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Date:

September 26, 2009

Subject:

Cotton Seeds of Change in India; Beachy Goes to Washington; Why Hippies Hate Biotech?; Rust-proofing the Wheat; FAO Warns of More Food Need

 


* Seeds of Change
* Breeding Rust-resistant Wheat with DNA Technology
* World Will Need 70 Percent More Food in 2050: FAO
* Roger Beachy Goes to Washington
* Obama Appoints Siddiqui as Chief Agricultural Negotiator
* E-BIOSAFETY - E-learning Master in Biosafety in Plant Biotech
* Subscribe to the Plant Breeding Forum
* Science Closer to Drug-Free Cannabis Plant (Or Why Hippies Hate Biotech?)
* A Tribute to Norman Borlaug
* Remembering the Scientist that Fed the World
* Food, Agriculture, and National Security in a Globalized World
* Agricultural Research, Productivity, and Food Prices in the Long Run
* New Journal: GM Crops
* Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture

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Seeds of Change

- Siddhartha P Saikia, Financial Chronicle (India), Sept. 22, 2009

Vijayender Reddy, a 28-year old cotton grower in Mutcherla village some 17 km from Warangal in Andhra Pradesh tied his knot on May 27. The same day he sowed the genetically modified Bt cotton seeds in his field. “Both are the most important things in my life. It was an auspicious day and therefore I sowed seeds for a better yield this year,” Reddy cultivates cotton in his 10 acres of land.

He shifted to the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) variety three years ago, after trying it out in a small area in the first year. “I realised a higher yield from the new seeds and from the next year, I stated growing only Bt cotton,” said Reddy. His yield with the new variety was 12 quintals per acre compared to five to six quintals with the normal variety before. Today, he can afford the expensive gift he bought recently for his wife.

Reddy, and thousands of farmers like him across the state, and country, are proving the charge that genetically modified cotton would destroy the lives of farmers completely wrong. From a low producer, India has become the world’s third largest producer, and exporter, after China and the United States, in just a few years and scientists attribute this to the higher yields from Bt cotton.

Last year, India produced 29 million bales, exporting more than five million of these. Production in India has risen from 13.6 million bales to 24 million bales within two years rising to record 31.5 million in 2007-08. Before Bt cotton was introduced, India exported less than one lakh bales for several years. From 2003-04 exports rose above one million bales to reach peak of 8.5 million in 2007-08.

Although cotton has been cultivated in many parts of India, its productivity was one of the lowest in the world mainly due to attacks by pests. Despite widespread use of pesticides, farmers were unable to control the bollworm, the key pest in cotton, that sometimes ravaged up to 80 per cent of the crop. Since the launch of ‘technology mission on cotton’ by in February 2000 and subsequent introduction of Bt cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in March 2002, yields have risen, changing lives of cotton farmers in the country.

Bollgard Bt cotton with single-gene technology is the first biotech crop technology approved for commercialisation in India, followed by Bollgard II – double gene technology in mid-2006. The new plants are supposed to provides in-built protection against the destructive American Bollworm by importing an insecticidal protein from a naturally occurring soil microorganism, Bacillus thuringiensis.

Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, a 50:50 joint venture between Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company and US-based Monsanto Holdings, has sub-licensed the two seed technologies to 23 Indian seed companies. Hyderabad-based JK Agri-Genetics and Aurangabad-based Nath Biogene are the other companies possessing genetically modified cotton seed technology.

According to the Cotton Corporation of India, the yield per hectare, which had remained stagnant at around 300 kg for more than a decade, increased substantially touching 567 kg in the 2007-08 cotton season thanks largely to Bt cotton. “The yield is increasing every season. Now, we need more infrastructure and storage facilities,” said R C Sharma, deputy general manager at the Cotton Corporation, Warangal.

Almost 80 per cent of the cotton in India has shifted to the genetically modified variety with most of it grown in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka. “Bt cotton is a success because farmers see a benefit in it,” says Rajalakshmi Swaminathan, principal scientist at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, in Chennai.

She said the farmers are now so aware that the government does not need to promote the crop per se. However, awareness on varieties have to be given. According to T Narasimha Das, assistant director of agriculture in Warangal, nine assistant directors and 51 supporting officers keep in touch with farmers. “We instruct them on seed qualities, means of irrigation, use of fertilisers and pesticides among others,” said Das. “In Warangal, every year, more farmers are opting for Bt variety and now more than 90 per cent of the cotton grown is the new variety,” said Kolisetty Nageshwar Rao, incharge of joint director of agriculture, Warangal.

A Narayanamoorthy, professor and director at the Centre for Rural Development at Alagappa University in Tamil Nadu said, “My empirical analysis in Maharashtra indicates that the profit realised from Bt cotton crop is substantially higher than that of the non-Bt crop.” Narayanamoorthy has done a study in Buldhana and Yavatmal districts in Maharashtra and found that the average profit of the two districts comes to about Rs 31,880 per ha for Bt cotton and about Rs 17,790 per ha for non-Bt cotton crop.

In the Vidharba region of Maharashtra, including the two above districts, several farmers have committed suicide under the burden of debt. The region is 97 per cent dependent on monsoons, and most farmers, including those who grow Bt cotton depend on one crop. If a crop fails, the debt on them often becomes unbearable.

In Andhra, where the cotton farmers depend on irrigation for upto 50 per cent of their requirement, the incidence of suicides seem to be in decline. According to N Sridhar, collector and district magistrate of Warangal, there were 12 cases of suicides in the district last year. The district was notorious for the suicides where hundreds of farmers were said to have killed themselves in years of bad rains. The opposition parties in the state are saying that almost 125 farmers have committed suicide this year, but this number is difficult to verify.

Sridhar says all cotton crops in the area are insured under the national agriculture insurance policy. And as a response to deficient monsoon, the state government has extended the farm loan repayment period from 12 months to 5 years.

According to Neelakanthapuram Raghuveera Reddy, Andhra minister for agriculture his ministry keeps a close watch on cotton yields in the state. “All the 22 district collectors, where cotton is grown, have been asked to submit a report on yields of each farmer. Those farmers, whose yield will be less than 50 per cent, will be given input subsidy.” Reddy said.

He says the new seeds have been a success in the state. “Five years ago, there was less than 10 lakh acres under cotton cultivation. Today, the total area is going to touch 20 lakh acres. Most of the farmers grow Bt hybrid and use modern means of farming.”

For Amarendra Reddy Polusani, a 48-year old farmer in Nagaram about 15 km from Warangal, the cotton variety came as a saviour. He used to cultivate groundnuts and chillies. He because of poor productivity and decrease in prices he was in a bad shape. “I had huge debts. Many of my friends also gave up their lives during that time. Then some seed seller told me about new varieties of cotton,” he said. He started growing Bt cotton and earned more than Rs 4 lakh from it last year. “Now, I repay my bank loans in time,” said Polusani.

Yet, the debate around Bt cotton has not died down, despite overwhelming usage in the contrary. New Delhi-based Vandana Shiva, who runs several campaigns against the cultivation of genetically modified cotton says such crops have serious impact on soil fertility. “They kill the microorganisms needed to retain the soil fertility,” she said. Moreover, according to Shiva, new pests have come up because of Bt cotton, which led to excessive use of pesticides. Suman Sahai, who runs Gene Campaign, also based in New Delhi said, “Our field study showed that performance of Bt cotton seeds is very poor and farmers have lost money.”

When these statements were referred to P Raghu Ram Reddy, senior scientist at the Regional Agriculture Research Station in Warangal he said a study on nutritional uptake by Bt and non-Bt cotton done across cotton growing states in India had shown no difference on the nutritional uptake by the both varieties. “So, the argument of loosing soil fertility and death of micro organisms is false,” he said.

Several studies by the Research Station have shown that growing Bt cotton reduces the use of fertilisers. “In order to increase the crop yield, farmers must be a little careful on scheduling of fertilisers. Growing refugia cotton is necessary,” said B Dilip Kumar, scientist at the same institute, said. Reddy says the cost of cultivation is low and yields are higher.

“Every day, at least 25 farmers meet us to discuss on how to improve output. Cotton farmers are getting very good yields in Warangal district,” he added. Despite the uproar created over Bt cotton some years ago, a quiet revolution has taken place in the country, with the farmers voting with their sowing every year. It may be time to bury the ghost of Frankenstein raised by hyper-imaginative activists.

===============

Breeding Rust-resistant Wheat with DNA Technology

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=10461&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

CSIRO scientists are breeding new varieties of disease-resistant wheat in an effort to improve crop yields and avert a potential food supply crisis.

In recent years the growth in demand for staple food crops such as wheat, rice and corn has outstripped the growth in supply, causing worldwide concerns about food security. Population growth, climate change and increased production of biofuels are recognised as key drivers behind an emerging food supply crisis.

Compounding this problem are four wheat diseases – stem rust, leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew – which are threatening worldwide crop yields and grain quality.

Australia's crops have been mostly well protected for the past 60 years by breeding rust-resistant varieties, which carry sets of genes called rust resistance genes. If not for current measures, such as rust-resistant wheat varieties, the magnitude of potential loss could be in excess of A$900 million.

Rust pathogens, however, are very adaptable and can rapidly evolve into new strains that can infect previously rust-resistant plants. For example, in 2002 a new virulent strain of the stripe rust pathogen appeared in Australia and has continued to cause serious annual crop losses ever since. It is a constant battle for wheat breeders to try to develop new cereal varieties with effective and long-lasting rust resistance.

CSIRO's rust resistance research team, headed by plant molecular biologist Dr Jeff Ellis, is part of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program that is always on the lookout for more effective ways to breed new rust-resistant cereal varieties. 'It is vital that we continue to develop more effective controls to combat all four rust diseases to minimise their broader economic and social impacts,' says Dr Ellis.

Gene-based crop disease and pest control is highly desirable in plants as it is more environmentally friendly and profitable than alternative solutions like spraying pesticides. The team is also part of an international fight to control the stem rust strain Ug99 that evolved in Africa and is spreading into Asia, posing a significant threat to worldwide wheat production.

DNA markers for breeding
When developing new plant varieties, plant breeders must combine the most desirable sets of genes and associated traits of two parents into a single new plant variety. Breeding new resistant crop varieties is often hindered by the slow process of identifying and selecting for resistance genes during the breeding process that produces new and improved varieties.

This process can be sped up through the use of a gene technology tool called DNA marker-assisted breeding. DNA markers clearly and simply tag the presence of important genes and allow breeders to quickly and accurately identify whether rust resistance genes are present in a plant's DNA.

This can save time because it reduces the need for breeders to expose plants to rust strains to assess performance. It also allows simultaneous selection to be applied for multiple different resistance genes during the complex breeding process.

Dr Ellis said CSIRO had identified DNA markers for important stem rust and stripe rust resistance genes that will allow more effective breeding for rust resistance, and had also identified genes used by rust fungi for causing disease.

Cloning rust resistance genes
Dr Ellis's team is now working towards cloning rust resistance genes and incorporating them directly into wheat as part of the Grains Research and Development Corporation's Triple Rust Initiative.

Recently team members Dr Evans Lagudah and Dr Wolfgang Spielmeyer, together with collaborators in Switzerland and Mexico have cloned an important wheat rust resistance gene called Lr34 that provides durable resistance to leaf and stripe rust and powdery mildew.

In addition to conventional breeding with DNA markers, the team also aims to 'stack' multiple cloned resistance genes into wheat as a 'disease control cassette', producing genetically modified (GM) wheat varieties with a solid resistance to all three rust types.

Stacking genes is beneficial for improving the plant's immune response by having more than one line of defence against different strains of rust. GM technology enables those genes to be stacked together on a single DNA molecule, or 'cassette', which stays intact in subsequent breeding and are the key to durability of rust resistance in wheat.

'The genes will get transmitted through the breeding process together as a unit rather than fall apart as the conventionally bred gene stack does when breeders make new crosses,' Dr Ellis says.

'It offers a way of making the breeding process simpler and rust resistance more long lasting.'

Once several resistance genes are introduced into a wheat breeding line, CSIRO and partners will do further quality and food safety testing.

If this is successful, CSIRO plans to deliver new super-resistant wheat germplasm to Australian wheat breeders for the development of new rust-resistant varieties for farmers.

==================

World Will Need 70 Percent More Food in 2050: FAO

- AFP, Sept 24, 2009 http://www.edmontonjournal.com

ROME - World food production must increase by 70 percent by 2050, to nourish a human population then likely to be 9.1 billion, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forecast Wednesday.

"FAO is cautiously optimistic about the world's potential to feed itself by 2050," said FAO Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem. However, he stressed that feeding everyone in the world by then "will not be automatic and several significant challenges have to be met." The agency is preparing for a high-level expert forum in Rome on October 12-13 on "How to Feed the World in 2050" and plans to gather 300 specialists from academic, non-governmental and private sector institutions.

This forum will pave the way for a World Summit on Food Security in Rome on November 16-18. The world population is expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050, according to the latest UN forecast.

"Nearly all of the population growth will occur in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa's population is expected to grow the fastest (up 108 percent, 910 million people), and East and South East Asia's the slowest (up 11 percent, 228 million). "Around 70 percent of the world population will live in cities or urban areas by 2050, up from 49 percent today," the document said.

The demand for food is expected to grow as a result of rising incomes as well as population growth, the discussion paper added. Cereal production will have to increase by almost a billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and meat production will have to grow by more than 200 million tonnes to reach a total of 470 million tonnes in 2050.

The FAO estimated that the "production of biofuels could also increase the demand for agricultural commodities, depending on energy prices and government policies." More land will be needed for crops "despite the fact that 90 percent of the growth in crop production is projected to come from higher yields and increased cropping intensity."

The FAO estimated that "arable land will have to expand by around 120 million hectares in developing countries," mainly in Africa and Latin America, while "arable land in use in developed countries is expected to decline by some 50 million hectares, although this could be changed by the demand for biofuels."

Globally, there is still enough land to feed the future world population, but much of the potential land is suitable for growing only a few crops, and the FAO warned of other difficulties, such as chemical and physical constraints, endemic diseases and a lack of infrastructure. Overcoming such problems will require "significant investments," the FAO said, adding that some countries in the Near East, north Africa and South Asia "have already reached or are about to reach the limits of land available."

The FAO expects water withdrawals for irrigated agriculture to grow by almost 11 percent by 2050. The world has enough fresh water resources, but "they are very unevenly distributed and water scarcity will reach alarming levels in an increasing number of countries or regions within countries, particularly in the Near East/North Africa and South Asia."

See http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf

==========

Roger Beachy Goes to Washington

http://www.danforthcenter.org/

Roger Beachy to Join Obama Administration; Danforth Center President Appointed First Director of New Agency

Dr. Roger N. Beachy, the founding President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO, has been appointed the first Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) by President Barack Obama. Beachy will join the agency on October 5, 2009.

According to the formal agreement, Beachy will be “on loan” to NIFA from the Danforth Plant Science Center. On assuming the new position, he will transition to his new role of Vice Chairman of the Center’s Board of Trustees, a move that was originally scheduled to occur next year.

“This exciting new agency is critical to growing our agriculture economy and ensures that innovation in plant science and agriculture research will flourish. I have been a strong proponent of the NIFA as have the scientists at the Danforth Plant Science Center, and of course our Chairman, Dr. Danforth. I am honored to have been selected for this position by the President and am committed to sharing my knowledge and experiences to help shape research and its applications that will impact agriculture and food in the U.S. and in developing economies,” Beachy said.

The mission of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to stimulate and fund the research and technological innovations that will enhance and make American agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the economic viability of agriculture and production. The Institute was developed as a result of a task force chaired by William H. Danforth and appointed by then Secretary of Agriculture, Ann M. Veneman. The Danforth Task Force recommended that Congress authorize the creation of NIFA as a way to strengthen agriculture research and to attract additional highly competitive research scientists to this field of endeavor. A growing program in competitive research grants will be a hallmark of the new agency.

“I am thrilled and sad at the same time.” said William H. Danforth, chair Danforth Plant Science Center Board of Trustees. “Working closely with Roger Beachy has been one of the privileges of my life; he has lead and orchestrated the success of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. I hate to see him less active in St. Louis even for a little while. On the other hand I believe strongly in the NIFA. No one in the world would be a better founding director. Our board saw the situation the same way.”

=========================

Obama Appoints Islam A. Siddiqui as Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/President-Obama-Announces-More-Key-Administration-Posts-9/22/09/

Islam A. Siddiqui is currently Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, where he is responsible for regulatory and international trade issues related to crop protection chemicals. Previously, Dr. Siddiqui also served as CropLife America’s Vice President for agricultural biotechnology and trade. From 1997 to 2001, Dr. Siddiqui served in various capacities in the Clinton Administration at U.S. Department of Agriculture as Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Senior Trade Advisor to Secretary Dan Glickman and Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. As a result, he worked closely with the USTR and represented USDA in bilateral, regional and multi-lateral agricultural trade negotiations. Since 2004, Dr. Siddiqui has also served on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, and Health/Science Products & Services, which advises the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and USTR on international trade issues related to these sectors. Between 2001 and 2003, Dr. Siddiqui was appointed as Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he focused on agricultural biotechnology and food security issues. Before joining USDA, Dr. Siddiqui spent 28 years with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He received a B.S. degree in plant protection from Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University in Pantnagar, India, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology, both from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.


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E-BIOSAFETY - E-learning Master in Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology

IV Edition 2009/2010

This is to inform that the Faculty of Agriculture of the Marche Polytechnic University, Ancona (IT) has opened the call for applications for the IV 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/530810010300/M/250010010101 ]

This Master is developed in collaboration with l'UNIDO: http://binas.unido.org/moodle/mod/resource/view.php?id=132#Module%207 and CBD https://bch.biodiv.org/database/record.shtml?id=30234

Italian Embassy or Consulate in different countries have now the mandate to give a full assistance to applicants interested to any kind of educations in Italy, so for any problems in preparing the application please contact directly the Italian Embassy or Consulate in your country.

Thank you in advance for your help in the dissemination of the information on the E-Biosafety Master.

Best regards
Bruno Mezzetti

=================

Invitation to Subscribe to the Plant Breeding Forum (PBForum-L)

http://km.fao.org/gipb/

Plant Breeding Forum listserv, an e-mail based forum for plant breeding and related fields is being launched. The purpose of PBForum-L is to create a means for plant breeders and those in related fields to interact easily on a regular and informal basis -- with questions, discussion and debate. PBForum-L complements PBN-L (Plant Breeding News, a monthly e-newsletter) and the

To subscribe:
1. Address an e-mail to: [ mailto:mailserv@mailserv.fao.org ]mailserv@mailserv.fao.org.
2. Leave the subject line blank.
3. In the message area, type: SUBSCRIBE PBForum-L
4. You will receive a confirmation message of your subscription, and details on how the listserv works.
5. You can unsubscribe at any time

=================

Science Closer to Drug-Free Cannabis Plant

(Or Why Hippies Hate Biotech?)

- United Press International, September 17, 2009 http://www.themoneytimes.com

Minneapolis -- U.S. scientists say they are moving closer to engineering a totally drug-free cannabis plant to produce hemp fiber and oil.

University of Minnesota researchers said they have identified genes producing tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, which is the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Studying the genes could also lead to new and better drugs for pain, nausea and other conditions, the scientists, led by Professor David Marks, said.

The researchers said they discovered the genes are active in tiny hairs covering the flowers of cannabis plants. In marijuana, the hairs accumulate high amounts of THC, whereas in hemp the hairs have little. Hemp and marijuana are difficult to distinguish apart from differences in THC.

With the genes identified, finding a way to silence them and thus produce a drug-free plant comes a step closer to reality. Another desirable step, the scientists said, is to make drug-free plants visually recognizable. Since the hairs can be seen with a magnifying glass, this could be accomplished by engineering a hairless cannabis plant.

Hemp has many industrial and commercial uses but its association with marijuana has limited its cultivation. The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

========

A Tribute to Norman Borlaug

- Deane Morrison, Univ Minnesota. full commentary at http://www1.umn.edu/news/features/2009/UR_CONTENT_129578.html

'The University graduate wrestled with world hunger and won'

He was never a household name in the United States, but the work of Nobel laureate and University alumnus Norman Borlaug may have saved a billion lives. When Borlaug died Saturday (September 12, 2009) at age 95, he left a legacy of accomplishment and caring for others that few people in the world have equaled.

Plant breeders are unlikely celebrities, but in many developing countries, Borlaug is a hero. By breeding higher-yield varieties of wheat, he is credited with playing the key role in staving off starvation in India and Pakistan.

Borlaug's gift, which he used up until his death, was a devotion to ending world hunger and figuring out how to get more food out of fewer acres. He spent most of his life trying to help people all over the world live a decent life.
--------

With the world population expected to increase from 6.4 billion to 9.2 billion in the next 50 years, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. Population Fund estimate the world’s food supply will have to grow by 75 percent. The work Norman Borlaug has done in the last 50 years will undoubtedly help us get there.

“There is a song that says, ‘Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,’” says Phillips. “I think this was the basis of the Nobel Peace Prize to Norman Borlaug.”

Read on http://www1.umn.edu/news/features/2009/UR_CONTENT_129578.html
=================

Remembering the Scientist that Fed the World

- Sam Lipski, Australian Jewish News, Sept 18, 2009 http://jewishnews.net.au

“Anyone who saves a single soul, it is considered as if he hassaved an entire world.”(The Rambam in Hilchot Sanhedrin 12:3, thusfollowing the Talmud Yerushalmi’s reading 4:1[22a].)

“Blessed is He who has given of His wisdom to humanity.”(The Jewish blessing to God on meeting a great non-Jewish scholar.)

A VERY great and blessed man died this week in Dallas, Texas.Indeed, I regard him as the greatest man of our time. He did not saveone soul, but a billion of them. And those of countless generations tocome. Entire worlds indeed.

Had it been up to me in 2000, I would have ranked him alongside AlbertEinstein, who Time Magazine nominated as its person of the century. Noargument that Einstein revolutionised the way we understood theuniverse. But, Norman Ernest Borlaug revolutionised the way we fed -–and feed -– the world’s population.

Yet, Time didn’t even consider Borlaug – a remarkable agriculturalscientist born to Norwegian immigrant parents on an Iowa farm in 1914 –worthy of mention among the 20th century’s 100 most important people.By any thoughtful measure, however, Borlaug, who died on Sunday aged95, deserved such recognition. And so much more.

If your immediate reaction was “Norman who?”, that’s understandable.Borlaug’s death barely received a paragraph in most Australiannewspapers and the electronic media paid it even less attention. As indeath so it was in life for Borlaug. He was largely unknown outside asmall circle, either in his native United States, or beyond.

Unknown, that is, as measured by that evanescent false god, fame.But for those who were aware of what Borlaug had wrought, and for manyfarmers in India, Pakistan and Mexico, to name but three countries, andin Israel for other reasons, he was the greatest of heroes.

And even if media fame eluded him, something that from all accountsdidn’t bother him that much, he died knowing that he had saved morepeople from starvation than any man in history.

That was already the judgement of the Nobel committee in 1970 whenhe was honoured for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties andagricultural innovation. His monumental achievement as the father ofthe “Green Revolution” was to conquer stem rust in wheat.

In the 1960s, Borlaug was credited with averting global famine andenabling India and Pakistan to double their wheat yields within a year.Within eight years, they were to become self-sufficient wheat producers.

The Nobel committee has made some very doubtful awards in its time.But its judgement was of the highest order when it said of Borlaug:“More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to providebread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope thatproviding bread will also give the world peace.”

That was almost 40 years ago. But almost to the end, Borlaug, thevery opposite of those environmental doomsayers preaching the end ofthe world, was once more leading the international campaign to combatstem rust’s recent re-emerging threat to global food supplies.

Already having done damage in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the Sudan,Yemen and Iran, the newer, more virulent strain is again endangeringthe hitherto strong yields in India and Pakistan.

As Melbourne science-writer Elizabeth Finkel reported in Cosmosmagazine (06-07/2009), this indefatigable scientist, then aged 91,convened wheat experts from 40 countries to create the Borlaug GlobalRust Initiative and speed up the development of new varieties ofresistant wheat.

And then earlier this year, not satisfied with the urgencygovernments were showing at what he saw as an impending crisis of massstarvation, Borlaug convened “a second council of war in Mexico” justas he celebrated his 95th birthday.

Dr Finkel, a former biochemist whose new book Gene World is due in2010, was at the Mexico conference and wrote of Borlaug: “[He] isrevered for many things; his skill as a wheat breeder, his pragmatichumanism, his unwavering focus on feeding the world, hisinternationalism. But not for his saintly disposition. A collegewrestling champion, Borlaug is tough. His success in fomenting theGreen Revolution was as much due to bull-headed determination as to hisskills as a breeder. And he is fearless about wading into policy andpolitics. Which is just what this global battle needed.”

Now that Borlaug has died, the courage, intellect and scientificleadership he displayed throughout his life will be needed more thanever. And while he mightn’t have been known in life for his “saintlydisposition”, in death Borlaug can take his place as a tzaddik, a trulyrighteous man. Yehi zichro baruch. May his memory be a blessing. Shanahtovah.

Sam Lipski is the chief executive of The Pratt Foundation and a former editor-in-chief of The AJN.

============

Food, Agriculture, and National Security in a Globalized World

- October 14-16, 2009; Des Moines, Iowa http://worldfoodprize.org/symposium/2009.htm

(Bill Gates, Indra 'Pepsi' Nooyi, Tom Vilsack, Joaquim Chissano and Jeffrey Sachs among speakers!)

Global leaders are increasingly viewing food and nutrition as critical factors underpinning national and international security in the face of economic, political, and environmental crises worldwide. The same challenges confront experts working in international agriculture and rural development, while food insecurity and malnutrition continue to rise around the world. These challenges and the reactions they have drawn from world leaders have led some to call into question the effectiveness of existing global institutions and systems in ensuring the availability of food on community and national levels.

In that context, the 2009 Borlaug Dialogue symposium will ask experts and decision-makers from around the world how their fields – in policy, industry, science and academia, and development – can ensure adequate access to food and nutrition for, and thus contribute to the security of, all people.

To address that question, several hundred participants representing more than 65 countries – including leading policymakers and diplomats, CEOs and senior private-sector executives, and experts from academia, research, and the development community – will engage in a range of conversations on compelling and critical topics. Speakers include
Tom Arnold | Catherine Bertini | Chelston Brathwaite | Joel Brinkley | Mathew Burrows
Mark Cackler | Margarat Catley-Carlson | Joaquim Chissano | Gordon Conway | William Dar
Marco Ferroni | Louise Fresco | Alonzo Fulgham | Bill Gates | Geeta Rao Gupta | Brian Halweil
Hans Herren | Mahabub Hossain | Gene Kahn | Seyfu Ketema | Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow
Ellen Kullman | Jami Miscik | Faida Mitifu | Namanga Ngongi | Indra Nooyi | J.B. Penn
Per Pinstrup-Andersen | Jeffrey Sachs | Jeffrey Simmons | Frances Stewart | Ajay Vashee
Tom Vilsack | Joachim von Braun | Richard Williamson | Patricia Woertz | Weibin Yan

===========

Agricultural Research, Productivity, and Food Prices in the Long Run

- Julian M. Alston, Jason M. Beddow, Philip G. Pardey, Science Sept. 4 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5945, pp. 1209 - 1210 (for reprint - E-mail: ppardey(at)umn.edu). Excerpt below:

Global Crop Yields and Productivity
Global yields for maize, rice, wheat, and soybeans (in metric tons per harvested hectare) grew rapidly from 1961 to 2007: Maize and wheat yields each grew by a factor of 2.6, while rice and soybean yields increased by a factor of 2.2 and 2.0, respectively. However, for all four crops, in both developed and developing countries, rates of yield growth were slower during 1990 to 2007 than during 1961 to 1990. A slowdown in crop yield growth was seen in more than half of the countries that grew these four crops. More critically, compared with all producing countries, a higher proportion of the top 10 producing countries experienced a slowdown for all four crops.

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In the past, most countries (especially the poorest ones) have relied heavily on spillovers of knowledge and technology resulting from agricultural R&D undertaken by a small number of developed countries. Thus, a continuation of recent trends in funding, policy, and markets is likely to have significant effects on long-term farm productivity for food staples in developed and developing countries alike. A revitalization of agricultural R&D investments in developed countries can be justified on narrow cost-benefit criteria. In addition, it will contribute to the global public good by restoring and sustaining productivity growth over the long run, which in turn will mitigate hunger and poverty and, at the same time, reduce pressure on the natural resource base.

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New Journal: GM Crops

http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/

In January of 2010 we will launch GM Crops, the first international peer-reviewed journal of its kind to focus exclusively on genetically modified crops.

We believe that this is an excellent time to start the journal because of the increasing focus on GM crops and improved agronomic traits. Genetic engineering techniques and applications have developed rapidly since the introduction of the first genetically modified plants in the 1980s. There has been a rapid increase in GM crop R&D by academia, government and industry around the world. GM crops are useful to consumers, farmers and the environment, and are growing in popularity worldwide.

GM crops are needed to tackle the food needs of a growing population. Crops with improved agronomic characteristics can provide protection against many of the biotic stresses caused by weeds, pests, and diseases currently experienced in developing countries. Also, GM crop R&D is focused on the development of more complex traits, such as drought resistance and the development of foods with enhanced nutritional value which may provide a low-cost way of dealing with widespread malnutrition problems.

Because GM crops can address key challenges in the food and agricultural sector, it is expected that the number of GM crops ready for commercial release in many countries will expand considerably over the next few years. Genetic modification is a tool integrated into a wider research agenda, where public and private science can balance each other. Scientists in both the public and private sectors regard the GM process as a major new set of tools to improve crop traits, while industry regards it as an opportunity for increased profits. Genetically modified crop varieties allegedly provide farmers with various agronomic benefits, but serious environmental, health and ethical concerns also are being raised.

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Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture

http://www.ifpri.org

On September 30, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) will release the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on agriculture to date. The report provides specific projections for the year 2050 on crop yield declines, food price increases, and decreased calorie availability due to climate change.

It also compares the number of malnourished children in 2050 with and without climate change. Additionally, it projects the costs for overcoming these negative effects. The report includes breakdowns by region and results for major food commodities.

WHAT: Conference call briefings on the impact of climate change on agriculture
WHO: Gerald Nelson, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow and report lead author
WHEN: Tuesday, September 29, 2009;12:00 GMT (8:00 am Washington, DC time) or 13:30 GMT (9:30 am Washington, DC time)