Indian Court’s Decision to Uphold GM Cotton Patent Could Boost Industry Research

Some scientists in India have welcomed a supreme court ruling that reinstates a patent on genetically modified cotton that had been quashed by a lower court. They say the decision to uphold the intellectual-property rights of seed maker Monsanto could help reverse a decline in biotechnology research in agriculture in the country.

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China Reaping Harvest of Agricultural R&D

China is transforming its traditional agriculture sector, using science and technology to drive rural revitalization and modernization.

Delivering a report on the development of China’s agricultural science and technology recently, Tang Huajun, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), said remarkable progress has been made in innovation, which has played an important role in ensuring national food security and increasing farmers’ incomes.

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GMO Cotton Approved for Plantations

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has approved the cultivation of Genetically Modified Cotton in Ethiopia.

Undergoing two seasons (years) of confined field trials, the genetically modified cotton – best known as BT-Cotton – has finally secured the approval from the Ministry for “environmental release” or for the cultivation of the biotechnologically engineered cotton for commercial purposes.

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NEMA to approve field trials for GM cotton in May

Planting of National Performance Trials (NPT) for Genetically Modified (GM) Cotton might start May once the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) gives approval.

Currently NEMA is awaiting feedback from the public which is supposed to be ready by end of April, after it issued a gazette notice for them to submit comments on an environmental impact assessment for the proposed NPT on the GM Cotton.

Speaking Thursday during an Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nairobi, Chief Compliance Office at NEMA Margaret Njuki said they issued a gazette notice to the public to submit comments last month for the proposed NPTs at nine sites.

The nine sites proposed for the field test of GM cotton include Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe, Bura, Perkerra, Kibos Alupe, Barwessa and Matuga.

Simon Gichuki from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), said the initial plan was to start the NPTs in April to target the long rains. However, due to the delay in approval, some areas including Kampi ya Mawe, Katumani and Matuga may miss out due to erratic weather condition.

Mr. Rajeev Arora, Advisor, Textile Value-chain for Kenya and Chair Bt. Cotton Taskforce at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Cooperatives, said before planting NPTs that had been proposed to commence in April 2018 will now be conducted in six sites due to the delay.

He added that the team appointedin 2017 together with the Agriculture, Food Authority (AFA) has developed a cotton revitalization roadmap with conventional hybrid seed initiative which will then be followed by Bt Cotton.

“A total of 20 counties have been mapped out as potential areas for revitalization of cotton production with a total of 200,000 hectares,” he said.

Arora noted that sensitization programs and activities are also ongoing with support from different development partners.

The impact of Cotton revitalization, Arora said is to increase cotton production from the current 5,500 tons to 50,000 tons in the next five years.

“The plan is to initially develop cotton using hybrids and conventional seeds and by 2019 to grow Bt cotton after its commercialization which will have three times production yield compared to present conventional varieties,” Arora said, adding that total production will be done in over 200,000 hectares land in the five years.

-Written by Wangari Ndirangu in Kenya News Agency. See original article link here.

Nigeria on track to commercialize GMO cowpeas, rice, sorghum, corn and cotton

The Biosafety Bill was signed into law in 2015, putting Nigeria on the map of countries with requisite regulations for effective practice of modern agricultural biotechnology. The biosafety law allowed for the establishment of a biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) which has announced the nation’s readiness for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) products. This means that Nigeria will soon begin the commercialization of staple crops which have gone through the world standard procedure of studies and observations in the field called confined field trials (CFTs). Read more

Burkina Faso’s GMO cotton mistakes won’t be repeated in Africa, stakeholders say

Stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology sector are offering assurances that the problems that prompted Burkina Faso to temporarily halt cultivation of genetically engineered cotton won’t be repeated with GMO crops in other African countries. Read more

Malawi: Biotechnology could spur Africa’s industrialisation

An industrial development strategy could be built on the back of Africa’s agricultural sector underpinned by the adoption of new and emerging technologies such as biotechnology to support improved yields, value addition and services that feed into the whole agro-processing value chain, a top Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) official says.

Getachew Belay, a senior biotechnology policy advisor told Zimpapers Syndication recently on the sidelines of a communication training workshop for journalists on biotechnology and biosafety, that the adoption of genetically modified cotton developed using a bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the bollworm, could increase yields and enhance competitiveness.

He says cotton farmers in Africa suffer huge losses due to pest problems.

“The most destructive of pests is the African bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), which can cause severe losses of up to 100 percent like we saw on some cotton fields in Salima here in Malawi,” the Comesa biotech policy advisor says.

“In unprotected fields pest damage can be very severe and when you look at Bt cotton crop on trial you can see hope that it’s possible for African farmers to increase their yields and competitiveness of their crop on the market.”

Using Bt cotton developed using bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the bollworm, experts say reduction in pest infestations can increase yields and improve the livelihoods of cotton growers.

The Bt toxin is inserted into cotton, causing cotton, called Bt cotton, to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.

Biotechnology experts argue that cotton farmers in Zimbabwe, Malawi and most other African countries, can effectively reduce input costs and control damage from bollworms and other insects that frequently damage cotton by adopting Bt cotton.

For several decades, has lagged behind in terms of the industrial dynamism required to boost farmer earnings, employment, economic growth and competitiveness on the global market.

But in recent years, there is a growing realisation of the importance of industrialisation.

In 2016, the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) published a major report on industrialization in Africa where it asserts that structural transformation in Africa’s economies remains the highest priority and industrialization is the top strategy for achieving it in practice.

And, Belay says, biotechnology is one of the major tools for achieving industrialisation.

“I’m convinced that biotechnology has many opportunities to drive Africa’s industrialisation,” he says.

“We have Bt cotton, Bt maize and soya and biotechnology can enhance the competitiveness of our crops and agricultural products especially when it comes to value addition and beneficiation as it was stipulated in our African industrialisation agenda.

“Already we are seeing the benefits of adopting biotech crops in South Africa. Livestock feed sectors in Zambia and even Zimbabwe cannot compete with SA’s GM stock feed which is produced cheaply. We need to adopt this new technology to cut costs.

“Europe relies heavily on GM soya for its livestock feed industry and this has enhanced its competitiveness.”

Africa has a low uptake of biotech food crops due to lack of awareness and stiff resistance, scientists say.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter director Margaret Karembu told journalists at the workshop that adoption of agricultural biotechnology has lagged behind compared to the rapid rates seen in the medical and health sectors.

“Where are we as Africans? This is the question, we need to think seriously about the good work (on agricultural biotechnology) going on in our labs,” she said. “What is our place in the global biotechnology space? We need reclaim it and improve the livelihoods of our farmers across the continent.”

Karembu said lack of awareness and a constrained regulatory environment had also slowed down the uptake of agricultural biotechnology.

“Lack of awareness of the benefits and the regulatory framework has affected the tide towards the adoption of biotechnology. The victim mentality has been largely to blame for this.

“We think of ourselves as victims of the technology. The fact is that our public institutions and universities have been doing research on biotech crops for years and this has not moved to the commercialization stage,” she says. She says Africa needs to diffuse myths and misconceptions around GMO crops.

“The media has a big role to play in clearing some of the misconceptions about biotechnology and GMOs,” the ISAAA director says.

“When media demonises the science, it becomes difficult to correct the mistakes. There is a lot of unfamiliarity with the technology and having fixed mind sets will not help our struggling farmers.

“The farmers you saw in Salima are poor and they are struggling. Why should we block them from accessing the Bt cotton varieties that can significantly boost their yields and income? Farming should not be for leisure, it’s a business and it should be there to improve the quality of livelihoods of the farmers.

“Biotechnology is one of the tools we can use to first of all improve crop yields and secondly to support Africa’s industrialisation goals for value addition and beneficiation.”

Karembu urged the media to encourage dialogue and to correct misinformation.

“The information we generate should be guided by credible scientific evidence and not unverified ‘Google’ information,” she says. “If you have a headache people just ‘Google’ and ‘Google’ has become the answer. The world is polluted by a lot of unsubstantiated facts. We need to change the narrative and challenge the myth that Africa enjoys being poor – the romanticisation of poverty.”

Stringent and expensive regulatory process in Africa has slowed down uptake of biotechnology crops.

Biotech experts say the regulatory process is burdensome and makes everything unpredictable while in some African countries there is fear of change and challenging of the status quo when it comes to biotechnology.

According to ISAAA, the production of biotech crops increased 110-fold from 1996 with countries now growing the crops on 2,1 billion hectares worldwide.

The global value of the biotech seed market alone was US$15,8 billion in 2016. A total of 26 countries, 19 developing and 7 industrial grew biotech crops.

By 2016, at least four countries in Africa had in the past placed a GM crop on the market. These included Egypt, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

But due to some temporary setback in Burkina Faso and Egypt, only South Africa and Sudan planted biotech crops on 2,8 million hectares

South Africa is one of the top 10 countries planting more than one million hectares in 2016 and continued to lead the adoption of biotech crops on the African continent.

Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria have transitioned from research to granting environmental release approvals while six others – Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland and Uganda made significant progress towards completion of multi-location trials in readiness for considering commercial approval, ISAAA reported.

But the road to the adoption of Bt cotton technologies in Africa still faces stiff resistance.

Supporters of GM crops have to grapple with vocal anti-GMO activists, limited capacity to deal with the processing of GM research applications, bureaucratic delays in approving field trials, mistrust and resistance from key decision makers in Government and limited public awareness of the issues surrounding research and development of GM crops.

In addition, they have to contend with issues related to disease resistance, bottlenecks encountered when co-ordinating with other line ministries, trade-related restrictions, biosafety regulation and the overwhelming influence of multinational companies, Governments and their sidekicks – NGOs. And, despite the threats, biotechnology experts say benefits from the biotech agro-linked industrial development outweigh the threats.

SADC drew up its Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap which seeks to speed up industrialisation by strengthening the comparative and competitive advantages of the economies of the region.

The strategy which covers the period 2015 – 2063 is anchored on three pillars – industrialisation, competitiveness and regional industrialisation.

The whole industrialisation agenda aims to help SADC member states to achieve high levels of economic growth, competitiveness, incomes and employment.

To access the funds, SADC countries have set up committees made up of government and private sector players to identify priority areas for funding.

At regional level, three areas have been prioritised, namely – agro processing, mining and downstream processing.

“For all this, biotechnology could be a useful tool to drive the region’s industrialisation agenda,” Belay says.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s one of the many tools we can use to drive the continent’s industrialisation strategy. Agriculture is fundamental to Comesa member states in terms of improving food and nutrition security, increasing rural income, employment and contributions to GDP and expert earnings.

“We need to explore ways of enhancing the use of biotechnology to drive industrialisation and improved livelihoods for farmers in Africa.”

Analysts say Africa badly needs increased investment in infrastructure of all kinds – reliable clean energy and water systems, medical clinics, technical colleges, railways, roads, bridges, fiber optic networks, and factories of many kinds.

“Industrialisation can benefit the expansion of intra-African trade by supporting a more diversified export economy,” wrote an economic analyst.

“In particular, the development of rural and food processing industries could help to lift significant numbers from poverty. But, to facilitate trade in goods and services, it is essential to reduce distribution costs by improving and expanding road, rail and other communication infrastructure.” -Zimpapers Syndication

Scientists to release biotech maize, cotton varieties in Kenya

Kenyan scientists have used modern biotechnology to develop two crop varieties that are expected to be released in the country soon.

Simon Gichuki of the Kenya Agricultural, Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) Biotechnology Research Institute (BioRI) said that the maize and cotton varieties are already awaiting the National Performance Trials before they can be released for field trials, while gypsophilla flower will follow soon.

“The products have been produced within the country by local scientists where risk assessment has been done in accordance with the law,” he said during an agricultural biotechnology sensitization workshop in Nairobi on Friday.

Gichuki noted that genetically modified drought- and pest-resistant cassava, sorghum and sweet potato are due to be complete soon.

Julia Njagi, a biosafety officer at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), revealed that the authority has approved 24 crop varieties for laboratory and greenhouse trials, 14 for Confined Field Trials (CFT) and three for environmental trials.

She added that the two varieties are pending approval and are at the laboratory and environmental release stages.

Research on Bt cotton was completed in 2002-2012 and approved by NBA for National Performance Trials (NPT) by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize variety has also been approved and is undergoing NPT by KEPHIS experts. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/

-Published in NewsGhana.  See original article link here.

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Read more

Kenyan scientists seek more funding for biotechnology research

NAIROBI (Xinhua) — A Kenyan scientist on Wednesday called on the government to increase funding for agricultural biotechnology to help empower women scientists.

Professor Caroline Thoruwa, the Chairperson of African Women in Science and Engineering said additional funding could help enhance the participation of women in science whose number is currently small.

“Additional funding will help empower women’s participation in modern science especially Genetically Modified Organization that is the current innovation in agriculture,” she said in an inaugural women in biosciences forum in Nairobi.

Thoruwa called on the government to increase awareness on biotechnology by reaching women in all parts of the country.

“It is time to tell the public about the positive side of biotechnology.

“We need to raise up the status of women in biotechnology and also encourage women to network in order to achieve the noble goal of sharing their science,” she said.

Felister Makini, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization Deputy Director General urged the government to make farming easier to women by providing them with modern tools such as biotechnology.

“Biotechnology can help African women since they form majority of farmers and suffer most during drought and food shortages,” she noted.

Makini said that drought and perennial hunger should be a thing of the past since the technology that could be of great help exists.

Margaret Karembu, Director, The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications AfriCenter hailed Kenya’s intention to revive the textile industry by introducing disease resistant and drought tolerant Bt cotton.

“Despite demonstrated will and long history of safe use, conflicting messages between different ministries and regulatory agencies were hampering progress in delivering the technology to farmers,” Karembu said.

She called on women scientists to intensify engagement with government and help clarify long-standing misconceptions on the technology.

-Published in  See original article link here.

Farmers return to BT cotton after experiment with desi variety fails

After the experiment with the desi cotton failed to bear fruits, farmers are returning to the BT cotton in the next kharif season.

While there is no taker for the desi cotton seed available with the government agencies, the BT cotton seed is being sold at a premium in the open market, as the seed is not available with the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation.
The farmers say due to high demand, BT cotton varieties were being sold at premium rate by the private seed sellers in the open market. On the other hand, they said, there were no takers for the desi varieties.

“The farmers prefer three varieties of BT cotton— 773, 776 and US 21. Due to high demand, the seed traders have been manipulating the market to create a shortage. Though some unscrupulous elements succeeded in selling these varieties at a premium of Rs 200 per packet above the MRP, the market has stabilised now and these vareties are also available at the MRP of Rs 800,” says a seed trader in Hisar.

Anil Kumar, assistant marketing officer of the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, says the desi varieties are in low demand this time. “Just 120 packets have been sold till. Last year, I had sold 1,400 packets,” he says, maintaining that the corporation will make some varieties of BT cotton available to the farmers soon.
Farmers say good BT cotton crop in the last kharif season had turned the farmers back to these varieties, as desi cotton was not even able to recover the input cost.

Zile Singh, a farmer from Bir Babran village who sowed desi cotton last time after he lost the BT cotton to the whitefly two years ago, said he was returning to BT cotton this time again.

-Published in The Tribune.  See original article link here.