Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: July 24, 2006
* Biotech white corn increases to South Africans' food security
* Next up for biotech: Virus-resistant trees
* New "Jeanne" Gooseberry Resists Diseases
* Roundup Ready beets shine in tour
* Fruit in space
* SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN AFRICA: FROM IDEAS TO ACTION
* Could frankencacao ensure a sweet future?
* First major cargo of U.S. corn sails for China
* Genetically modified plant produces insulin
* Real risks, irrelevant risks
* Seed capital to help scientists develop drought-proof wheat
Biotech white corn increases to South Africans' food security
- CGFI, By Dennis Avery, July 24, 2006
Who says biotech crops help only big farmers?
In South Africa, small farmers have gained important food security by shifting to genetically modified varieties of their staple food, white corn, because it resists the corn borers that abound in South Africa's sub-tropics. Biotech farmers have harvested more than a month's worth of additional food for their families.
A recent study found that the Bt corn yielded four times as much grain as the farmers' own saved seeds, and 21 to 62 percent more grain than an improved corn variety without the Bt. This was during a relatively dry year, when the yields were low enough to be critical for food security. The biotech corn also produced far more high-quality kernels.
In one relatively dry year, the South African farmers averaged 63 kg of corn per kg of their own saved corn seeds. They harvested 187 kg from each kg they planted of conventional improved corn seed, and a whopping 246 kg from each kg of biotech seed.
The Bt corn actually raises yields by a higher percentage during rain-abundant years, when the corn borers are more active. However, the yield gain is less critical to the farm family in the wetter, better-yielding years.
The additional yield is vitally important because a farm's food shortfall must be covered by corn meal purchased from millers at much higher prices than the farmer usually gets for surplus grain.
The farmers judged that only about 15 percent of their corn from saved seed produced "excellent" kernels, and got just 23 percent "excellent" kernels from the conventional improved seed. The biotech corn, however, yielded 70 percent "excellent" kernels. The biotech variety isn't particularly known for its tasty kernels, so it is likely that the farmers were heavily influenced by the lack of visible worm damage, or even the worms themselves, present in the corn meal.
Biotech corn contains a natural toxin engineered into its tissues -- "Bt" or Bacillus Thuringiensis -- which is dangerous to caterpillars but not to people. The Bt protects the corn from borers more effectively and safely than any sprayed insecticide. It is even one of the pesticides approved for organic farmers, and has been used safely for 50 years.
Since the biotech seed costs more than conventional seed corn, the farmer loses his additional investment in years when the borer pressure is light. However, South African farmers can't easily predict when the borers will be bad. The borers attack according to a complex relationship involving rainfall, rainfall timing, and the maturity dates of the corn. Dry growing seasons generally have lighter borer infestations, but a dry planting season may turn into a wet growing season.
South African farmers are now planting more than a million acres per year to biotech crops, mostly corn, cotton and soybeans. Bethuel Gumede, a small farmer who plants cotton with the Bt gene, says, "I get enough yield with this type of new cotton -- close to 30 to 40 bales on 3 hectares -- that I'm able to pay school fees for my kids and to save some of the money so I can plant the next season."
The higher yields from the biotech crops also mean it will take less farmland to feed and clothe Africa's expanding human population in the years ahead -- an important factor in protecting Africa's unique wildlife.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and is the Director for Center for Global Food Issues. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. Readers may write ghim at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.
Next up for biotech: Virus-resistant trees
USDA officials, growers brace for public's reaction
- Des Moines Register, By Philip BRASHER, July 23, 2006
Washington, D.C. - When a virus was discovered in Jim Lerew's Pennsylvania peach orchard in 1999, all 160 acres of trees had to be destroyed.
He hasn't planted any replacement trees since then for fear the virus would attack them, too.
The only way to halt the spread of the virus is to destroy the entire orchard that is infected, and that's a risk a grower can't afford to take when an acre of fruit trees can be worth $10,000.
"That's a difficult situation to get enthused about planting under," Lerew says.
But the government soon could approve the first fruit trees that have been genetically engineered to resist this virus, known as the plum pox, which attacks several types of trees, including plums, apricots, peaches and cherries.
It will be a milestone for agricultural biotechnology, which has so far mostly been limited to field crops like corn, soybeans and cotton.
The biotech trees also are unusual in that they were developed in the public sector and through collaboration between scientists in the United States and Europe, where the virus has destroyed 100 million trees.
Scientists found that trees can be made immune to the virus by inserting into the trees a gene from a virus protein.
Similar work earlier on papayas has been credited with saving Hawaii's papaya industry.
"I think it's a step in the right direction," Lerew says of the advance in biotechnology. "You still have to grow a piece of fruit that the consumer desires."
You also have to persuade the public to accept the idea of genetically engineered fruit.
"It's not a problem unless the consumers find out about it, which they probably will," says Lerew. "But we have to get over that."
The trees were developed by scientists who work for an arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department - the Agricultural Research Service. Another division of USDA - the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - will decide whether the trees, dubbed Honeysweet, are safe for the environment and public health and can be commercialized.
If the trees are approved for commercialization - and that appears likely - USDA would then offer to license the technology to tree producers.
USDA has received hundreds of letters and e-mails from people who argue that the pollen from the trees could contaminate conventional or organic orchards or that there isn't enough known about the safety of genetically engineered food.
The critics also don't like that USDA is both the developer and the regulator of the technology.
A typical concern in the comments to USDA: "People who care about what they eat do not want foods that have been tinkered with in their food supply."
The scientists at USDA responsible for evaluating the safety of the trees concluded that there is no danger to the environment.
Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California-Davis, agrees. Extensive trials of the trees over the past decade have shown that they are both safe and effective, he wrote USDA.
But the question still remains about whether consumers will buy biotech fruit.
A fresh peach, after all, is not quite the same as, say, soy lecithin or corn oil, food ingredients derived from crops that are genetically modified.
"Consumers probably feel a little bit differently about things they consume directly, fresh fruits and vegetables," says Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
New "Jeanne" Gooseberry Resists Diseases
- ARS, By Laura McGinnis, July 20, 2006
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed and released a new disease- and pest-resistant dessert gooseberry called "Jeanne."
Sweet and sturdy, this new high-quality, late-fruiting gooseberry was developed by ARS scientists at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository (NCGR) in Corvallis, Ore. Jeanne is named for a former NCGR employee.
Gooseberry production is limited in the United States, partially due to restrictions imposed in the last century. Like other Ribes species, gooseberries are generally susceptible to white pine blister rust. While the disease causes them little harm, it can be devastating--even fatal--to pine trees.
Jeanne gooseberries are highly resistant to white pine blister rust and to powdery mildew, the biggest disease threat to U.S. gooseberry production.
The plant's robustness protects it from insect threats as well. Jeanne is highly resistant to pests like aphids and sawflies. This and its high-quality fruit make it ideal for home plantings or commercial gooseberry production in the Pacific Northwest and similarly temperate climate zones.
How does Jeanne measure up against other cultivars? According to NCGR research leader Kim Hummer, the plant produces green berries which ripen to a deep red as they mature to their full size of about 5 grams. Jeanne also boasts a higher yield than similar cultivars such as Invicta and Captivator, producing about 3.3 pounds of the flavorful fruits per plant during the growing season.
Scientists project that Jeanne, whose dark, sweet berries are well suited to desserts, juices and jams, could extend the production season because it blooms and produces fruit about one to two weeks later than other red gooseberry plants.
The NCGR has provided Jeanne plant material to several nurseries that will propagate the gooseberry for homeowners. Cuttings and rooted cuttings are available for research. Interested scientists should contact Hummer.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
Roundup Ready beets shine in tour
- Ag Weekly, By Scott Kraus, July 21, 2006
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A tour of Roundup Ready sugar beet fields in the Twin Falls area this week showed the significant impact of the genetically modified beets.
Vastly fewer weeds grew in the Roundup Ready crops treated with Roundup than in the standard beet fields treated with traditional herbicides.
The commercial demonstration plantings consist of four pivots of beets, with each pivot’s coverage area split between Roundup Ready beets and standard beets, said Thomas Schwartz, executive vice president of the Beet Sugar Development Foundation in Denver, Colo.
The group, which represents beet sugar processors and beet seed-related companies in the United States and Canada, contracted with Amalgamated Sugar Co. in Boise for the 540 acres of demonstration plantings.
“In my opinion, I couldn’t have asked for a better result as far as weed control,” Schwartz said.
The beets are genetically modified to resist Roundup, which would kill standard sugar beets. And the use of Roundup can replace many of the harsher chemicals that producers now use. The goal is to save farmers money on herbicides, tillage and fuel.
And that’s crucial. Schwartz said the price producers get for their product hasn’t changed in 20 years. But production costs have risen.
“To keep our growers viable, we’ve got to build some more profitability into it,” he said.
One grower for Amalgamated Sugar Co. has previously estimated potentially significant savings from using the beets on his farm near Rupert. Duane Grant estimates his savings could run as high as $80 an acre, depending on seed costs.
While the savings figures on the recent demonstration plantings aren’t in, the effectiveness of the weed control was easy to see on a field east of Twin Falls run by Grant & Hagan Farms. The standard beet field had a significant number of visible weeds, while the Roundup Ready field had hardly any.
“They’re performing great,” farmer Rocky Hagan said.
He said the modified-beet field had just two sprayings of Roundup. The standard field had three applications of standard herbicides. And it’s not uncommon for fields to get a pre-emergence treatment and four post-emergence herbicide sprayings, Hagan said.
Not only was the weed control better in the modified beets, but the Roundup didn’t set the beets back like standard herbicides, such as Betamix and Progress. In fact, if the weather is wrong, the standard chemicals can kill the beets, he said.
“With your conventional herbicides like we’ve been using, timing is everything,” Hagan said.
But if a third spraying of Roundup were needed, he wouldn’t hesitate to apply it for fear of setting back the growth of the beets.
“When your beets are under stress, I feel like we can spray them with Roundup a lot easier than what we’re using now,” he said.
Further, the Roundup beets require fewer trips across the field. That saves money on fuel, in addition to herbicide. They also require less tillage to control weeds, which saves money, Hagan said.
Amalgamated plans to check the cost performance of the modified beets on the demonstration fields after harvest, said Vic Jaro, Amalgamated’s agricultural manager. They’ll also look at the environmental impact, growth characteristics and other issues.
Then Amalgamated will process the sugar from the modified field last at a plant, after all the standard beets have been processed. Afterward, the sugar from the modified beets will go in with the rest of the company’s sugar for sale.
The Roundup Ready beets have all the required approvals for use in human and animal consumption in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Schwartz said. And applications are submitted to the European Union and other countries.
He doesn’t expect any market backlash from the use of the modified beets. The sugar they produce is identical to sugar from standard beets. And acceptance of modified crops has been growing.
“I think in general it’s accepted — especially in the U.S. — much more than 10 years ago,” Schwartz said.
But it’s hard to say when Amalgamated growers will switch more widely to the modified beets, Jaro said. The Roundup beets will still have to provide similar sugar content and yield. They also have to resist curly top and rhizomania, two common diseases in the area. So it’s difficult to estimate when more producers will switch.
Meanwhile, one concern about using genetically modified plants has been clear. That is, can the crop cross-pollinate with weeds and thereby create weeds that resist Roundup? But that is extremely unlikely to happen with sugar beets, said Paulette Pierson, technical manager of the Roundup Ready sugar beet program for Monsanto Co. in St. Louis.
Sugar beets develop over the course of two years and don’t flower until their second year. But they are always harvested in their first year, when there are no flowers, she said. So they can’t cross-pollinate.
Further, there are no weed species in the area that cross with sugar beets. And the Roundup can be used at a full rate to kill all the weeds, leaving none behind to pass on any resistance. But the existing standard herbicides generally need to go on at a lower rate to avoid setting back the beets, she said. That can leave more weeds behind, increasing the chances for resistance to develop and get passed along.
Just the ability to spray Roundup on the modified beets without worrying about hurting them is valuable, Hagan said.
“Peace of mind is worth a lot,” he said.
Fruit in space
- Scenta, July 24, 2006
China plans to launch a satellite for the purpose of developing super space-enhanced fruit and vegetables.
Is space fertile for crops?
The country is looking for ways to strengthen their food production.
Recoverable satellite Shijian-8 is set for space in a Long March 2C rocket.
The launch date is expected for early September.
As part of a two-week mission, 2,000 seeds will be exposed to cosmic radiation and micro-gravity.
“The ‘seed satellite’ will enable scientists to try to cultivate high-yield and high-quality plants,” Sun Laiyan, head of the China National space Administration, told China Daily.
"Exposed to special environment such as cosmic radiation and micro-gravity, some seeds will mutate to such an extent that they may produce much higher yields and improved quality," the newspaper added.
The mission will include nine types of seeds, such as grains, cash crops and forage plants.
It is not the first time China has experimented with space-affected seeds – the paper claims that rice and wheat seeds have been exposed to the universe and have been shown to increase yields.
For example, space-bred tomatoes and green pepper seeds has improved harvest between 10 and 20 per cent compared to ordinary seeds and have also resulted in a higher vitamin count, it added.
The Shijian-8 mission, however, will be the first that is solely dedicated to seeds.
China has also pursued genetically modified crops (GMO) to feed its 1.3 billion people.
GMO tomatoes, soy beans and corn are already in production, and further genetically modified rice production is also planned.
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN AFRICA: FROM IDEAS TO ACTION
August 16, 2006
Organisation: Sustainable Development Network
City: Johannesburg, South Africa
Most African countries currently suffer from very low agricultural yields compared to the rest of the world. Since a large proportion of the continent’s inhabitants are subsistence farmers, these low yields contribute to a lack of economic development, poverty, and high levels of infant mortality and premature childhood deaths.At the same time, opponents of modern agriculture – including both domestic and foreign NGOs, ideologues and policymakers – have promoted policies that perpetuate the low yieldsand returns which are characteristic to subsistence agriculture. Similarly, African government policies towards agriculture have tended to be biased towards the politically connected elite rather than poor rural producers.This half-day conference will focus on issues and challenges relating to the practice of sustainable agriculture in Africa, including
The use of modern agricultural technologies — or lack thereof.
Successes and failures in terms of enhancing productivity, food security and nutrition and economic development relating to agriculture.
Public policies towards agriculture and farmers — both domestic and external.
To attend, and for further information email events(at)sdnetwork.net or call Lyn Stidworthy, +27 11 884 0270
Moeletsi Mbeki, South African Institute of International Affairs
Hon. Ruth Oniang’o, MP, Government of Kenya, Professor, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
• Mike Burgess, agronomist, South Africa
• Franklin Cudjoe, Imani, Ghana
• Michael Foster, Sasakawa Global 2000, Uganda
• Tamala Tonga Kambikambi, School of Agricultural Science, University of Zambia
• Cosmas Kyengo, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya
• Lewis Njeru, Somalia Water and Land Information (SWALIM) project, FAO, Somalia
• Leon Louw, Free Market Foundation, South Africa
• James Shikwati, Inter Region Economic Network, Kenya
• Douglas Southgate, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Ohio State University
Cacao Under Fire
Could frankencacao ensure a sweet future?
- Red Herring, July 17, 2006
Tamiflu isn’t the only thing worth stockpiling these days. The world looks like it’s on the verge of a chocolate shortage, and biotech could help—if the chocolate industry could modify its stand on genetically modified foods.
The cacao plant, from which chocolate is produced, is under threat from rapidly spreading pathogens. Today 20 percent of the world’s cacao beans are lost to disease, about $4 billion worth—or $75 billion when that amount of beans is converted into chocolate.
But the shrinking global total could be cut by another 25 percent again, according to Randy Ploetz, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida, if two different diseases spread from the Americas to West Africa.
They go by the names of frosty pod and witches’ broom. Both diseases are limited to the Americas but could easily jump the Atlantic on the backs of traders and tourists. “If they made it over to West Africa they could cause real problems,” says Mr. Ploetz. About 70 percent of the world’s cacao pods hang from trees in the region—and most of those hang in the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cacao producer.
The two diseases have left a trail of destruction in Latin America. When witches’ broom turned up in Brazil in 1989 it cut production by 75 percent, and pushed it down in the cacao league tables from second most important producer to fifth.
And frosty pod is now wreaking the same devastation, says Mr. Ploetz. It has moved from Nicaragua to Mexico in the last five years.
So far the chocolate industry is shying away from biotech solutions, convinced its reigning connoisseurs in Belgium would not stomach a frankencacao solution. “In other crops GM variants have shown that you can have better resistance to disease,” notes Mr. Ploetz. “There’s no reason to think that wouldn’t work with cacao.”
With concern about the pathogens only increasing, disease experts plan a symposium later this month to coincide with a joint meeting of the American and Canadian Phytopathological Societies, and the Mycological Society of America set for July 29 to August 2 in Quebec City.
If a biotech company out there can solve the problem, it would be helping chocolate lovers worldwide, not to mention cacao growers in West Africa. At the moment, the field seems wide open: GM giant Monsanto, for one, isn’t working on a solution.
First major cargo of U.S. corn sails for China
- Reuters, July 21, 2006
The first significant shipment of U.S. corn to China in years is making its way across the Pacific Ocean, opening the door to a potentially lucrative market, U.S. grain and shipping sources said on Wednesday.
The 52,000 tonnes of genetically modified U.S. corn will arrive in the northern port of Qingdao on the vessel Ermis around July 28, the sources said. The vessel left Kalama, Washington, on July 10, port records showed.
The corn is for Xiwang Sugar Holdings Co. Ltd. <2088.HK>, one of China's top corn sweetener producers. Traders believe Toepfer International sold the corn but the company's grain traders would not comment.
"New business is always welcome but no one thinks it's going to be huge at this point," said John Crabb of TradeWest Brokerage Co. in Beaverton, Oregon. "In future years, they are forecast to be a net importer."
China's growing industrial uses for corn could push imports to 10 million tonnes a year by 2010, said the state-backed Chinese Cereals and Oils Association. At current U.S. prices, the corn would cost $1.2 billion.
The United States is the world's largest exporter of corn, followed by Argentina and until recently China.
China curtailed corn exports in March as domestic prices <0#ASCORN-CN> climbed due to strong feed and industrial demand.
China, the world's most populous nation, is consuming more milk, meat and eggs and using corn to make alternative fuels and industrial products.
"Everyone is hoping that market opens up for corn like China did for soybeans," said a source who handles freight for grain shipments from the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
China became a large, consistent importer of U.S. soybeans starting in 1992 and is now the No. 1 buyer, said the U.S. Soybean Export Council.
China spent $2.25 billion last year buying about a third of all U.S. soybean exports, U.S. Agriculture Department data showed.
CHINA PROCEEDING SLOWLY
Chinese firms have been cautious about importing U.S. corn, due to government regulations and volatility in the commodity markets.
Companies have tested the government's reaction by importing containers that hold 100 tonnes of U.S. corn. Xiwang, in the northern province of Shandong, was the first company to book an entire Panamax cargo.
China's import tax and duties of 14 percent are also likely to limit the amount of corn imported. Xiwang can avoid the taxes because it exports finished products.
China is buying U.S. corn at a time when U.S. plantings are forecast to fall and demand from U.S. ethanol plants is booming due to the high price of crude oil.
Corn futures at the Chicago Board of Trade hit a 10-month high in May and the December 2007 contract remains above $3 a bushel.
Genetically modified plant produces insulin
- AFP, 20 July 2006
OTTAWA, 20 July 2006 - Almost a century after two Canadians first discovered insulin, a Canadian company claimed a breakthrough on Wednesday in commercial production of the hormone from genetically modified safflower plants.
The development is expected to make the drug cheaper to make and thus more widely available for diabetics around the world, said SemBioSys Genetics' chief executive Andrew Baum.
"Diabetes is an explosive disease around the world. There is a lot more people requiring insulin," he said. "We believe our technology will be able to meet greater demand on the world market."
At present, pharmaceutical companies use genetically engineered bacteria and yeast to produce synthetic insulin in vats. Previously, insulin was extracted from pigs.
But SemBioSys said it has found a way to genetically manipulate seed oils to make proteins for use in drugs or foods.
Its scientists inserted a human insulin gene into a safflower plant - which is similar to the sunflower - and recovered human insulin from the seeds once the plant had matured.
The company says it can now produce more than one kilogram of human insulin per acre (0.4 hectares) of safflower planted - enough to treat 2,500 diabetic patients.
"We believe that we can reduce capital cost (of manufacturing insulin) by a minimum of 70 per cent and we can reduce cost of goods by a minimum of 40 per cent and potentially substantially more," Baum said.
SemBioSys, however, must still prove that its insulin is safe and demonstrate that it works as well as any insulin currently on the market to control blood glucose levels.
As well, the small firm must secure substantial financing to market its technology.
Animal tests are expected to be completed by the end of the year, followed by human clinical trials in 2007 and 2008, Baum said.
If all goes well, SemBioSys' insulin could hit pharmacy shelves by 2010, the company said.
There are more than 175 million diabetes sufferers in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, and that figure is expected to double by 2030, with increasingly global obesity.
Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin in 1921.
Real risks, irrelevant risks
- Washington Times, By Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes, July 23, 2006
Few parents want themselves or their children to be prescribed drugs that cause anemia, nausea, diarrhea, increased infection risks, fertility problems, fetal defects, hair loss and even death. But when those chemotherapy drugs mean not dying from cancer, it's an easy choice. That's the situation facing Africa -- only for us it's not cancer. Our concern is malaria, which infects nearly 400 million of us, and kills 1 million of our precious children, every single year.
We desperately need the African equivalent of chemo drugs -- DDT and other insecticides -- to prevent this terrible disease. Thankfully, the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Health Organization and other agencies are helping us launch spraying programs. Just spraying tiny amounts of DDT on walls keeps 90 percent of mosquitoes from even entering homes, irritates those that come in so they don't bite, and kills any that land -- for six months or more. No other chemical, at any price, can do that.
But chemical-hating activists continue to oppose these lifesaving programs and raise constantly changing "concerns" like: "Some researchers think DDT could be inhibiting lactation and might be related to premature births, low birth weights and slow reflexes in babies."
Recently, the University of California-Berkeley and Los Angeles Times reported that "very high exposure" to DDT can cause mental test scores in 2-year-olds to drop slightly. They say this minor problem may disappear by the time the children enter school -- but still urged that Africa consider "alternative antimalarial controls" and "balance" risks carefully against benefits.
However, these concerns aren't even relevant to Africa. No one is talking about massive DDT spraying for agriculture, or even insect control. We're talking about limited, controlled spraying on walls of houses.
There are no viable "alternatives." Nothing works as well as DDT, does what it does, for as long, or at such a low price. Moreover, every chemical has risks. In fact, DDT is 100 times less toxic to humans than nicotine in cigarettes, just as safe as the pyrethroids used in agriculture and mosquito control, and far less toxic than chemotherapy drugs, say experts like Dr. Donald Roberts, professor of tropical disease at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
Antimalaria drugs are also powerful chemicals. Fansidar can cause severe vomiting and lung and liver damage. Chloroquine (which no longer even works well) has harmful effects; and even Artemisia-based drugs have neurological side effects. People aren't just exposed to them. Babies, little children, pregnant women and old people alike must ingest them every time they get malaria.
Bed nets are impregnated with pyrethroids, to make them kill mosquitoes -- and people have to sleep under them, breathing in the vapors and rubbing their skin against the nets.
Researchers and activists have never studied or compared these side effects, or evaluated their risks and benefits. Nor have they recommended taking these products (or chemotherapy drugs) off the market -- which would be shortsighted and tragic.
A half-billion people worldwide get acute malaria every year. Hundreds of thousands are left with permanent brain damage. Up to 2 million die.
Schoolchildren ages 6-14 who suffered more than five malaria attacks scored 15 percent lower than those who had fewer than three attacks, researchers from Sri Lanka and the WHO found. The impact of DDT on children in the Berkeley study was trivial by comparison.
I have had malaria more than a dozen times. I lost my son, two sisters and three nephews to it. My nephew Noel got malaria at age 2 and is still four years behind high school boys his age in reading and writing skills, because it affected his mental powers so horribly. My brother Joseph used to help in an office and with complex farming tasks, but his mind no longer works well because of cerebral malaria.
Many mothers have anemia, premature births and tiny babies because of malaria, and many people die from other diseases they would survive if they weren't so weakened by malaria. These tragedies are repeated all over Africa, Asia and Latin America.
How can this possibly be compared to a couple points in mental tests for 2-year-olds? Africans must use every available weapon to combat malaria, our biggest killer of children. We cannot afford to let a million of our children die every year, while we look for a vaccine, better drugs or alternatives to DDT.
What we need are risk-benefit studies comparing mothers and children in communities where DDT is used, versus where it is not used -- assessing days absent from work or school, days severely ill, mental impairment, financial well-being, expenditures on anti-malaria medicines, and deathrates.
We need to calculate the value of those lives affected by being sick with malaria for weeks every year ... of mental capacity lost due to malaria... of 1.5 million African lives lost every year. Even at $1,000 to $10,000 per life, the impact of malaria -- and the value of DDT -- is monumental.
This month, another malaria outbreak hit the Kabale district in southern Uganda. More than 6,000 people were admitted to clinics in just one week. A spraying program with Icon (a pyrethroid also used in agriculture, and which thus can quickly breed mosquito resistance) resulted in the deaths of two students. That is terrible, but last year 70,000 Ugandans died from malaria. In 65 years, DDT never killed anyone.
Should we stop spraying, to prevent more deaths from Icon or possible learning delays from using DDT -- and sacrifice another 70,000 Ugandans again this year?
Yes, there are risks in using DDT -- or other antimalaria weapons. But the risk of not using them is infinitely greater. One-sided studies and news stories frighten people into not using the most effective weapons in our arsenal -- and millions pay the ultimate price. That is unconscionable.
Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes is coordinator of the Congress of Racial Equality in Uganda and a tireless advocate for effective, life-saving malaria control.
Seed capital to help scientists develop drought-proof wheat
- THE AGE (Melbourne, Australia), Philip Hopkins, July 24, 2006
Australian farmers may no longer have to face perennial fears of drought wiping out their incomes. Victorian biotechnology researchers are busy trying to create a strain of wheat that is resistant to droughts and fungal diseases. BASF Plant Science, a world leader in plant biotechnology, recently awarded a $A28m contract to the Molecular Plant Breeding Co-operative Research Centre, based at Melbourne's La Trobe University. After a global search, BASF concluded the centre was the best facility in the world to conduct complex wheat research. The seven-year project will begin in the laboratory before several years of field trials. Up to half of all the world's wheat production, worth $US17bn annually, takes place in drought-prone areas