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May 10, 2011


Want a Banana in 2020? Go GM; Cure for High Food Prices; Slowing Agriculture; Wheat is Back; Bill Gates Looking for Ideas


* Ecuador: Banana, in danger of extinction by sigatoka
* The cause and cure for high food prices *
* Productivity drought slows agriculture
* Monsanto puts modified wheat back on the market
* Feeding world stirs hot debate
* Bill Gates Needs Your Help, Ideas
* Frontiers in Bioenergy Symposium
* Heroes of agricultural innovation (!)
* Burden of Privilege: the Secret Life of Geoffrey Collins


Ecuador: Banana, in danger of extinction by sigatoka

- Eluniverso, May 3, 2011


The banana, a plant which is threatened by the Black Sigatoka, will be extinguished within about ten years, if a genetically modified hybrid is not created to combat this fungus that endangers plantations worldwide, according to Emile Frison, researcher of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP).

Frison said on elguanche.net, that "something that we can be sure of is that the Sigatoka will not lose its battle". "As soon as we can get a new fungicide, the disease becomes more resistance. Replacing the Cavendish banana (dominant variety today) for another type, by genetic engineering, is the only answer".

Juan Fuentes, manager of bananas at Farmagro in Ecuador, said that in recent years the entire value chain connected to the banana industry has needed to be very efficient to compete in this industry. The efforts to lower production costs for a box of bananas have been reflected in new developments to increase productivity, including programs to manage the Black Sigatoka.

According to the technician, control of this fungus in the country requires not only the application of protectant and systemic fungicides, but the development of contingency strategies to control it efficiently, maintaining the performance of fungicides and avoiding the presence of a resistance phenomenon which complicates the implementation of control methods and increases production costs.


The cause and cure for high food prices – excessive regulation and biotech crops – Catholic Economist


- Benjamin Mann, May 7, 2011 / 07:51 am (EWTN News)

According to a leading Catholic economist, excessive government regulations are to blame for the rise in prices.

A complex combination of factors – including natural disasters and higher oil prices, as well as a rising standard of living in countries like China, India and Brazil – have made food less affordable in recent months.

The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization has warned that the “food price shock” could have devastating effects upon the world's poorest people.
At meetings in Cape Town, South Africa this week, African leaders discussed a “road map” to help the continent cope with rising prices through market-based approaches that would encourage local agriculture.

Some factors behind higher food prices, such as natural disasters, cannot be controlled. But Dr. Samuel Gregg, an economist at Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said other factors – especially agricultural subsidies and the manipulation of oil supplies – were preventing poorer countries from bringing their productive capacities to bear in the global market.
The result, he told EWTN News on May 6, is an under-supply of food, and higher prices.

“All the subsidies that go into agriculture – through things like import taxes and tariffs, as well as direct subsidies – have the paradoxical effect of reducing the incentive for investment in agriculture in developing countries,” Gregg observed.
Without the ability to sell their products at competitive prices on the global market, these countries end up producing less food, and attracting fewer investors.
“They end up saying, 'We can't compete because of subsidies in the European Union and the United States.' Consequently, the supply of food starts to be reduced, because there isn't the incentive for agricultural investment.”
Another obstacle to meeting rising demand for food may come from ideological opposition to genetically-modified crops.

“There are all sorts of restrictions in place around the world, upon the development of genetically modified food,” Gregg noted. Genetic modification is highly controversial, and skeptics worry such crops could harm local ecosystems or human health.

But Gregg said that these concerns had to be weighed against the world's urgent food needs, given that genetic modification could enable crops to be grown “in conditions where they might not otherwise be able to be produced.”
Many of these crops are also designed to resist natural occurrences – such as droughts, floods, and disease – that destabilize food prices.

“There's no question that if more countries were enabled by law to engage in genetically modified agriculture, the supply of food would go up, and prices would come down,” he observed.

Gregg's advocacy of what he called a “true free market in agriculture,” geared toward attracting investment in the developing world, reflects priorities that Pope Benedict XVI outlined in his 2008 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”
In that encyclical, the Pope said that “the problem of food insecurity” had to be addressed by “eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it, and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.”

“This can be done,” the Pope wrote, “by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology.”
Pope Benedict stated said the developing world's most urgent need in this area was “a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food.”

Gregg believes a general draw-down of government involvement in agriculture, as well as energy, would allow these kinds of economic institutions to develop locally and compete globally.

The result would be a boost in developing countries' food production capacity, and more affordable food for the world.

“Obviously you need some kind of regulatory framework,” Gregg said. “But if it were a less onerous regulatory framework, and different groups weren't trying to influence the process for political and ideological reasons, I think you'd find that the price of food – and the price of energy – would fall.”


Productivity drought slows agriculture

- David Leyonhjelm, Business Spectator (Australia), 9 May 2011
- http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/agriculture-GM-genetically-modified-crops-agribusi-pd20110509-GP864?opendocument&src=rss

Productivity growth in Australian agriculture is a problem. Globally it has slowed, but in Australia it has slowed even more.
But innovation needs advances in technology before anything can be adopted. Many people say productivity growth will not recover until there are significant new technological breakthroughs.

The answer, according to some, is more publicly funded R&D, who point to a decline in public funding preceding the decline in productivity. Not many of those expressing such a view are impartial though – most rely on public funding themselves or would be happy for someone else to pay for research and save them the cost.

An alternative view is that the private sector would invest far more in R&D but doesn’t because of the risk that it will not be permitted to commercialise its innovations. When it comes to farming, especially food production, the community tends to view new technology with suspicion and sometimes outright opposition.

Probably the best example of this is genetically modified (GM) crops. Despite 15 years of event-free cultivation and no scientific grounds for apprehension, regulatory barriers remain high and political, with bureaucratic and media disapproval significant. Moreover, the relatively few companies that continue to invest in the technology are vilified. Monsanto, for example, probably has the worst public image of any major corporation in the developed world.
The price paid for this is declining international competitiveness. Productivity growth in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, India and China, and also parts of the US and Canada, is higher than in Australia. One of the main contributors is that those countries have embraced new technology in the form of genetically modified crops, primarily canola, maize, cotton and soybeans.

Globally, yields for wheat and rice, which are not genetically modified, are in decline. Maize, canola, soybean and cotton yields are either steady or rising.

Whether agriculture returns to its productive growth path and can feed a relatively prosperous population of nine billion people by 2050 will depend more on how well society accepts new technology than whether the technology is invented in the first place.

It is our own fault that productivity growth is in decline, and it will be own fault if it does not recover.

David Leyonhjelm works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements.


Monsanto puts modified wheat back on the market

- GEORGINA GUSTIN , St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 8, 2011

Wheat is one of the world's primary crops and, in the American landscape, an almost mythical one. But over the past decades, American farmers have turned away from their amber waves of grain.

That's a trend the wheat industry and seed companies — including Creve Coeur-based Monsanto — are trying to reverse.

Over the past two years, the agricultural biotechnology giant has renewed its interest in wheat, committing more resources to creating new traits and seed varieties that it hopes could eventually bring more farmers back into the wheat fold.

In 2009, the company paid $45 million to buy WestBred, a Montana-based wheat seed company. In the past six months, the company has built a 'seed chipper" for wheat — a proprietary and prohibitively expensive machine that speeds the process of identifying beneficial crop traits.

"We're seriously trying to be successful in wheat," said Sean Gardner, head of the company's wheat efforts. "We think we can make a difference in what is the world's largest crop."

Monsanto had been working to commercialize a genetically modified wheat, but in 2004, facing industry rejection, the company pulled back. "A couple of things led us to stop," Gardner said. "The industry probably wasn't ready for it."

Half of the country's wheat is exported — and some of those export markets adopted a zero-tolerance stance on the presence of genetically modified grain, meaning even one genetically modified seed could prompt a wholesale rejection of a shipment.
So much of the wheat crop goes into the export market — more so than corn and soybeans," said Ann McKendry, a wheat breeder with the University of Missouri. "And the world didn't want GM."

Now many wheat growers, who initially balked at genetically modified wheat, say they welcome it. In 2008, the National Association of Wheat Growers conducted a survey of its members to see if they wanted to support biotechnology, and 80 percent said yes.
We realized we're behind and we need access to the technology," said Jane DeMarchi, the association's director of government affairs for research and technology.


Feeding world stirs hot debate

- GEORGINA GUSTIN, St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 7, 2011 12:15 am | (10)

The numbers have become a familiar refrain: 9 billion people by 2050. For aid organizations and policymakers, the figures raise an alarming question: How to feed them all? For agricultural corporations including Monsanto, they offer a huge market opportunity.

Creve Coeur-based Monsanto, the world's largest agricultural biotech company, has for years made clear that it could benefit from a rising global population and rising food demand, particularly in developing countries. And recent spikes in food prices worldwide, combined with a protracted economic downturn, have sparked debate over whether biotechnology represents the answer to feeding the world.
On its website, in presentations, in interviews, the company hits the message frequently. Farmers, the Monsanto website says, will have to produce more food in the next few decades than they have in the last 10,000 years combined. With finite resources, crops genetically engineered to withstand pests, to yield more and to one day prove resistant to drought will be critical to meeting global food needs, the message goes.

"Our vision is really about giving farmers a robust set of tools," said Natalie Dinicola of Monsanto's sustainable agriculture partnership division.

Regardless of the controversies surrounding biotechnology, questions over global food security, which last surfaced with the food price spikes of 2008, have become more urgent once again.

"With this challenge of nearly needing to double food production, where's this quantum leap going to come from?" said Roger Thurow, a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of "Enough," a book examining famine and politics in Africa. "Hopefully the price spikes of 2007 and 2008 would have woken us up. But, boom, here it comes again. We're at this new level of prices, and we got this looming. We have to produce more food."
'Get things moving'

This January in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, the governments of developing countries and nongovernmental organizations - led by 17 multinational food and agriculture companies, including Monsanto - formed a task force called "Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture."
They met to address the challenge of food security - of providing food for 2 billion more people in the next four decades with finite land and resources.

"We know that will take not only innovation but a lot of collaboration," said Jim Borel of Dupont, who said the initiative will work with nongovernmental organizations and governments "to get the pump primed and get things moving" for technology-friendly regulations and infrastructure.
Another major effort called Feed the Future, launched by President Barack Obama's administration in 2009, attempts to leverage a $3.5 billion government pledge to lure investment from the private sector. The effort focuses on agricultural technologies of all kinds, including biotechnology.

"What we're trying to do is build the capacity in these countries to make their own decisions about biotechnology," said Rob Bertram of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which runs Feed the Future. "We want to make sure these technologies don't bypass the needs of the poor."

Just this past week, eight of the world's leading foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation, announced they were launching a major initiative "designed to impact food and agricultural policies on a global scale."
That question, some believe, is especially apt in light of some recent research showing gains from conventional and organic methods. A U.N. report issued in March, for example, showed that small-scale farmers using "agroecological methods" doubled production without chemical fertilizers. While these methods show promise, the report's author, Olivier de Schutter notes: "Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don't open markets for chemical products or improved seeds."

Many researchers working in the areas of global food aid or research worry that biotech could take too long to reach farmers in developing countries, when cheaper, easier options are available now. Increased yield, some observe, is important, but mostly for first-world farmers who profit from more production. Biotech's true advances will come when crops can be grown in land that's now considered too dry or inhospitable.

More Crops, Less Land
The biotechnolgy industry says it agrees that feeding the developing world will require a multipronged approach but underscores that its technologies will pay a pivotal role. A recent report issued by an industry-funded research group, PG Economics, determined that if GM technology had not been available in 2009, maintaining global production levels would have required 7 percent more of the arable land in the United States, the world's grain powerhouse.
Monsanto, Dinicola explained, is working with African research institutes and nongovernmenal agencies to transfer technologies of all kinds - from conventional breeding and biotechnology - to African farmers. The company, she said, is donating seeds and traits, and varieties that emerge out of these partnerships will be "royalty free" to seed companies. "We're trying to help farmers," she said. "We're also trying to build the seed business."

At least one development agency - USAID - is solidly on board with the strategy.
"Our country is better positioned than any country in the world to share these technologies," Bertram said. "We don't look at it in isolation. We look at it as one more tool."

Even researchers and policymakers who are noncommittal about biotechnology say it can't be ruled out. The world will need more food, produced more efficiently - which will require every available technology.
"We have to look at all the options," Falck-Zepeda said. "It's an agricultural system under siege."


Bill Gates Needs Your Help, Ideas


Small Farmers are the Answer
On May 24, I’ll be giving a speech in Washington, D.C . to draw attention to farming families in the developing world and the important role they play in cutting hunger and poverty. I need your help in making the case about why small farmers are so important – in fact, I want you to share your best ideas and help spread the word.

Why farming? Many people don’t realize it, but most of the world’s poorest people are small farmers. They get their food and income farming small plots of land. These farming families often don’t have good seeds, equipment, reliable markets, or money to invest that helps them get the most out of their land. So they work hard, but they get no traction, and more often than not, they stay hungry and poor.
We know that smart investments in farming families help them become self-sufficient. We know that increasing productivity while preserving the environment leads to higher incomes and better lives over the long-term. But governments are not living up to their pledges to provide this kind of support to small farmers.
Solving hunger and poverty is both an urgent problem and long-term challenge. But what gives me hope is that we know that investments are working.
Our foundation has invested $1.7 billion to date to help small farmers in Africa and South Asia. We have seen great progress in the work of our grantees and other organizations. I’ll be sharing some of that progress in my speech later this month.
Please join me. Tell the world why we should listen to small farmers and do everything we can to meet their needs. Go to our challenge page to send us your best ideas.

See for more



Frontiers in Bioenergy Symposium

- May 15-18, 2011; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907

Close to 300 participants are expected to gather for the sixth in a series of symposia called Frontiers in Bioenergy. This year’s symposium will feature U.S. and Brazilian leaders from academia, industry, and government agencies to discuss the path forward to sustainable bioenergy production.

In particular, we will engage with our Brazilian colleagues to forge strong collaborations around our common goal of making bioenergy a key component of national energy security.

Heroes of agricultural innovation

- COR VAN DER WEELE AND JOZEF KEULARTZ,Genomics, Society and Policy , 2009, Vol.5, No.3 pp.59-73


New technology has a prominent place in the theory and practice of innovation, but the association between high tech and innovation is not inevitable. In this paper, we discuss six metaphorical heroes of agricultural innovation, starting with the dominant hero of frontier science and technology. At first sight, our six heroes can be divided in those who are pro- and those who are anti-technology. Yet in the end technology, and more specifically GM technology, does not emerge as the main issue. Empowering the poor, finding solutions for urgent climate problems, and enhancing the quality of our daily relations to food and the environment – these are the issues the heroes are fighting for. Relations between innovation and (frontier) technology are better seen as a matter of pragmatic consideration, we will argue


Burden of Privilege: the Secret Life of Geoffrey Collins


Author Wayne James Sheppard takes us on a journey of interwoven past and present lives in Burden of Privilege: the Secret Life of Geoffrey Collins, a story of mystery, struggle, love and hope.

In 1942, only months before his passing, the great scientist George Washington Carver imparts secrets of monumental importance for a future earth to his young beloved student, Leopa Williams. Many decades later, Dr. Williams, a Tuskegee University professor emerita discovers Geoffrey Collins, a visiting young botany professor from U Davis in California , to be the reincarnation of Dr. Carver. When she reveals her discovery to Collins, he responds with resistance and panic as his heretofore undisturbed, charmed life is thrown into an uncontrollable turmoil.

A series of haunting dreams, mysterious out-of-body meetings with a Mayan shaman, and other-worldly experiences are all events that will shape and condition Geoffrey and his fiancée, Eva, for their participation in an amazing world-wide Great Event.

Burden of Privilege leads the reader through an extraordinary odyssey of spiritual awakening, leaving that reader with unexpected resolve for active stewardship in helping cultivate a New Earth.