to suboptimal pollination. However, supplementation of smallholder avocado farms with two honeybee colonies was sufficient to reverse this pollination deficit, increasing avocado yield by 180% and income by US$168 per farmer per season.

The domestication of stingless bees as alternative pollinators is a major component of activity at ICIPE. Through this activity, it has been possible to domesticate 14 species from East, West, and Central Africa; among which 6 have been widely evaluated and promoted with respect to their pollination efficiency. We are currently implementing activities for the use of stingless bee-targeted pollination on specific crops in open fields. In Kakamega, Kenya, research activities implemented jointly with smallholder farmers on pollination showed that stingless bee species, such as Hypotrigona gribodoi, are more efficient in improving green pepper fruit and seed quality in open fields compared to other wild pollinators. We also determined that the stingless bee species Meliponula bocandei and M. ferruginea are more efficient than honeybees in the pollination of sweet melon and cucumber. Recently, we also demonstrated that flower odor learning in stingless bees is species-specific, and that specific vibrational sounds are used to recruit foragers to crop plants. In an ongoing Mastercard Foundation-funded projects (Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey [YESH] and More Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey [MoYESH]) aimed at expanding commercial beekeeping, entrepreneurial and decent employment opportunities for >100,000 youth in Ethiopia, pollination of horticultural crops, especially vegetables using honeybees and stingless bees, along developed watersheds and rehabilitating landscapes, is being promoted as a complementary income generating opportunity while also providing diverse bee forages. Already, a cohort of 16,926 partner youth (59% female) have been recruited at project action sites and organized into 1,263 business enterprises designed to enhance agribusiness and income generation opportunities for rural youth and women in the country. Model beekeeping sites will be used to demonstrate managed beekeeping as an integral component of sustainable ecological farming that promotes healthy food, healthy farming, and a healthy environment.

Bee health R4D in support of pollination services

ICIPE has established the African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health (ARLBH) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, with four satellite stations in Liberia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, as well as a diagnostic laboratory in Madagascar. This is the first of its kind in Africa. The ARLBH was accredited as a Collaborating Centre for Bee Health in Africa by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Activities in the facility include assessment of environmental stressors like pesticides and habitat deterioration responsible for bee declines, development and establishment of diagnostic tools for pesticide residue analysis, surveillance for bee diseases, and establishing measures to protect them.

Improving habitat protection and restoration

Large-scale land transformation puts insect pollinators at risk, as land use change often results in degraded or fragmented habitats, that can no longer support pollinators due to the lack of nesting or foraging habitats. We have demonstrated that habitat deterioration, which includes natural forest loss, reforestation and afforestation with exotic tree species, negatively impacts species richness and diversity of stingless bees in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, most stingless bee species are susceptible to habitat degradation since they tend to have very specific nesting requirements and only few species accept a broad range of natural and artificial substrates.

Strengthening pest and disease surveillance and management

Selected pollinator pests have been identified as being a particular concern to pollinator populations, including the wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and large and small hive beetles (Oplostomus haroldi and Aethina tumida) respectively. An initial survey provided high quality data that have been used, in combination with modeling approaches, to predict regions of high pest risk. The chemical and behavioral ecology of these pests has also been studied in detail, with the aim of developing control measures based on using chemical agents as attractants or repellents in traps. In Kenya, small hive beetles have also been identified as a major pest affecting stingless bee Meliponula species. Additionally, we have established that the Black Queen Cell virus that attacks honeybees can also be transmitted to stingless bees. Finally, we have also determined the resistance and tolerance mechanisms of African honeybees to the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor, potentially the most severe bee-pest. A plant-based bio-pesticide has been developed that is effective against the Varroa mite and has a repellent effect on the small hive beetle.

Decreasing the risk of pesticide use in crops and foraging plants, and adopting pollinator-friendly agricultural practices

While pesticide residue levels currently remain below international standard norms (e.g. EU standards), ICIPE and partners have observed an increase in pesticide residues in beehive products, which implies that pollinators are picking up pesticides applied to crops that could in turn affect their health. Pesticide use is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa, and ICIPE has piloted the use of ‘integrated pest and pollinator management (IPPM)’ to ensure that crop protection is harmonized with pollination services on pollinator-dependent crops such as avocado and cucurbits. In Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and Murang’a, Kenya, we are implementing best-bet integrated pest management (IPM) package based on  fungal bio-pesticides, attract-and-kill products, and protein baits that enhance pollinator diversity while reducing pest populations (such as the oriental fruit fly — Bactrocera dorsalis — and the false codling moth — Thaumatotibia leucotreta) on avocado across landscapes. So far, more than 1,400 farmers in Murang’a have been trained on the use of IPPM, and many have adopted the practice to combat avocado pests without negatively impacting pollinators.

Understanding the bee microbiome to improve pollination services

Honeybees and stingless bees harbor diverse gut microbiota, which are critical to a variety of physiological processes — including digestion, detoxification, immune responses, and protection against pests and diseases. Surprisingly, whereas beekeeping has been widely promoted as a tool to mitigate poverty in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, no comprehensive studies of honeybee gut microbiota have been done in sub Saharan Africa where pollen and nectar resources are present year-round. Moreover, Africa hosts a highly significant diversity of bee species that might be associated with significant and uncharacterized gut microbe diversity selected for by different evolutionary pressures. ICIPE’s goal is to increase pollinator fitness and thus the pollination services they provide by investigating gut microbiota-host interactions. With the use of comparative genomics and microbiology tools, we are characterizing the nature of specific beneficial interactions. Results indicate that microbial abundance varies with geographical locations. We are currently investigating the parameters affecting this abundance as well as uncovering novel members of the microbiome that we found to be specific to Africa, in an effort to enhance pollinator health and pollination services.

Modeling climate change impact on pollinators

Climate shocks and land use change increasingly affect the life cycle as well as spatial and temporal distribution patterns of pollinators (e.g., honeybee, stingless bees), their pests, and the flowering plants upon which they depend for food and shelter. These habitat changes and climatic shifts have a trickle-down effect on pollination efficiency and thus food security. We are using replicable analytical methods and novel procedures for assessing the impact of climate and landscape change on the current and future distribution and abundance of honeybees, stingless bees, their pests, and flowering plants. Using long-term climate data with time-series satellite data variables overlaid on actual land surface properties and dynamics (i.e. changes in vegetation chlorophyll activity over time), we have developed accurate and realistic pest risk maps to guide interventions with regard to managing the pests of these pollinators using bio-pesticides without harming bees. Within the landscape mapping context, we have developed a sophisticated algorithm to map floral responses from spectral imagery. This is helping to understand the role of landscape fragmentation and the distribution, abundance, and temporal availability of flowering plants, pollinators, and pollination services. The knowledge on the value of natural habitats for bees within agro-ecological landscapes (using flowering and fragmentation maps) should be an incentive for the protection of these habitats.

Strengthening the capacity of farmers and national systems

Capacity building of farmers and national agricultural extension systems has been integral to building awareness of the important role pollinators play in improving food security. Training activities range from minimizing pesticide use, adopting pollinator-friendly agricultural practices, incentive to communities to support conservation of pollinators, and training of graduate students (PhD and MSc). Over 17,793 farmers and 816 extensionists have been trained across 21 Francophone and 23 Anglophone speaking countries across Africa. A total of 32 graduate students (PhD and MSc) have been trained across different countries (Kenya, Burkina Faso, Belgium, Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia, D.R. Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar).FILED UNDER:AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITYMONITORING, EVALUATION, AND LEARNINGRESILIENCE

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New Sorghum Variety Will Help Farmers Increase Sorghum Yields

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Benjamin Kohl, Ph.D.

Feb 02, 2022

Purdue University professor, Dr. Tesfaye Mengiste, looks at sorghum infected with anthracnose. Mengiste led a team of researchers who identified a single gene that confers broad resistance to the fungal disease.
Purdue University professor, Dr. Tesfaye Mengiste, looks at sorghum infected with anthracnose. Mengiste led a team of researchers who identified a single gene that confers broad resistance to the fungal disease. Photo Credit: Purdue University

Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) supports research that provides natural resistance to pathogens and pests in Ethiopian farm fields

Scientists with SMIL have developed a sorghum variety that provides natural resistance to pathogens and pests that have crippled the crop in humid, lowland areas of western Ethiopia.

Their research is reported in the January 9 issue of The Plant Cell, a journal of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Dr. Timothy Dalton, director of SMIL — based at Kansas State University — said the researchers’ work will “serve the broader sorghum development community and is a flagship global good, public characteristic of the U.S. land grant mission.”

The SMIL, led by Dalton, funded work in Ethiopia and West Africa to map genes and explore more than 2,000 pieces of germplasm in numerous field trials spanning several years.

“The new sorghum variety, called Merera, has multiple benefits, including resistance to pathogens and birds, and it yields better than current varieties that Ethiopian farmers have,” said Dr. Tesfaye Mengiste, a professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University, and the principal investigator for the research.

Mengiste said Merera has shown resistance to Anthracnose, a devastating fungal disease that attacks all parts of the plant — leaves, stalk and head — leaving almost nothing to be used for food (sorghum’s primary use in Africa), biofuels or animal feed (the primary use of sorghum in the United States).

“With these improved traits and yield potential, it can mean a better livelihood for (farmers),” Mengiste said.

A newly discovered gene, named Anthracnose Resistance Gene1, or ARG1, is unique, according to Mengiste.

“Although some natural resistance to fungal disease was known in sorghum, genes that confer widespread resistance have not been identified,” he said. “It is remarkable that a single gene leads to resistance across a broad spectrum of fungi and multiple strains of the Anthracnose fungus.”

Mengiste cited recent results with Merera that indicate up to a 43% increase in sorghum yields, which has led to increased income for smallholder farmers.

In 2013, USAID invested $13.7 million to establish the SMIL at Kansas State University. The lab’s primary focus is to improve the productivity, disease resistance, agronomy and economics of sorghum and millet in six partner countries.

In 2018, USAID renewed its commitment to SMIL, awarding $14 million over five years to continue the project’s work.

USAID funds several Feed the Future Innovation Labs across the country to harness the capacity of U.S. land grant institutions, other universities and the private sector to improve food security globally.

The sorghum variety recently developed for Ethiopia — while directly benefitting farmers in that country — is much like many other Feed the Future projects that aim to build knowledge to help farmers throughout the world, including the United States.

“Through this collaborative research supported by SMIL and the funding through USAID, we will continue to explore the rich Ethiopian germplasm to come up with the next resilient and high-yielding varieties,” Mengiste said. “With better leveraging of recent genetic technologies, we will expedite the development of the new generation of varieties or those in the pipeline.”

More information about SMIL, please visit https://smil.k-state.edu.

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