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August 27, 2008


Improved seeds in Africa; Lasers aid seed development; French trials wiped out


* Improved seeds help boost crop production
* Scientists call for EA legal framework
* GCC to draft new rules for GM foods
* Lasers in seed development
* Bt: two papers
* E-learning master in Biosafety
* Activists destroy Monsanto GM trials


Improved seeds help boost crop production

- Deogratias Mushi, Daily News (Dar es Salaam), Aug. 20, 2008


ACCORDING to the Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Stephen Wasira, more than 90 per cent of farmers in the country use recycled seeds, which invariably have very low production.

Mr Wasira said this last week, when he was opening a workshop on the seed industry development in Tanzania. He said that the requirements of improved seed in the country is about 100,000 metric tons per annum, actual sales are less that 13,000 tons annually.

Citing example, the minister said that while about 9,080 tons of maize seed are planted each year, only 5,100 tones of improved maize are sold annually.

Low use of improved seed in the country, says Mr Wasira, attributes to various challenges like low investment in the seed industry, weak distribution of marketing system and higher price of seed.

Others are weak extension system, lack of credit facilities, inadequate seed quality control and ineffective application of official regulations.

About 80 participants to the workshop were told of government initiatives to revamp the agriculture which could fail to deliver the expected results without the use of improved seeds.

According to Mr Wasira, any endeavour to increase agricultural and production would be a useless attempt without the availability of improved planting materials.

He adds that through the use of improved seed and other crop husbandry practices, farmers could increase farm productivity, and eventually alleviate poverty.

That is the reason why the minister explained that despite the strategic position of the agriculture sector in the country's economy, its performance has been low, registering growth rate of four per cent to five per cent per annum, during the past years.

"For the agricultural sector to significantly contribute to the economic growth and poverty reduction, it must grow by at least 10 per cent annually. This would contribute to the realisation of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving poverty and food insecurity by 2015," says Mr Wasira.

Mr Peniel Lyimo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, says the government is committed and will continue to put in place an enabling policy and legal framework for the development of a vibrant private sector in the seed industry in the country.

He says that under the liberalisation of the seed industry, the private sector has a role to play in building an effective seed production and marketing system that enables farmers to have access to quality seed and timely.

"The seed industry is quite vital for the agricultural development in the country," says Mr Lyimo, adding that the sector needs some improvement in order to meet the expectations of its stakeholders -- the Tanzanian farmers.

No doubt that agriculture is the single most important sector in the country, over 85 per cent of the population live in the rural areas and earn their living through subsistence farming.

The agriculture sector, according to Mr Lyimo, is the main source of food supply in the country, accounting for over 95 per cent of the total supplies. The sector also accounts for about 26 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Mr Lyimo says that the government has initiated a number of measures to improve agricultural sector in the country, saying that the government approved the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) in 2001, whose objective is to achieve a sustainable agricultural growth through transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

"To implement ASDS, the government launched the Agricultural Sectoral Development Programme (ASDP) in 2006, and revitilasation of the extension services in 2007/2008. The government has also through the alliance of Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), established a network of rural agro dealers," says Mr Lyimo.

The government has put in place some measures to improve the quality seeds production, including the liberalisation of the seed industry in 1990, in order to allow the private sector to participate fully in the production, distribution and marketing of seeds in the country.

The enactment of the Plant Breeders' Right Legislation in 2002 to guarantee incentives to plant breeders in the public and private sector is aimed to increase efforts in the development of new crop varieties for use by farmers.

Efforts to improve seeds production have also been made through the establishment of the Tanzania Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), established under the Seed Act of 2003, with the mandate to enforce the seed Law.

Dr Isaac Minde, a Tanzanian working with an international organisation in Zimbabwe, also says that efforts to revamp the extension services in order to increase farmers access to advisory services and increased investment in seed breeding, are some of the efforts that can help farmers improve their skills.

Dr Minde says that there is need to increase training and empowerment to district seed inspectors to facilitate them in their work. He says that collaboration between the government and the private sector is vital in addressing relevant policy issues.

Under the liberalisation policy, the private sector has a big role to play in building an effective seed production and marketing system that enables farmers to have access to quality seed adequately and at affordable prices.

The same sector should consider increasing efficiency in seed production and marketing to avail farmers with seeds at affordable prices, as well as increase domestic seed production and distribution to lower distribution costs, hence, lower the prices to farmers.

Private seed companies can also forge partnerships with rural agro-dealers to avail seeds close to farming communities. They should also work with the extension system to carry out seed/fertilizer demonstrations centres across the country through farm field schools.

They should also exercise internal quality control measures and industry code of conduct, to make sure farmers get quality seeds and value for money.


Scientists call for EA legal framework

- New Vision (Kampala, Uganda), Aug. 26, 2008


Ugandan scientists have asked the East African Community to adopt a single policy for Genetically Modified (GM) products.

The executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Dr. Peter Ndebere, made the call during a workshop held at Imperial Royal Hotel recently.

"Our countries have similar challenges. Having the same policy for GMS will help improve our farming as well as fight household famine and poverty," Ndebere said.

Apart from increasing agricultural yields, scientists claim the biotechnology policy and law will help the Government decide whether or not to approve commercialisation of genetically modified products.

"We share borders; if other countries like Kenya legalise biotech products, by all means such products will cross to Uganda.

How will Uganda stop entry of these products into the country minus a law?" he asked.

Dr. Roshan Abdullah, a scientist from the East African Community-Arusha, said all the East African countries were in the process of drafting policies on biotech but were all at different stages. Kenya and Tanzania are ahead of the rest.

Although scientists are advocating a single policy, most countries still have a problem convincing the environmentalists that genetically modified products shall not be harmful to the public.

The state minister for environment, Jessica Eriyo, said the Government was positive about the idea of having a law on biotechnology because it will help control the influx of the genetically modified products especially from the developed world.

Although the policy is not yet out, scientists in Uganda have already embarked on the use of biotechnology and biosafety technique at a research level.


GCC to draft new rules for GM foods

- Mahmoud Habboush, The National (Abu Dhabi), Aug. 26, 2008


New regulations include labeling requirements to inform consumer choice.

ABU DHABI // Gulf nations are drafting rules to govern foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, marking the Government's first attempt to regulate the industry.

Yesterday, a GCC subcommittee met in the capital to set the agenda for the drafting of regulations to control the testing, production and entry into the region of GM foods.

The states are expected to endorse the rules by late 2009, including one that would require supermarkets and grocery shops to label any foods containing GM ingredients.

Such foods are common and scientists generally consider them safe. Food companies also say GM technology may aid in the fight against world hunger by delivering higher crop yields and reducing the use of pesticides.

Detractors, however, remain wary of GM crops and believe that ultimately they will harm the environment. Some also suggest that relying on corporations to mass-produce food could drive millions of farmers off their land. There is also some concern that GM foods could cause allergic reactions in some people.

"There are no regulations in the Emirates," said Dr Mariam al Yousuf, the executive director of the policy and regulation sector at Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA). "There's a controversy about GM food and interest at the national level. There are some municipal resolutions but they are not fully implemented."

She said the subcommittee's main point of reference for writing the rules was a food code, the Codex Alimentarius, created by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation in 1963 to set food safety standards for international trade.

The GCC delegates have been given a month to come up with proposals for rules and general standards and will discuss them in detail over the next year. The move is part of a wider effort to set standards across the GCC and, in the UAE, government bodies such as ADFCA will be responsible for enforcing the rules.

Dr Mohammed Abdul Qader, a technical consultant at the Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology, said: "The goal is to set the basis for the presence of products in the markets, whether at the monitoring or legislative level.

"The goal is to be transparent. It's the consumer's right to know the nature of the product. Even for farmers who import certain seeds, they have the right to know whether the seeds are genetically modified."

Experts at yesterday's meeting said it was also necessary to regulate the production of GM food in the region.

Dr Mohammed Abdul Monem, a professor at UAE University, said the Emirates was an automatic market for genetically modified staple foods: "Many of the countries that export agricultural products to the UAE, such as Iran and India, use genetic engineering technologies."

Nutrition specialists who attended the inaugural subcommittee meeting that concludes today said they saw no risk in importing GM food products.

"There are very few studies that showed that genetically modified foods can be potentially dangerous. But there are much more studies that showed they are not," Dr Monem said.

Dr Dina Fakhrawi, a nutritionist with Qatar University added, however, that labelling the modified products was important for consumers' safety because some engineered food could cause allergies. "It's like peanuts. It could be harmful to me if I am allergic to it, while not to you."

On Airport Road, meanwhile, Mustafa Arakkal, the manager of the Millennium supermarket, said he thought the new rules were a fine idea - but would not make any difference to his customers.

"People should be informed about the products," he said. "But people don't care. They won't look at the labels - they only want to buy their tomato sauce or whatever."


DuPont uses lasers in seed development

- Andrew Eder, Delaware Online News Journal, Aug. 27, 2008


The DuPont Co. on Tuesday revealed its latest weapon in the battle to produce the best corn and soybean seeds: lasers. Advertisement

The company's Pioneer Hi-Bred business unit said its new "laser-assisted seed selection" technology would expand and speed its seed research, helping to get higher-yielding varieties of corn and soybeans to market faster.

DuPont said the new technology uses a 120-watt carbon dioxide laser to cut a small slice from a seed for genetic analysis while still preserving the seed for planting. DuPont spokesman Patrick Arthur said the laser technique is a vast improvement over the current method of cultivating plants in the field and analyzing plant tissue in the lab.

"We're able to get a clear picture of the genetics well before the seed is planted," Arthur said.

Arthur said DuPont has applied for more than 10 patents on the laser system, which he said would eventually eliminate 90 percent of Pioneer's plant-tissue analysis. He wouldn't specify how widely the technology would be deployed, but he said a majority of Pioneer's 90 research centers worldwide are looking at plant genetics, which researchers can manipulate to give crops characteristics like higher yield or resistance to weedkillers.

Arthur said the laser technology would allow for 24-hour-a-day analysis, increase the number of plant generations that can be grown and tested in a year and free up 75 percent to 90 percent of Pioneer's field space for plants with superior genes.

DuPont's announcement, released during a farm trade show in Iowa, underscores the fierce competition among major seed producers to ramp up research and development, get high-yielding seeds to farmers and capture a greater share of the booming agriculture market.

Pioneer, the second-largest seed producer, has set a goal of boosting corn and soybean yields 40 percent within 10 years. Monsanto Co., of St. Louis, the largest seed company, wants to double yields by 2030.

Monsanto already uses a similar technology to DuPont's laser method, known as a "seed chipper," which uses blades to cut off bits of seeds for genetic analysis. Monsanto has credited the technology with helping develop its Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans, set for release next year.

DuPont, without referring to its rival, called chipping methods "rudimentary" and said the laser technology was superior because it eliminates contamination between seeds and cycles seeds through the system faster.

"It's difficult to compare the two methods because it's like comparing a Model T car to a Learjet," William Niebur, DuPont's vice president of crop genetics research and development, said in a statement. "They can both get you to where you are going; one just does it more quickly and efficiently."


Reproductive Biology of Two Nontarget Insect Species, Aphis gossypii (Homoptera: Aphididae) and Orius sauteri (Hemiptera: Anthocoridae), on Bt and non-Bt Cotton Cultivars

Authors: Zhang, Gui-Fen Zhang, Fang-Hao Wen, et. al., Environmental Entomology, Vol. 37, No. 4, Aug. 2008


Abstract: Transgenic Bt cotton, engineered to continuously produce activated ?-endotoxins of the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, holds great promise in controlling Helicoverpa armigera and other lepidopteran pests. However, it also may impact the invertebrate community, which needs to be clarified. The effects of Bt cotton on two nontarget insects, Aphis gossypii and Orius sauteri, were assessed under semifield and laboratory conditions. Mean total duration of nymphal stages of A. gossypii was shorter (5.9 versus 6.3 d), and rm was higher (0.418 versus 0.394) on conventional Simian 3 (the most frequently planted non-Bt cotton in northern China) than on Bt transgenic NuCOTN 33B (the first Bt cotton commercially planted in China). Mean duration of fourth-instar O. sauteri was significantly longer on transgenic GK-12 (3.7 d) than on NuCOTN 33B (3.2 d), but no different from Simian 3. Mean total mortality was significantly lower on Simian 3 (3.7%) than on GK-12 (14.8%). During the fourth instar, the predator consumed a significantly higher number of prey on Simian 3 (202.3 prey) than on NuCOTN 33B (159.0), whereas the mean total number of A. gossypii prey consumed during the nymphal stage was significantly higher on Simian 3 (336.8 prey) and GK-12 (330.3 prey) than on NuCOTN 33B (275.7). No detrimental effects were detected on development (nymphs, adults, and progeny eggs), fecundity, longevity, and egg viability of O. sauteri on Bt cotton aphids compared with non-Bt cotton aphids. These results suggest that Bt cotton cultivars GK-12 and NuCOTN 33B have no direct effect on nontargets A. gossypii and O. sauteri. Germplasm divergence may account for the negative effects observed on A. gossypii and O. sauteri when reared on NuCOTN 33B or NuCOTN 33B-fed aphids. The biological meanings of the small difference observed between GK-12 and Simian 3 on survival of O. sauteri will require close monitoring over longer time periods.


Population Dynamics of Spodoptera litura (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) on Bt Cotton in the Yangtze River Valley of China

Authors: Peng Wan, Huang Kongming, et. al., Environmental Entomology, Vol. 37, No. 4, Aug. 2008


Abstract: Genetically modified cotton that produces a crystalline protein from Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki (Berliner) (Bt) has been widely deployed to manage lepidopteran insect pests in cotton growing areas worldwide. However, susceptibility of different insect species to Bt protein varies, which may affect lepidopteran pest populations in the field. Studies on effects of two transgenic cotton lines (BG1560 and GK19) carrying a Cry1A gene on common cutworm Spodoptera litura F. (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), were conducted during 2002-2005 in the cotton planting region of the Yangtze River valley of China. Results showed that common cutworm larvae had low susceptibility to Bt cotton. There was no significant difference in larval population densities in conventional and Bt cotton fields. However, the larval populations of the insect on conventional plants treated with chemical insecticides for control of target pest of Bt cotton were significantly lower than that in Bt cotton fields. These results indicated that the common cutworm was the potential to become a major and alarming pest in Bt cotton fields, and therefore efforts to develop an effective alternative management strategy are needed.


E-learning master in Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology: E-Biosafety

- Marche Polytechnic University - Ancona - Italy - Third Edition 2008/2009


This is to inform that the Faculty of Agriculture of the Marche Polytechnic University, Ancona (IT) has opened the call for applications for the Third Edition of the International E-Biosafety Master, information and application forms are available on the following webpage: http://www.univpm.it/Entra/Engine/RAServePG.php/P/473510010300/M/250210010325

This Master is developed in collaboration with l'UNIDO: http://binas.unido.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page and CBD https://bch.biodiv.org/database/record.shtml?id=30234

Further information on the UNIDO E-Biosafety network are available on the attached brochures.

The UNIDO E-Biosafety training programme, having the major goal to 'train the trainers', is providing a limited amount of grants to cover the travel and accommodation expenses (per diem) for the two on-campus meetings, this for participants with African nationality who can provide evidence of being actively involved in the implementation of national Biosafety regulations.

The Italian Embassy or Consulate in your countries have now a new mandate to give a full assistance to applicants interested to any kind of educations in Italy, so for any problems in preparing the applications you can contact the Italian embassy or consulate in your country.

Your contribution in the dissemination of this call would be really grateful.

Best regards
Bruno Mezzetti
email: b.mezzetti+at+univpm.it


Activists destroy Monsanto GM trials

- Connexion France, Aug. 21, 2008


Biotech firm Monsanto is pursuing court action after all its GM trials in France were destroyed by environmental activists.

Two trials of the MON810 maize strain, which has subsequently been banned from the country, were torn up by green campaigners lead by former presidential candidate and anti-globalisation activist José Bové.

According to the Le Monde newspaper 100 people helped to destroy a field in la Vienne under the view of gendarmes who made no attempt to intervene but took photos.

Bové said that all those who took part were volunteers who were ready to take responsibility and accept punishment for their actions. He said he was "satisfied with the work achieved".

"More than ever, this is the hour for action and fighting against all forms of GM crops, for the rights of our citizens to protect the country's biodiversity," he said.

Bové is already scheduled to stand trial with other activists and several courts in France in the coming months for similar acts of vandalism.

Earlier this year a new GM bill made destroying crops punishable by two years in prison.

The director of Monsanto France, Laurent Martel, said: "A country which allows a handful of luddites to wreck private research and all the promises of progress it brings for the future is letting down its citizens and consumers."

He said the "sad conclusion" of this "media spectacle" was "almost irretrievable delay" to French scientific research.

Mr Martel said that it was the first year that all trials had been destroyed and added that all the crops had received the appropriate permission from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The prefecture of la Vienne confirmed that the fields had contained MON810 strains which were nearing the end of their trials. This type of maize was banned on February 9.

*by Andrew Apel, guest editor