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7 provinces to produce ‘golden’ rice

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By Franz R. Sumangil

May 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: NAE

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

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Kenyan gene hacker moves to defeat witchweed

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

In Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY NKECHI ISAAC

JUNE 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Joseph Gakpo | June 24, 2022

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Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

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

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  1. Photo series: Nigeria welcomes GMO cowpeaJoseph Gakpo et al., Genetic Literacy Project, 2021
  2. COVID-19 pandemic may boost public acceptance of Ghana’s GM cowpeaJoseph Gakpo, Genetic Literacy Project, 2020
  3. Ghana’s first genetically modified crop – pod borer resistant cowpea — is poised to address widespread protein deficiency challengesMy Joy Online et al., Genetic Literacy Project
  4. Ghanian farmers press for locally-developed pest-resistant genetically modified cowpeaGideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei et al., Genetic Literacy Project
  5. Nigeria commercializes its first GMO food crop | Genetic Literacy ProjectJoan Conrow et al., Genetic Literacy Project
  1. Cowpea protected from a devastating pest, free for smallholder African farmersPhys.org
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  3. Relationship between Cowpea Crop Phenology and Field Infestation by the Legume Pod Borer, Maruca testulalisLouis E. N. Jackai, Annals of the Entomological Society of America
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Partnership on track to give Bangladeshi and Indonesian farmers disease-resistant GMO potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Partnership progress

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Trials will take several seasons. Credit: Wharton PS

Farmers eager

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

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

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

And farmers want the varieties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How is Rwanda faring in agricultural bio-technology?

Michel NkurunzizaBy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant biotechnology status in Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will GMOs be adopted in Rwanda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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Ghana: GMO cowpea

GMO cowpea will improve Ghana’s food security – Scientist

SourceAbubakar Ibrahim

  12 June 2022 3:14pm

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Ghana’s food security will receive a good boost if the country’s first genetically modified crop gets environmental release approval from government, the scientist leading the project has said.

The National Biosafety Authority of the Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation Ministry announced in February that it has received a request from the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for environmental release approval of a GM cowpea or beans variety.

The gazette notification announcing the process said if approved, the request will allow for the “placing on the market of genetically modified Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) cowpea in Ghana.”

The gazette quotes the application to the Biosafety Authority as saying farmers and consumers will benefit from PBR cowpea as a result of higher yields, lower costs of inputs, and greater on-farm safety because of reduced pesticide usage, and decreased pesticide residue on the beans.

The authority says it is reviewing the application together with relevant regulatory agencies and independent experts. A decision is expected in or around August 2022.

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Dr Jerry Nboyine, who is the principal investigator in charge of the GM cowpea project, said the variety will help farmers cut down on the amount of spray they use on cowpea farms every season from more than eight times to about two times.

“Cowpea or beans. Your ‘yo ke gari’ popularly called red-red or gari and beans are made from it. Most of us are excited to see it in our dishes. But we don’t know farmers’ hustle to produce it.

“From planting to harvest, even in storage, even in storage, this particular crop is loved by pests…,” he explained.

“What scientists were able to do with the help of biotechnology tools is to identify a particular gene responsible for resistance and it was introduced into crops.

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“Cowpea is one of them… It has helped make the cowpea resistant to the maruca pests,” he added.  

The application for environmental release follows almost 10 years of research.

Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Authority Eric Okoree says the authority is well-positioned to be able to appropriately scrutinize the GM cowpea and ensure it benefits Ghanaians.

“The authority was established in 2011 and implemented in 2015. As soon as it was established, the then biosafety committee gave two approvals for GM cowpea and GM rice. And the permits were given to the CSIR. The research has been ongoing, and the authority is monitoring it,” he said.

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“Now Ghana has a law in place to regulate GMOs. An authority has been established. And our aim is to ensure the safety of health and the environment. And when that is done, all the benefits of GMOs will be realised,” Mr Okoree added.

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Genetically Modified Corn Does Not Damage Non-Target Organisms

USDA Agricultural Research Service sent this bulletin at 06/06/2022 08:53 AM EDT

View as a webpageARS News ServiceARS News ServiceA field of cornA new major meta-analysis has found that Bt corn does not damage nontarget organisms. (Photo by Preston Keres)Genetically Modified Corn Does Not Damage Non-Target OrganismsFor media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-588-5314Maricopa, Ariz, June 6, 2022—The largest, highest quality analysis of data ever conducted reveals that genetically modified Bt corn has little impact on nontarget insects and other organisms, especially compared to growing conventional corn. This study was published today in Environmental Evidence by a USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist and his Swiss colleagues.Bt corn is corn that has been genetically modified so that it produces proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to control corn borers, corn rootworms and other major pests of corn. The first Bt corn was approved in 1996 and critics have been suggesting that it also can destroy beneficial insects or other non-targeted organisms.One of the issues with assessments of possible nontarget organism damage by Bt corn has been that each study was limited in scope, environment or size. The paper’s three authors have made up for these shortfalls by systematically pulling together data from studies in 12 bibliographic databases, 17 specialized webpages, and the reference sections of 78 review articles that all met the highest standards for research quality.”We gathered together hundreds of individual studies published between 1997 to 2020 that have looked at whether growing Bt corn changed the environmental abundance of non-target animals such as arthropods, earthworms and nematodes, especially as compared to growing non-genetically modified corn accompanied by the pesticide necessary to control major pests,” explained ARS entomologist Steve Naranjo, director of the Arid-Lands Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona and one of authors of the study.Naranjo and entomologists Joerg Romeis and Michael Meissle with Agroscope, ARS’ Swiss counterpart, found that this massive aggregation of data showed Bt corn had no negative effects on most invertebrate groups including ladybeetles, flower bugs, and lacewings. Populations of Braconidae insects, which are parasitoid wasps that prey on corn borers, were reduced with Bt corn.The researchers even examined if authorship or financial support by biotechnology companies affected the outcome of individual studies.”It might be a bit surprising but according to the analysis, when any negative effects by Bt corn on nontarget organisms were found in the data, they were attributed more often in studies with private sector support than when no backing by biotech companies was declared,” Meissle added.”But after all the number crunching was done, what we found was that, overall, Bt corn just does not have negative impacts on nontarget organisms,” said Naranjo.The quality standards for which studies would be included in the meta-analysis and which would be cut were outlined and vetted by stakeholders, scientists not involved in the meta-analysis project and even members of the journal’s review board, none of whom knew if any study’s data showed a negative impact on non-target organisms or not.The result is the largest pool of high-quality data anyone has ever analyzed for this purpose consisting of 7279 individual invertebrate records from 233 experiments in 120 articles, 75 percent of which were from peer-reviewed journals. The entire data set also has been published in BMC Research Notes.In summary, this major meta-analysis largely proved out previous individual studies. Bt corn represents a highly selective pest control technology with relatively few negative consequences for non-target invertebrates, especially when compared with the use of broad-spectrum insecticides for managing Bt-targeted pests, according to the scientists.The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.Interested in reading more about ARS research? Visit our news archiveU.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
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GMOs: The Nigerian Milestone As West Africa’s Launch Pad
AGRICULTURE
By Collins Nnabuife | Abuja On Jun 7, 2022

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The mere mention of the acronym GMO elicits some shivers in the nerves of most Africans. Although the body of knowledge on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is swelling, the naysayers are still holding a fair share of the people’s mind..

The reason is simple. Just like every bad news, to hear that GMOs are the causes of cancers and even other health conditions whose causes have been known for ages seems to have gained more popularity among the people than the problems they are solving.

It remains an absurd irony that the introduction of genetic engineering as a technological tool for solving some of the continent’s age-long problems like the persistent food crisis is being resisted by a group of people.

The anti-GMOs crusaders have used anecdotes to preach against the introduction of genetically engineered crops, saying they would result in adverse consequences on people and the environment. Incidentally, the preachers have failed to explain their deductions with scientific evidence.


Unknown to the people, the anti-GMOs may have been recruited by major producers of chemical inputs like fertilizers, herbicide and pesticides to enable them hold on to the market, despite evidence that persistent use of such has rendered most of Africa’s soils unproductive.

Countries in West Africa are losing millions in hard currencies to purchase   chemicals that are mostly substandard and can cause deaths and ageing among farmers struggling to keep insects and pests away from their crops.

The situation is worsened by low farm productivity due to increasing cases of insect and pest infestationand climate change.

The good news is that some countries like South Africa and Nigeria are turning these challenges into opportunities using biotechnology as the tool.

Scientists at Nigeria’s Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Kaduna State, have successfully incorporated the Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) genes into the Nigerian varieties of beans.

Sampea 20-T, the resultant product of painstaking scientific research, released in 2021 for commercialization after nine years of high-profile vetting and trials has proven to resist the damaging insect larva-Maruca vitratacommonly called butterfly.

Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, director general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the body that oversees and promotes biotechnology research and appropriate utilization in Nigeria, described the burden that the introduction of the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea has taken off the Nigerian farmer thus: “A farmer can loose everything he has cultivated to this damaging insect larvae- Maruca. This new variety, Sampea 20-T requires two to three sprays for a planting season to control the pest instead of spraying up to eight times as in the case of the local variety. This is the working of Biotechnology.”

Hitherto, the Bt Cotton was similarly released.

Prof Mustapha said both varieties of Genetically Modified Crops were developed and released by the scientific community to meet specific needs of the people and address some of the challenges that hitherto could not be mitigated using the conventional breeding methods.

Sub-Saharan Africa has, in recent times, recorded the most rapid rate of agricultural production growth since 2000 more than any other region of the world.

However, a 2021 Africa Agriculture Status Report 2021 by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), says three-quarters of this growth is driven by the expansion of crop land rather than yield increases.

The report cites threats such as persistent droughts, famine, locusts, fall armyworm (FAW), civil conflicts and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic as impediments to the continent’s progress in this regard.

As it stands, farmers in Africa cannot attain the yield potentials of popular legumes like cowpea when compared to other parts of the world. While farmers in the Americas, the West and Asia are getting over 10 tons per hectare of maize, farmers in Africa and particularly West Africa are still struggling to attain four tons per hectare.

According to a forecast by Statista, Africa’s total population would reach nearly 2.5 billion by 2050. This has prompted calls by stakeholders for Africa to take urgent steps to increase crop production without compromising the continent’s natural resources.

At the regional level, the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union Commission and the Africa Union Development Agency for several months last year spearheaded several meetings across the continent aimed at ensuring that developing African countries spoke in one voice at the UN’s extraordinary global Food Systems Summit.

Sequel to this meeting, Rwanda hosted the pan-Africa summit on Biotechnology this year.

At the sub-regional level, Nigeria has taken the lead in West Africa by adopting biotechnology, resulting in the release of Bt Cotton and the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea.

This was made possible by the efforts of NABDA through the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter with support from AATF.

Nigeria made history as the first country in Africa and the world at large to develop and release a cowpea variety that is resistant to the notorious Pod Borer, which has the capacity of destroying a whole beans farm.

Chronicling the milestone that led to the release of the PBR cowpea, the NABDA DG said, “Going down the history lane of Bt. Cowpea Project in Nigeria, NABDA in carrying out her mandate of biotechnology facilitation, and as a requisite for compliance to Biosafety Regulation, in 2010/2011, in partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation,  designed and constructed a level -2 containment facility, which was used for Biosafety containment studies at IAR, Zaria, where this project was developed.”

NABDA, with the support of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation also facilitated, funded and spearheaded the Biosafety Bill passage, a process that took nearly six years at the national Assembly before its eventual passage and subsequent assent by the President. This led to the creation of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) with pockets of technical supports from development partners including the AATF, USAID, USDA, PBS, AU-NEPAD/ABNE, Africa Harvest, Biotechnology International (AHBFI), Bayer International and Crop Life International.

This action provided an enabling and friendly regulatory environment as required by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which Nigeria signed and ratified in 2001/2002. Without this, Nigeria couldn’t have commercialized any genetically modified crop.

The Nigerian PBR cowpea success story has become a learning reference for other countries. The country is at the forefront of Biotechnology deployment and domestication in Agriculture, Health, Environment and Industry as a way of responding positively to the national aspirations on food security, job and wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery, industrialization and sustainable environment.

NABDA, through the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), the main Secretariat of the National Varietal Release Committee (NVRC), has released several improved varieties of crops including Bt Cowpea and Bt Cotton, livestock and fisheries.

According to Prof. Mustapha, Nigeria is expecting the release of the third GM crop, Tela Maize, developed for drought tolerance and insect resistance (Stem borer and Fall army worm) in the coming years.

Meanwhile, local scientists in Ghana and Burkina Faso have gone far with the development of PBR cowpea. Unfortunately, they await independent country-specific regulatory approvals for release.

In Ghana, though the crop and others being developed by scientists have gone through various stages of evaluation and field trials, none has been commercialized.

Currently, an application submitted by the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) on the PBR cowpea awaits approval from National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Ghana’s GMO regulatory body that was set up after Ghana passed the Biosafety Act (831) in 2011.

The argument by experts is that West African borders are so merged that it would be difficult to prevent trans-border flow of the Nigerian PBR cowpea, hence the need to ride on the Nigerian process to institute a sub-regional template that could fast-track approvals across countries. Gladly, most countries within the sub-region share similarities in geography, eating culture and food preference.

Lead, Product Stewardship at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Onyekachi Francis, stated how this could be achieved in his presentation during the Nigeria-Ghana Biotechnology and Biosafety stakeholders forum held in Abuja.

He listed some of the prerequisites to include the creation of Shrink Wrap Contract which contains the geography of release on seed packet and labelling obligation, proper documentation on Biosafety Clearinghouse (BCH), License obligation to seed companies as well as health and safety of farm workers.

Other considerations he said could make a sub-regional framework reliable include trainings to explain risk and mitigation measures, implementation of product stewardship to ensure product integrity, quality and long-term benefit, while suggesting that there is need to build strong stakeholder and political support in West African to promote the adoption of PBR Cowpea.

YOU SHOULD NOT MISS THESE FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
https://tribuneonlineng.com/gmos-the-nigerian-milestone-as-west-africas-launch-pad/

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New research confirms that GM corn is safe for beneficial insects

Joan Conrow | Cornell Alliance for Science | June 9, 2022

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Credit: Edwin Remsberg
Credit: Edwin Remsberg

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news,
opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

Growing genetically modified (GM) corn has virtually no impact on the abundance or ecological function of beneficial insects, according to an extensive review of existing research.

And it is far less harmful to non-target organisms than growing corn through conventional methods, where insecticides are used to fight off pests that can destroy the crop, the study found. It was conducted by a researcher with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) and his Swiss colleagues.

The meta-analysis, published in the journal Environmental Evidence, attempted to address concerns raised by critics of GM corn, including contentions that previous assessments of potential impacts were limited in scope.

screenshot pm

In response, researchers reviewed hundreds of international studies published between 1997 to 2020 that looked at whether growing genetically modified Bt corn changed the abundance of non-target animals such as arthropods, earthworms and nematodes.

“But after all the number crunching was done, what we found was that, overall, Bt corn just does not have negative impacts on nontarget organisms,” said Steve Naranjo, an ARS entomologist and director of the Arid-Lands Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona, who co-authored the study.

Bt corn controls harmful insect pests by producing proteins from a common soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that is also used for pest management in organic farming. It is the most widely grown GM crop in the world. While Bt corn is successful in warding off attacks by corn borers, corn rootworms and other major corn pests, it has no negative effects on ladybeetles, flower bugs, lacewings and other non-target insects, researchers found.

The analysis compiled the largest pool of high-quality data ever analyzed for the purpose of assessing GM corn’s impact on non-target organisms. The data set, comprising 7,279 individual invertebrate records from 233 experiments in 120 articles, three-quarters of which were published in peer-reviewed journals, was published in BMC Research Notes.

The researchers also investigated claims that studies showing no impact were authored by scientists working for companies that produce GM seeds and so might have conflicts of interest.

“It might be a bit surprising, but according to the analysis, when any negative effects by Bt corn on nontarget organisms were found in the data they were attributed more often in studies with private sector support than when no backing by biotech companies was declared,” said co-author Michael Meissle, a senior scientist with Agroscope, ARS’ Swiss counterpart.

In a further attempt to ensure the impartiality and thoroughness of the review, scientists who were not involved in the meta-analysis project, various stakeholders and members of the journal’s review board vetted the quality standards for which studies would be included in the meta-analysis. None of them knew whether any particular study’s data showed a negative impact on non-target organisms, helping avoid inadvertent bias.

“The effects of Bt maize on the community of non-target invertebrates inhabiting maize fields were small and mostly neutral, especially when compared with the effects of broad-spectrum pyrethroid insecticide treatments,” the authors concluded.

Joan Conrow has more than 35 years of experience as a journalist and editor. She specializes in environmental issues, biotechnology, and agriculture, and is especially interested in how these highly charged topics are playing out globally. Joan holds a BA in history and journalism and is certified in beekeeping, mediation, and facilitation. Find Joan on Twitter @joanconrow

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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