Archive for the ‘Food Security’ Category

Australia joins forces with New Zealand and United States to strengthen

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

To further shape science-based international food standards that help protect consumers and support trade, we are partnering with New Zealand and the United States to deliver a two-day South West Pacific Codex Outreach Workshop in New Zealand, on Tuesday 8 November and Wednesday 9 November 2022.

Designed to foster increased engagement and participation in Codex across the region, the workshop is a key opportunity to discuss the needs of the region to ensure standards developed in Codex in the future are reflective of the needs of our region, and make a positive impact on food safety and trade in the Pacific.

Food is one of Australia’s most important exports. We export about 70% of the food we produce.

Codex is the international intergovernmental body, recognised by the World Trade Organisation, that sets food standards to protect the health of consumers and promote fair practices in food trade. It was established by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1962.

Australia, along with 11 other Codex member countries in neighbouring Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu – will meet.

It is important for Codex members from the South West Pacific region to work together on the future for developing standards that affect the global trade in food.

To discover more about Codex, visit: Codex – International Food Standards – DAFF (agriculture.gov.au)

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.


Tags:AgricultureAustraliaCook IslandsFijiGovernmentGuineaKiribatiMicronesiaNauruNew ZealandpacificPapua New GuineaSamoaSolomon IslandsTongaUnited StatesVanuatu:World Health Organization

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October 14, 2022 

Cambria Finegold 

World Food Day: How can data science and modelling help smallholders adapt to climate change?

By Cambria Finegold, Global Director Digital Development, CABI 

Data science and modelling are relatively new concepts when it comes to farming. For centuries, smallholders have carefully passed down agricultural skills from generation to generation. They depended on this knowledge. And stable seasons and weather meant this information remained relevant for years. 

However, climate change has brought with it erratic conditions. New scenarios are forcing family farmers to abandon the techniques they have shared. Unexpected droughts, floods and changes in temperature destroy their crops. But they lack the knowledge to address the unpredictability. 

For example, in a +2°C environment, aphids can reproduce an extra five generations each year. The pest problems that smallholders face are becoming overwhelming. How do they adapt to a rapidly changing and unstable environment? Digital technology is helping to answer this question. 

The benefits of data science and modelling 

Data science and modelling offer a solution. These dynamic new fields in agricultural technology are helping farmers to adapt. As climate change contributes to an increasingly uncertain future, they support decision-making. They show how environments are changing and how pests are spreading. But they also reveal how to address these problems. 

From managing invasive species to strengthening plant health systems, high-quality data helps farmers. It can advise them on pest management, crop and variety choices, and the timing of agricultural tasks. Data modelling supports decisions that farmers must make around all of these things. 

Furthermore, data science and modelling help smallholders make more sustainable farming choices, for example, decisions around natural, sustainable pest control. Farmers can use technology to address climate change and protect the environment simultaneously. 

At the heart of this technology are predictive models. These models help smallholders understand what might happen – tools to navigate uncertainty. What happens in a cooler or warmer year? What agricultural practices can they employ to protect crops from drought or flood? What must they do today to safeguard tomorrow? 

Data science and modelling can make a big difference to smallholders. Farmers face conditions that do not make sense to them anymore. Technology can help guide them through the uncertainty. 

PRISE and data science and modelling 

One concrete example of this is the Pest Risk Information SErvice (PRISE). It is an early-warning information system that provides farmers with alerts. These alerts notify the farmers of the best times to take action to protect their crops. The service builds resilience to climate shocks by supporting preventative measures.  Since 2017, the service has reached over 1.8 million farmers in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. 

PRISE is showing remarkable success. The service held a phone survey following the 2019-20 short rains season in Kenya. It focused on smallholders receiving alerts about the fall armyworm pest. And it showed that 60% of smallholders reported changing their farming practices based on the alerts’ recommendations.  

The PRISE consortium is examining how it can expand from its focus on plant pests. Could it grow to a risk warning system that delivers information about weather risks? Can it expand to include a strong climate change angle? 

Using a data science and modelling in hybrid advisory services 

While technology is important, we must also combine it with on-the-ground support. Once a farmer has received new information, they will often need help implementing it. Hybrid approaches that combine technology with face-to-face advice are often more effective than digital-only approaches. For this reason, we must invest in agricultural advisory services

How we deliver information is essential. Farmers might be dismissive of advice given over text messages. Or the service might provide the recommendations in the farmer’s second language and might, therefore, be unclear. Agricultural advisory services can discuss any question the farmer has. They can support the move from traditional information delivery to technology. They can help to manage the perceived risks that farmers might have. 

Data science and modelling have a vital role to play in modern farming. They can help smallholders to grow more crops and safeguard their livelihoods. And they can help them adapt to climate change. Technology can provide solutions when traditional systems no longer give the farmers the answers they need. It provides a little more certainty in an uncertain world. 

Data scienceFood securityPRISEWorld Food Daymodeling

Agriculture and International Development

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Better seeds and biotechnology can, study finds

Joseph Maina | Cornell Alliance for Science | August 23, 2022

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Planting crops that are drought resistant could enable farmers to use less water and fertilizer. Credit: A. Ouoba via FAO
Planting crops that are drought resistant could enable farmers to use less water and fertilizer. Credit: A. Ouoba via FAO

Though Africa has a quarter of the world’s arable land, its crop productivity falls well below the world average, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Much of that is due to poor quality seeds and constraints facing smallholder farmers, according to a new study that suggests crop biotechnology as a way to boost production and productivity among Africa’s smallholders.

A woman sorts soybeans at the Jinja market in Uganda. Credit: The Road Provides via Shutterstock

Resource-stricken, fated to eke a living from diminutive landholdings and deprived of the rudiments of modern farming, smallholders face a menacing retinue of setbacks in their quest to feed the continent’s ballooning population.

Additionally, they often endure hunger, since SSA’s population is the most food-insecure on the continent, the study finds.

“Smallholder farmers have limited capacity to invest in their farms and are dependent on low level technologies,” said lead author Endale Gebre Kedisso, a research assistant professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Michigan. “They suffer from limited access and use of inputs such as improved seed, fertilizer, and pesticides, as well as soil and water management operations to optimize yields.”

Around 80 percent of farms in SSA are smallholdings, according to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The agricultural sector employs around 175 million people, with women constituting between 60-80 percent of the workforce.

Credit: Twitter

“In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), most smallholders own less than two hectares of cultivable land and are challenged by the low productivity and production constraints in the middle of the unprecedented rising need for more food, feed, and raw material for industry,” notes the study.

Lack of good quality seed is a particularly serious setback to agricultural productivity in Africa, Kedisso said.

“Most crop seeds come from previous year harvest and are reused,” he explained. “They are highly genetically deteriorated seed in most cases obtained from local market or neighboring farmers and relatives. Poor seeds are not responsive to inputs. The seed system is either very poor or non-existent. Productivity levels are therefore too low in most Sub-Saharan African countries by world standards.”

Credit: McKinsey

Many of Africa’s agricultural problems can be overcome by using improved conventional technologies, Kedisso told the Alliance for Science. But he decried the fact that few farmers use conventional hybrid varieties even in Africa’s most researched crops, including maize, sweet potatoes, sorghum and other improved local seeds.

Against this backdrop, the productivity of crop farming in Africa is hugely challenged by biotic and abiotic stresses. Biotic stresses include those caused by insect pests, diseases, and weeds as well as the innate low-yielding potential of varieties. Abiotic stresses are caused by soil-related and climatic problems that include moisture stress and drought.

Agricultural biotechnology offers enormous opportunities to drive innovative solutions highly relevant to the needs of Africa’s smallholder farmers, the study notes.

“Studies show the major reasons for farmers to select biotech (GM) crops is the boost in yield,” he said. “In a study of over 147 agronomical studies, crop yields rose by 22 percent and the expense for pesticides declined by 39 percent. There are also non-monetary benefits such as time savings, ease of use and more flexibility in their planning.”

Yield trends of cereal production in different regions of the world. The U.S. yield has been booming while Africa has been lagging. Credit: InTechOpen using FAO data

The use of Bt crops for insect resistance is especially beneficial because they reduce insecticide use by up to 41.7 percent, which positively contributes to human and environmental health, he said.

Rapid advancements in modern biotechnology offer promising alternatives to the conventional approaches of crop improvement, the study notes. It complements the conventional plant breeding effort and makes it more efficient through precise identification and introgression of genes in a much shorter time period.

Sadly, Africa’s smallholder farmers have generally missed out on the potential benefits of modern biotechnology, which can be applied to improve their productivity and, in the process, improve livelihoods, according to Kedisso

However, the authors caution that no particular crop variety or technology will solve all the problems afflicting the continent’s farmers. Rather, they root for an organized, holistic approach by countries to solve agricultural problems in efforts to change the livelihoods of their farmers, with biotechnology playing a role.

And for smallholder farmers to fully reap the benefits of such technologies, Kedisso said there needs to be support by an organized system that includes a seed system and other regulatory supports. He said farmers can make better use of improved technologies with an improved institutional support system.

Dr. Joseph Maina is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University. Joseph’s ultimate goals are to understand and predict the impacts of environmental variability and change on social and ecological systems at local and global scales to support spatial planning & management.

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

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R&D in agriculture and food declining, experts say

Aceh agricultural workers

An agricultural research station in Aceh, Indonesia. Experts have raised their concern that R&D investments in food and agriculture are declining. Copyright: Asian Development Bank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). This image has been cropped.

Speed read

  • R&D investment in food and agriculture on the decline, experts say
  • Asia Pacific now accounts for almost half of world spending on agri-food R&D
  • China accounts for around 23 per cent of global agri-food R&D spending

By: Neena Bhandari

 [SYDNEY] Investments in agriculture and food research are declining at a time when these sectors are facing significant risks arising from climate change, biodiversity loss and the spread of pests and diseases that affect plants, animals and humans, an international conference heard.

“As a single and sobering example of the shift in investment in agricultural research, the spending of CGIAR, the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, has declined in inflation-adjusted terms by almost 40 per cent since 2014,” said Philip Pardey, co-director of the GEMS agro-informatics initiative and director of global research strategy at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

“The private sector now outspends the public sector in agri-food R&D worldwide, at a time when almost 90 per cent of the research in the low-income countries still takes place within the public sector”

Philip Pardey, GEMS agro-informatics initiative and University of Minnesota

Speaking at The Crawford Fund annual conference held in Canberra, Australia on 15 and 16 August, Pardey said that all available evidence supports a doubling of agri-food R&D spending. “For every dollar invested in agricultural R&D, there is a return of US$10 in social benefit, and this level of return has been consistent over many years,” he said. “Yet, agri-food R&D spending is a declining share of total R&D spending.”

A concerning trend, he pointed out, is that just 10 countries account for almost two thirds of the total food and agriculture R&D spending worldwide.

Pardey noted that currently, on average, only three per cent of the total R&D spent in high-income countries is directed towards agriculture, whereas about a fifth of the total R&D spending in low-income countries is focused on food. The geography of food and agriculture R&D, just like the geography of agricultural production, has shifted heavily over the Asia Pacific region.

“The Asia Pacific region [including developed and developing countries], now accounts for almost half the world’s spending on agri-food R&D,” Pardey said. “China is now outspending the US in both public and private agri-food R&D, accounting for around 23 per cent of global agri-food R&D spending.

“In terms of sharing knowledge, the private sector now outspends the public sector in agri-food R&D worldwide, at a time when almost 90 per cent of the research in the low-income countries still takes place within the public sector. This has really big implications for how public policy is formulated and how public research is done in terms of its potential.”

For the research to translate into evidence-based policy decisions that would benefit all stakeholders, Regina Bi Nukundj, senior food security policy officer in Papua New Guinea’s Department of Agriculture and Livestock, suggested including policy officers during the design phase of a research project.

“We have a lot of funding poured into doing the research projects. The collaboration, objectives and outcome of the research is very good, but it is limited to the research panels or the capacity building of individual researchers in the country,” Nukundj said.

Factors that are important for the success of collaborative projects in the Asia Pacific region are, first, the quality of collaboration with partners and, secondly, the ownership of the beneficiary, said Ravi Khetarpal, executive secretary of the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions and chair of The Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation.

Speakers stressed the need for more, better and sustained investment in agricultural research to realise its full potential. Kylie Walker, chief executive officer at the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, said: “There is no reason why we cannot commit to 10- or 20-year research programmes and give that stability to our system.

“We’re losing so many excellent people because they don’t have the job security. They’re spending up to a third of their working year applying for grants and justifying their existence.”

Agricultural research brings a whole range of social benefits — including improving equity for women and ethnic minorities, developing more diverse and resilient production systems that benefit the natural environment, improving nutrition. This should motivate governments to support it, said Jenny Gordon, former chief economist at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Emphasising the benefits of research for development, Jean Balié, CGIAR regional director for South-East Asia and the Pacific and director-general of the International Rice Research Institute, said that while the Green Revolution [of the 1950s and 60s] was characterised by producing cheap and abundant food, the goal now should shift to delivering nutritious, diversified food from sustainable ecosystems.

Underscoring the critical importance of weaving traditional knowledge of Pacific Island countries with modern science and technology, Audrey Aumua, member of the policy advisory council of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and chief of the Fred Hollows Foundation, New Zealand, in her keynote address asked, “Why is our aid lagging and our agricultural models outdated?”

Calling for a broader regional research agenda that not only provides support, but builds capacity for agricultural research, she said: “The uniqueness of our agricultural challenges can and should lead to unique scientific breakthroughs, but these breakthroughs will not happen if our small island nations do not collaborate and receive support from our large regional partners.”

*This article was edited on 19 August 2022 to correct typographical and style issues.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.

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Researchers say One Health approach to plant health is vital to achieving sustainable global food security


A team of scientists argue that a One Health approach to plant health is vital if we are to sustainably feed a growing population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.

The researchers, who published a commentary in the CABI Agriculture and Bioscience journal, suggest that a One Health perspective can help optimize net benefits from plant protection to realize greater food security and nutrition gains.

One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes that the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants and the wider environment are closely linked and inter-dependent.

Dr Vivian Hoffmann, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is a lead author of the commentary which focuses on two primary trade-offs that lie at the interface of plant health with animal, ecosystem and human health.

Dr Hoffmann and the researchers say that protecting plant health through use of agrochemicals versus minimizing risks to human health and antimicrobial and insecticide resistance is one consideration.

While another, the scientists argue, is ensuring food security by prioritizing the health of crops to maximise agricultural production versus protecting environmental systems.

The commentary, which stems from a webinar organized by CGIAR and attended by over 200 participants from around the world, discusses challenges and opportunities for advancement associated with each of these trade-offs – by taking account of how the priorities and constraints of stakeholders may vary by gender.

It stresses that building the capacity of regulatory bodies in low and middle-income countries to conduct cost-benefit analysis has the potential to improve decision-making in the context of these and other multi-dimensional trade-offs.

The webinar included presentations on sustainable intensification, benefits to plant health, and risks to human health, of using manure and wastewater to fertilize food crops; Tanzania’s experience with pesticide regulation’ management of plant associated food safety hazards where regulatory capacity is weak, and the role of gender in One Health.

Dr Hoffmann said, “Increasing crop yields through healthy plants is critical to achieving food security for a growing global population. But agricultural production also poses threats to environmental processes that underpin human health.”

The commentary, for instance, highlights that agriculture contributes 34% of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes 84% of fresh water and is the single biggest source of eutrophication causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in aquatic systems.

“Interventions to encourage plant health practices that balance ecological concerns and food production will need to consider the constraints, needs, and motivations of farmers, including those mediated by gender,” Dr Hoffmann added.

Webinar participants made the point that farmers and other stakeholders of limited means, and women in particular, may not have the luxury of prioritizing environmental sustainability.

Dr Hoffmann said, “This points to the need for external financing, perhaps through international green development or climate funds, to promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices.”

The scientists also believe that trade-offs are expected to depend critically on the intensity of exposure to environmental hazards, food security status, and income levels – all of which vary across countries. There therefore a need, they say, for context-specific analysis and, as such, greater capacity for cost-benefit analysis in low land middle-income countries as a matter of priority.

Full paper reference

Hoffmann, V., Paul, B., Falade, T., Moodley, A., Ramankutty, N., Olawoye, J., Djouaka, R., Lekei, E., de Haan, N., Ballantyne, P., Waage, J., ‘A one health approach to plant health,’ CABI Agric Biosci 29 September (2022). DOI: 10.1186/s43170-022-00118-2

The paper can be read open access from 00:01hrs UK time 29 September 2022 here: https://cabiagbio.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s43170-022-00118-2

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.

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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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