EDITION 137 31 MARCH 2003

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding Sponsored by FAO and Cornell University Clair H. Hershey, Editor





* Plant Breeding Successes in African Rural Development, by Rodomiro Ortiz


* Maize In Eastern And Southern Africa: "Seeds" Of Success In Retrospect

* Successes in African Agriculture: Results of an Expert Survey

* Seeds of Concern: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants


* Bananas: FAO Response to Articles in PBN-L Edition 136

* Celebrate DNA's 50th Birthday

* Effective Striga Control Demonstrated in Ethiopia

* Genetic Discovery in Cotton

* Traditionally Bred Rice has Extra Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc

* Search for Locally Suitable Insect Resistant Maize in Kenya

* Salt Tolerance Transferred from Wild Triticeae Species into Wheat

* International Drive to Safeguard World's Seed Collections

* CLIMA Aims to Build Pulse Food Resources

* The Global Environment Facility Project in West Asia

* Foundation Goes to Bat for African Farmers

* FoodAfrica Initiative

* The African Center for Crop Improvement (ACCI)

* African Marker Assisted Selection Scientists Network (AMASSNET)

* ICRISAT and MSSRF Plan Virtual University on Drought

* Selected Excerpts from FAO-BiotechNews

* Genetically Modified Crops Could Be Better for Environment, Danish Study Finds

* USDA May Set Strict Rules for Biotech Wheat

* A Transformation Method for Obtaining Marker-free Plants of a Cross-pollinating and Vegetatively Propagated Crop

* European Commission Addresses Co-existence of GM, Conventional and Organic crops


* Activities and Achievements in Participatory Plant Breeding by ICARDA

* List of Plant Breeding Resources on the Web

* Crop-specific Data-bases and Information



Plant Breeding News is an electronic forum for the exchange of information and ideas about applied plant breeding and related fields. It is published every four to six weeks throughout the year.

The newsletter is managed by the editor and an advisory group consisting of Elcio Guimaraes (, Margaret Smith (, and Anne Marie Thro ( The editor will advise subscribers approximately two weeks ahead of each edition, in order to set deadlines for contributions.

Content consists principally of contributions from subscribers, and as such may vary considerably from one edition to another. Contributions may be in such areas as: technical communications on key plant breeding issues; announcements of meetings, courses and electronic conferences; book announcements and reviews; web sites of special relevance to plant breeding; announcements of funding opportunities; requests to other readers for information and collaboration; and feature articles or discussion issues brought by subscribers.

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* (NEW) 20-25 April 2003: World Potato Congress 2003. Kunming, China. Contact: Conference Secretariat, The Agricultural Bureau, 25 Xinwennanlu, Kunming, Yunnan, China; Tel: +86 (871) 141008/5516240; Fax: +86 (871) 4141356; Email:;

* (NEW) 25-28 April 2003: Agricultural Information for the New Millennium: New Crops, Biotechnology, and Saving the Past. Champaign, Illinois, USA.Contact: Margaret C. Merrill, College Librarian for Agriculture and the Life Sciences, University Libraries, Virginia Tech University, P.O. Box 90001 Blacksburg, VA 24062-9001, USA; Tel: +1 (540) 231 9670; Fax: +1 (540) 231 9263; Email:;

* (NEW) 30 April 1 May2003: Ag-Biotech Forum 2003: Charting a path for success within Australia's agricultural sector. Duxton Hotel, Melbourne. Contact: Marketing at Marcus EvansLevel 3, 60-70 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia Tel: Tel +61 (2) 9223 2137 Fax: +61 (2) 9223 2352 Email:;

* 5-8 May 2003: The 5th Congress on Artichokes, Tudela (Navarra Spain).

* (NEW) 6 May 2003: 55th International Symposium on Crop Protection. Ghent, Belgium. Contact: Kris De Jonghe, Faculty of Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium; Tel: +32 (0)9 264 6022; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 6238; Email:;

* 18-22 May 2003: Molecular Breeding of Forage and Turf. Dallas, TX, USA.

* 22-24 May 2003: The Third Taro Symposium. Nadi, Fiji Islands.

* (NEW) 26 May - 7June 2003: West African Bioinformatics Training Course. Ibadan, Nigeria. Contact: Professor Olufunso Olorunsogo, West African Bioinformatics Training Course 2003, Department of Biochemistry, University of Ibadan, Ibadan-Nigeria Tel: +23 (42) 810 7858; Fax: +23 (42) 810 3043; Email:;

* (NEW) 26 May -13June 2003: 8th Annual Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* 26-30 May 2003: Introduction to Biosafety and Risk Assessment for the Environmental Release of GMOs: Theoretical Approach and Scientific Background. Trieste, Italy.

* (NEW) 27-30 May 2003: 1st International Conference and workshop on Challenges Of Genetically Modified Food. Cairo Egypt. Contact: Dr. Mahmoud El Hamalawy, P.O. Box 5950 West Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt; Tel: +20 (10) 5678 123; Fax: +20 (2-6377 446; Email:;

* 28-31 May 2003: "From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution" Congress will be held in Bologna, Italy. Speakers include Norman Borlaug, Ron Phillips and Ingo Potrykus.

* (NEW) 5-8 June 2003: Transposition, Recombination and Application to Plant Genomics. Ames, Iowa, USA. Contact: Symposium Office, 3208 Molecular Biology Building, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3260, USA; Tel: +1 (515) 294 7978; Fax: +1 (515) 294 2244; Email:;

* (NEW) 7-11 June 2003: World Seed Congress 2003. Bangalore India. Contact: Dr. Manmohan Attavar, Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (India) Pvt. Ltd., 17th Cross, 2nd 'A' Main, K.R. Road, Banashankri 2nd Stage, Bangalore - 560070, India; Tel: +91 (80) 6760 111; Fax: +91 (80) 6761 479; Email:;

* (NEW) 9-12 June 2003: The 1st Central Asian Wheat Conference. Almaty, Kazkahstan. Contact: A. Morgounov, 1st CAWC, c/o CIMMYT P.O. Box 374, Almaty 480000, Kazakhstan; Tel: +7 (3272) 284947 or 285966; Fax: +7 (3272) 282551; Email:;

* (NEW) 21-25 June 2003: 120th American Seed Trade Association Annual Convention. Nevada, USA. Contact: American Seed Trade Association, 225 Reinekers Ln, Suite 650, Alexandria, VA 22314-2875, USA; Tel: +1 (703) 837 8140; Fax: +1 (703) 837 9365;

* 23-25 June 2003: Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, Sacramento, California, USA.

* 29 June 3 July 2003: Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural Biotechnology. Ravello, Italy.

* (NEW) 6-10 July 2003: 11th International Rapeseed Congress. Copenhagen, Denmark Contact: Anette Palm, 11th International Rapeseed Congress, Palm International Conferences, Turnstrasse 11, 67706, Krickenbach, Germany; Tel: + 49 (0) 6307 401103; Fax: + 49 (0) 6307 401104; Email:;

* (NEW) 6-11 July 2003: XVth International Plant Protection Congress. Beijing, China. Contact: WEN Liping, IPPC Secretariat, Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, #2 West Yuanmingyuan Road, Beijing 100094, China; Tel: +86 (10) 6281 5913; Fax: +86 (10) 6289 5451; Email:;

* 6-11 July 2003: XIX International Congress of Genetics. Melbourne, Australia.

Note: Travel grants available to Genetics Congress The International Genetics Federation of Australia and some Australian organizers are financing some travel grants for scientists from developing countries to enable them to attend the 19th International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne on July 6-11, 2003. The grants are being awarded on a competitive basis. For more information visit

* (NEW) 8 July 2003: GM Foods - Latest Developments. Chipping Campden, UK. Contact: Training Department, Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LD, UK; Tel: +44 (0)1386 842104; Fax: +44 (0) 1386 842100; Email:;

* (NEW) 13-18 July 2003: Institute in Statistical Genetics. Melbourne, Australia. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics, Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* 14-25 July 2003: PRA/PLA Workshop. Reading, UK. Contact: Pascal SANGINGA []

* 17-22 August 2003: Arnel R. Hallauer International Symposium on Plant Breeding Mexico City, Mexico.

* 25-29 August 2003: EUCARPIA XXI International Symposium: Classical vs. Molecular Breeding of Ornamentals. Freising-Weihenstephan (Germany) Info: Prof. Dr. Gert Forkmann, TU München, Zierpflanzenbau, Am Hochanger 4, 85350 Freising, Germany. Phone: (49)8161713416, Fax: (49)8161713886, email:

* (NEW) 1-6 September 2003: Tenth International Wheat Genetics Symposium. Paestum, Italy Contact: Leader SAS, Corso Garibaldi, 148-84123 Salerno, Italy; Tel: +39 (089) 253170; Fax: +39 (089) 253238; Email:;

* (NEW) 7-13 September 2003: Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology. High Tatras, Slovakia Contact: Alena GajdosovInstitute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology SAS, Akademicka 2, P.O.Box 39A, 950 07 Nitra, Slovak Republic Tel: +421/37 73 366 61 Fax: +421/37 73 366 60 Email:

* (NEW) 17-18 September 2003: Seedbanks: Determination, Dynamics & Management. Reading, UK. Contact: Carol Millman, Association of Applied Biologists, Horticultural Research International, Wellesbourne, Warwick, CV35 9EF, UK; Tel: +44 (0)1789 470382; Fax: +44 (0)1789 470234; Email:;

* (NEW) 21-26 September 2003: Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology. Big Sky, MT, USA. Contact: Gordon Research Conferences, 3071 Route 138, Kingston, RI 02881, USA; Tel: +1 (401) 783 4011; Fax: +1 (401) 783 7644; Email:;

* (NEW) 22-24 September 2003: XXX CIOSTA CIGR V, Management and Technology Applications to Empower Agriculture and Agro-Food Systems. Turin, Italy. Contact: DEIAFA Sez. Meccanica Agraria Facoltà di Agraria, Università di Torino via L. da Vinci, 44 10095,Grugliasco (TO), Italy; Fax: +39 (011) 670 8591; Email:;

* 26 Sept.-1 Oct. 2004:The 4th International Crop Science Congress (4ICSC), "New Directions for a Diverse Planet," Queensland, Australia. To join the Congress e-newsletter for updates and announcements, visit:

* 7-10 October 2003: ITAFE'03 - International Congress on Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and Environment. Izmir, TURKEY. First announcement and call for papers. Email : or

* (NEW) 12-17 October 2003,6th African Crop Science Conference, Nairobi, Kenya. Submit abstracts to Organizing Committee Chairperson Prof. Agnes Mwang'ombe.

* (NEW) 22-25 October 2003: First International Conference on Saffron Biology and Biotechnology. Albacete, Spain. Contact: Dr. Lourdes Gomez-Gomez, IDR-Biotechnology, Campus Universitario s/n, E-02071 Albacete, Spain; Tel: +1 (34) 9675 99200 ext. 2612; Fax: +1 (34) 9675 99309; Email:;

* (NEW) 22-26 October 2003: Plant Genetics 2003: Mechanisms of Genetic Variation. Utah, USA. Contact: American Society of Plant Biologists, 15501 Monona Drive, Rockville, MD 20855-2768 USA; Tel: +1 (301) 251 0560; Fax: +1 (301) 279 2996; Email:;

* (NEW) 2-6 November 2003: Annual Meetings, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America. Denver, USA. Contact: ASA-CSSA-SSSA, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison WI 53711, USA; Tel: +1 (608) 273 8080; Fax: +1 (608) 273 2021;

* (NEW) 17-28 November 2003, New Delhi, India. "Genomics and crop improvement". Training course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. See or contact for more information.

* (NEW) 9-13 December 2003: Statistical Genetics Workshop, Institute in Statistical Genetics. Dublin, Ireland. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* (NEW) 10-12 December 2003: ASTA's 33rd Soybean Seed & 58th Corn & Sorghum Seed Conference. Illinois, USA. Contact: American Seed Trade Association, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 650, Alexandria, VA 22314-2875, USA; Tel: +1 (703) 837 8140; Fax: +1 (837) 9365;



Plant Breeding Successes in African Rural Development

Contribution to PBN-L by Rodomiro Ortiz (Acting) Deputy-Director General and Director Research-for-Development International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria

Low agricultural productivity and a high percentage of poor and undernourished people both adults and children, are common features of sub-Saharan Africa. Low infant weight appears predominant in West and Central Africa as well as the Great Lakes Region of Eastern Africa. The annual demand for food keeps growing (3.3%) and may not be matched by the growth in agricultural production. Not surprisingly, per capita calorie intake remains at low levels in sub-Saharan Africa, and below the developing world average. If current trends continue, there will be approximately 300 million of malnourished people or 32% of the total population in 2010, which will convert sub-Saharan Africa (taking over from South Asia), to being the region with the highest number of inhabitants who are chronically malnourished.

Agriculture still accounts for 33% of GDP and 40% of exports for sub-Saharan Africa. It provides jobs to 65% of the labor force (versus 15% in industry and 20% in services), and the forecasts from the African Development Bank suggest that about 60% of the economically active African population will be still employed in agriculture by 2010. In short, agriculture remains as the dominant factor for economic development in most of Africa, and more importantly the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Hence, research-for-development interventions aiming to ensure food, reduce poverty and generate income must be high in any agenda in which Science will be pursued for assisting development in Africa.

Impact of plant breeding in Africa A recent survey by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reveals key successes emerging in African agriculture particularly breakthroughs in maize breeding across Africa, sustained gains in cassava breeding and successful combat of its disease and pests, control of the rinderpest livestock disease, booming horticultural and flower exports in East and Southern Africa and increased cotton production and exports in West Africa (Gabre-Madhin & Haggblade 2003). Below we provide some successes of plant breeding of the four most important food crops in Africa: cassava, yam, maize and plantain/banana, as well as the most important legume grown in Africa (cowpea) and the legume with the highest growth in the last decades in this continent: soybean.

Cassava: the Best Kept-Secret of Africa A recent book by Nweke et al. (2001) revealed for the first time, that cassava can be transformed from being a poor man's crop to an urban food, from being a subsistent crop to industrial cash crop. Their book describes how long-term research by IITA and African partners led to the development of improved, high-yielding Tropical Manihot Selection (TMS) cultivars that increased cassava yields by 40% without the use of fertilizer. About 206 releases of cassava cultivars from IITA germplasm are recorded in 20 African nations. In the 1990s African programs incorporated IITA bred-materials in 80% of their cassava bred-germplasm, which led to 50% gains in cassava yields on average. The improved cultivars raised per capita output by 10% continent-wide, benefiting 14 million rural inhabitants.

The national research capacity available in Africa and backstopping from IITA provide a means to deal with new threats affecting this crop in the continent. For example, the total benefits from the cassava multiplication research-for-development partnership project between NARO (Uganda) and IITA to combat the cassava mosaic disease pandemic in six districts was approximately US $ 36 million over four years (1998-2001) for an initial investment of US $ 0.8 million. Partnerships between National Agricultural Research Systems and IITA are key for this and other successes in the genetic enhancement of cassava in Africa. In this regard, the first ever CGIAR Outstanding Partnership Award was given in 1996 to the Institute of Agricultural Research (Sierra Leone) and IITA for cassava improvement. Because of the successes in cassava research-for-development by IITA and partners, the Integrated Action Program for Cassava Starch Production and Export was launced by the President of the Republic of Ghana for developing the cassava starch industry in this country as a major vehicle for job creation and poverty reduction in rural areas. Similarly, the Government of Nigeria took positive steps to promote cassava production in the country, and inaugurated in 2002 a cassava production committee of all stakeholders: research directors, farmers and extension agents, food processors, and marketers to encourage cassava export. While addressing the committee in Abuja recently, President Obasanjo stated that cassava export could be capable of generating an income of US$ 1.5 billion within two years.

Breeding of Yams IITA and national or local partners generated several new cultivars of yams (Dioscorea rotundata and D. alata) with high and stable yield of tubers (50 to 100% superior to popular local cultivars) as well as good storability and food quality attributes through breeding and selection. High levels of host plant resistance bred into the cultivars against the two most important diseases of the crop, yam anthracnose disease and yam mosaic virus, contribute significantly to the high level and stability of field performance. With the aim of limiting production cost, the improved yam cultivars were selected for good performance in the absence of external input of fertiliser or staking (in the moist savanna zone) and emphasis was placed on tuber shapes that facilitate harvesting. Many of these new cultivars were assessed at multiple sites in the yam producing locations of West Africa for suitability to local farming and food systems in comparison with popular indigenous cultivars and with active participation of potential farmers. Three IITA-bred cultivars of D. rotundata (white yam) were formally released by Nigeria in 2001. Several others are in the pipeline in the other major producing countries in the sub-region.

Water yam (D. alata), a species introduced to Africa from Asia, deserves special mention. It is generally superior to the indigenous white yam (D. rotundata) in yield potential (especially under low to average soil fertility), ease of propagation (production of bulbils and reliability of sprouting), early vigour for weed suppression, and storability of tubers. Indeed it has superior characteristics for sustainable production. Its major limitation in the field is the susceptibility of most cultivars to anthracnose disease caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides that exerts a devastating impact on productivity. The tuber culinary quality of most cultivars of the species is inferior to that of white yam in the preparation of West African dishes. New water yam cultivars with much improved food quality, resistance to anthracnose and high tuber yield have been developed and are under multi-site testing with partners in Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. Already one of the key parental sources, earlier introduced from Puerto Rico, has gained very wide acceptance in West Africa. Introduction to farmers through an NGO in Ebonyi State of Nigeria has led to a rapid spread in that State and neighbouring ones.

Improving Maize for, in, and from Sub-Saharan Africa Maize production in sub-Saharan Africa today would be 25% less, if new cultivars were not grown by African farmers. Breeding for resistance to maize streak virus, the parasitic weed Striga, insects, downy mildew and other pests was among the major targets of partnerships set up by IITA in West and Central Africa, and Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT) in Eastern and Southern Africa. The CGIAR acknowledged the successes on the genetic enhancement of African maize by giving the 1986 King Baudouin Award to IITA for its work to overcome maize streak virus, a major endemic disease affecting maize throughout Africa.

In the mid-1990s East and Southern African farmers planted about 50% of maize area with bred-hybrids that showed yield gains of about 40% over local cultivars. From the 1970s onwards, IITA and research-for-development partners recorded 267 releases of maize cultivars in 11 West and Central African nations, of which 81 were released by the private sector, including hybrids. IITA and CIMMYT provided 49% and 11% of genetic materials, respectively to the new cultivars, which were grown in about 37% of the total maize area in this sub-region. The mean on-farm yield gains with improved germplasm appears to be about 45%, which explains why over nine million West and Central African farmers grow improved open-pollinating cultivars on about 20% of the total maize area, thereby boosting total sub-regional maize output by 2.5 million t year-1.

The African research-for-development partnerships setup along the genetic enhancement of maize played a catalyzing role in the process of providing improved seeds to farmers. For example, in response to the request made by the Nigerian Federal Government, IITA with active participation of Nigerian partners developed and released the first generation of inbred lines and hybrids in 1983. The spillover effect of this release was the formation of a small seed industry to market hybrid maize in Nigeria. In 1993, each of the three seed companies operating in Nigeria (Premier, UTC and UAC) officially announced IITA open pollinated and hybrid maize cultivars in their seed catalogues. Furthermore, IITA promoted community-based seed production schemes in West and Central Africa with many regional partners in order to make improved seeds available to farmers.

Cooking Bananas and Plantain Hybrids for African Farmers and Markets. West African plantains in the lowlands and East African highland bananas (for both cooking and beer) are examples of African farmer ingenuity, tenacity, organizational and inventive capacity in adapting this imported Musa crop species from Asia to respective environments. Although their asexual propagation may limit crop evolution, today both sub-regions are acknowledged as secondary centers of variation for plantains and bananas, because farmers selected sports (mutants) arising in their fields, which today account for most of the caloric intake from fruit crops in the African diet.

In 1987, African governments encouraged IITA to launch an urgent research program to help combat black Sgatoka disease. This fungal leaf spot disease causes significant yield loss in plantains, an important food and cash crop to more than 70 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. An interim measure adopted by IITA in the late 1980s, was the introduction from Asia of black sigatoka-resistant cooking bananas, while the long-term strategy was to develop black sigatoka resistant plantains. After their introduction to Nigeria, cooking banana plantlets were produced in two tissue culture laboratories located at IITA High Rainfall Station (Onne, near Port Harcourt) and the Agricultural Development Programme at Owerri (Imo State). With the collaboration of 24 institutions, vegetatively propagated planting materials (suckers) were distributed to 29,585 farmers in 710 villages.

A recent impact assessment examined the adoption and diffusion of cooking banana in Nigeria. Cooking banana gained a high level of acceptance and spread among the people, and thus established itself within the farming system in the region. The crop has been adopted by 55% of farmers, occupying about 26% of total fields, while its cultivation has increased by more than 930% since the introduction, with a multiplication rate of 600% across farmers. Bearing in mind that cooking banana was neither a traditional crop nor an improved cultivar from an existing one, the level and rate of adoption and diffusion are quite high and encouraging. At the end of the 1990s, about 80% of farmers, who adopted this new crop, were selling 10 to 90% of their total cooking banana production, while the other 20% produced entirely for household consumption. About 58% farmers sold at least 50% of their cooking banana. At the end of the 1990s, the average selling price of cooking bananas was N6.5 per kg compared to N13.3 per kg for plantains (about US $ 1 = N 111). However, the cooking bananas may have an increased overall value because of their significantly higher bunch weight than plantains. The introduction of cooking bananas and their subsequent adoption and diffusion made a positive impact in the region: on farmers' farm enterprises, farm resource use and allocation, income and food base of the people as well as employment generation. Therefore, the potential of cooking banana in contributing to bridging the hunger gap, and uplifting the income level of farmers in the region is quite high. As such, it is no longer appropriate to regard cooking banana as a stopgap measure, rather a suitable supplement (or even substitute) to plantain for some farmers and consumers in Nigeria.

IITA researchers were able in early 1990s to rapidly (about 5 years) develop improved plantain-banana hybrid germplasm using a range of conventional and innovative approaches: interspecific hybridization, ploidy manipulation, embryo culture, rapid in vitro multiplication, field testing, and selection. This result is a noteworthy achievement, considering that programs elsewhere required decades of breeding before Musa hybrids became available. The potential impact of using black Sigatoka-resistant plantains shows a cost-benefit impact of 10:1 over fungicides during periods of adequate production in rural southeastern Nigeria; while this advantage may reduce to 5.5:1 during periods of scarcity in plantain production which dramatically influences the prices of plantain fruit. Owing to its pioneering research-for-development on breeding hybrid plantains resistant to black sigatoka and for advances made in the genetics of Musa not an easy task for a triploid species, IITA received the King Baudouin Award in 1994. The successful professional career -solely in Africa, of the leader of this IITA team, the late Dirk R. Vuylsteke, was acknowledged by dedicating one of the recent volumes of the annual series Plant Breeding Reviews, perhaps the only ever given so far to a plant breeder of the CGIAR. PITA 14 (or TMPx 7152-2) appears to be one of the most promising IITA plantain hybrids because of its early fruiting, high bunch weight and big fruits. While detailed analysis of the acceptability of PITA 14 in southeastern Nigeria is underway, it is noteworthy that several farmers have established sucker multiplication plots and are selling suckers to other farmers. Owing to this early success, IITA started in 2001 large-scale introduction (on-farm) of hybrids with black sigatoka resistance to the farming community in 11 Nigerian States of the plantain-belt.

Cowpea: the African Legume for the Dry Savannas In the last 40 years, Africa recorded significant improvement in the production trend for cowpea owing to both increases in area and yield - the largest among legumes. At about US $ 500 per t, the increased production represents an annual value of some US $ 650 million in Nigeria alone. In the early 1990s, IITA in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), initiated a breeding program to develop improved cowpea cultivars that provide both grain for human consumption and fodder for livestock in the dry season. Impact assessment shows that farmers obtain substantial benefits by adopting dry-season dual-purpose cowpea. These include food security during a critical period of the year, cash income, fodder, and in situ grazing after harvesting, in periods when the prices of cowpea grain peak, and when good quality fodder is scarce. Dry season dual-purpose cowpea is thus a profitable technology that will find economic and ecological niches in the mixed crop/livestock farming systems of the semi-arid zones of Africa.

Soybean: the Potential for "a Legume Revolution" from Africa Adoption of IITA high yielding and pod shattering resistant soybean cultivars over the last decade increased average farmers' yields in Nigeria from 310 kg ha-1 in 1991 to 730 kg ha-1 in 2001, which led to a nearly 3 times increase in production from 145,000 t to 429,000 t, within the same period, though soybean area grown increased by only 26%. Children who consume soybeans are showing a significantly better nutritional status than those that do not. Not surprisingly, several health centers and hospitals in Nigeria are using soybean products to treat malnourished children. Government policy and farm-level technology influenced the success of soybean in Nigeria. This crop also contributed to the economic independence of women and generation of more income allowing acquisition of new household items and payment of medical bills and school fees.

Measuring Impact of Crop Improvement for, and in Marginal African Lands A recent report by Brader (2002) shows that high adoption rates of early-maturing cultivars does not translate into large yield gains because they are targeting new land thought to be marginal for agriculture. Hence, yield per se was not the main aim of breeding early-maturing cultivars in crops such as maize and cowpea but to enable the crop to be grown in new areas perhaps by replacing other crops; e.g. maize displacing sorghum in drylands. As pointed out by Adesina et al. (1997) early maturing maize cultivars allowed the crop to be grown in the semi-arid tropics of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal. Likewise, crop breeding for pests or abiotic stresses was a cornerstone in stabilizing yields and reducing risks in pest-prone, low-input, rainfed environments (where drought may often occur), rather than resulting in potential yield gains by small landholders who are not having an easy access to credits for inputs or to output markets.

Outlook Impact of any crop improvement program can only be judged over relatively long periods, covering cultivar development, release, distribution and adoption. Through the introduction of more productive cultivars that are resisting prevailing pests, and the effective biological control of the cassava mealybug and other pests, large-scale famine was avoided in sub-Saharan Africa. Without these research-for-development efforts, 25% less maize would currently be produced in sub-Saharan Africa, equal to 8 million t year-1, or the food requirements of 40 million people. Cassava production would be 50% or less, or over 13 million t year-1 of dry cassava, enough to meet the calorie requirements of 65 million people. For both crops alone research-for-development by IITA and African partners meant that over 100 million more people are fed; i.e., one out of six inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa!

References and Further Reading Adesina, A.A., O.N. Coulibaly & V. Houndekon. 1997. Policy, devaluation, and profitability of maize production in West and Central Africa: comparative analysis of Cameroon, Benin and Mali. In: Strategy for Sustainable Maize Production in West and Central Africa. Proceedings of a Regional Maize Workshop, IITA-Cotonou, Benin Republic 21-25 April 1997. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria. Pp. 53-92.

Brader, L. 2002. A study about the causes for low adoption rates of agriculture research results in West and Central Africa: possible solutions leading to greater future impacts. In: Progress Report of Regional Approach to Research. Document No. SDR/iSC:IAR/02/27. Interim Science Council Secretariat. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Annex II

Byerlee, D. 1994. Maize Research in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Overview of Past Impacts and Future Prospects. Economics Working Paper 94-03. CIMMYT, Mexico, D.F. Byerlee, D. & C. Eicher (Eds.). 1997. Africa's Emerging Maize Revolution. Lynn Reinner, Boulder, Colorado.

Carr, S.J. 1997. A Green Revolution frustrated: lessons from the Malawi experience. African Crop Science Journal 5:93-98.

CGIAR/TAC (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research/Technical Advisory Committee). 2001. Contributions made by the CGIAR and its Partners to Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Document No. SDR/TAC:IAR/01/13. CGIAR Secretariat ? The World Bank, Washington D.C.

Ferris, R.S.B., R. Ortiz, U. Chukwu, Y.O. Akalumhe, S. Akele, A.Ubi & D. Vuylsteke. 1997. The introduction and market potential of exotic black sigatoka resistant cooking banana cultivars in West Africa. Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture 36:141-152.

Inaizumi, H. B., B. Singh, P. C. Sanginga, V. M. Manyong, A. A. Adesina & S. Tarawali. 2000. Adoption and Impact of Dry-Season Dual-Purpose Cowpea in the Semiarid Zone of Nigeria. IITA Impact Study. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan Nigeria.

Manyong, V.M., A.G.O. Dixon, K.O. Makinde, M. Bokanga & J. Whyte. 2000a.The Contribution of IITA-Improved Cassava to Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa. IITA Impact Series. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Manyong, V.M., J.G. Kling, K.O. Makinde, S.O. Ajala & A. Menkir. 2000b. Impact of IITA-improved Germplasm on Maize Production in West and Central Africa. IITA Impact Series. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Nweke, F.I., J.K. Lynam & D.S.C. Spencer. 2002. The Cassava Transformation: Africa's Best-Kept Secret. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan.

Ortiz, R. 1998. Cowpeas from Nigeria: a silent food revolution. Outlook on Agriculture 27(2): 125128.

Ortiz, R. 2001. Dedication Dirk R. Vuylsteke: Musa scientist and humanitarian. Plant Breeding Reviews 21:1-25. Ortiz, R., P.D. Austin & D.Vuylsteke. 1997. IITA High Rainfall Station: 20 years of research for sustainable agriculture in the West African humid forest. HortScience 32: 969-972.

Ortiz, R. & D. Vuylsteke. 1998. 'PITA-14': a black sigatoka resistant tetraploid plantain hybrid with virus tolerance. HortScience 33: 360-361.

Sanginga, P.C., A.A. Adesina, V.M. Manyong, O. Otite & K.E. Dashiell. 1999. Social impact of soybean in Nigeria's Southern Guinea Savanna. IITA Impact Series. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Smith, J., A.D. Barau, A. Goldman & J.H. Mareck. 1994. The role of technology in agricultural intensification: The evolution of maize production in the northern Guinea savanna of Nigeria. Economic Development and Cultural Change 42:537-571.

Smith, J. J.B. Woodworth & K.E. Dashiell, 1995. Government policy and farm-level technologies: The expansion of soybean in Nigeria. IITA Research 11:14-18



Maize In Eastern And Southern Africa: "Seeds" Of Success In Retrospect Melinda Smale and Thom Jayne January 2003

IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 97

Abstract This synthesis revisits the "maize success story" in Sub-Saharan Africa, drawing selectively from an extensive published literature about maize seed technical change and related policies. The review focuses on the countries of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, where maize is most important in the food economy, and refers to the period when maize became a dominant food crop through the 1990s. The term "success" is equivocal in this case, both because of the difficult of establishing the appropriate counterfactual and because some of the policies that contributed to success in one period later led to decline. While the "seeds" themselves were the result of innovative, successful maize breeding, boom periods in maize production were episodic and the public investments in the controlled markets that bolstered them were not fiscally sustainable. Since maize will remain a crucial part of the food security equation even while the agricultural economies of the region diversify, continued investments in both maize research and market institutions, some of which must be public, are essential. The most vital question, however, is where the domestic political pressure to support these investments will originate-an issue related to governance.


Successes in African Agriculture: Results of an Expert Survey Eleni Z. Gabre-Madhin and Steven Haggblade January 2003

IFPRI MSSD Discussion Paper No. 53

Abstract Using primary data from a survey of expert opinion, this paper identifies key successes emerging in African agriculture. Among these, major commodity-specific successes identified include breakthroughs in maize breeding across Africa, sustained gains in cassava breeding and successful combat of its disease and pests, control of the rinderpest livestock disease, booming horticultural and flower exports in East and Southern Africa and increased cotton production and exports in West Africa. Using a dynamic analytical framework, the paper attempts to identify key ingredients that appear necessary for building on these individual cases and expanding them into broad-based agricultural growth.


Seeds of Concern: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants

D A Murray, CABI Publishing, January 2003; 158 Pages, ISBN: 0 85199 725 2 ; $35.00

This book makes a significant contribution to the debate about the applications and implications of gene technology from the perspective of a plant biologist. It is written in an accessible way and therefore will be appropriate for non-specialists and the more general reader, as well as students and others in plant breeding and biotechnology. The author is a well-known Australian botanist, who has written or edited several previous books on both academic and popular topics in plant science. In this book he addresses questions such as:

* How are genetically modified plants produced * Which breeding goals are worthwhile? * Can the escape of transferred genes be controlled? * Who is monitoring the unexpected effects of gene transfer? * Will GM plants ever be acceptable to organic growers? E-mail:

(from AgBioView 2/20/2003)



Bananas: FAO Response to Articles in PBN-L Edition 136

(Editor's note: The February edition of Plant Breeding News included two media reports about threats to the genetic diversity of bananas. John Riddle of FAO ( noted that, while the one article referred to FAO's response, PBN-L readers would have been better served by also having access to the direct report from FAO, which follows, and can also be accessed at

Bananas not on verge of extinction, says FAO

Food agency calls for greater diversity in commercial bananas 30 January 2003, Rome, Italy -- Responding to recent media reports that bananas may be extinct within 10 years, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged producers to promote greater genetic diversity in commercial bananas.

FAO pointed out that small-scale farmers around the world grow a wide range of bananas that are not threatened by the disease currently attacking bananas sold mostly in Europe and North America. The Cavendish banana, found mostly on western supermarket shelves, has been under attack in some Asian countries by a new strain of Fusarium wilt, also known as "Panama disease."

"What is happening is the inevitable consequence of growing one genotype on a large scale," said Eric Kueneman, Chief of FAO's Crop and Grassland Service. The Cavendish banana is a "dessert type" banana that is cultivated mostly by the large-scale banana companies for international trade. The Cavendish banana is important in world trade, but accounts for only 10 percent of bananas produced and consumed globally, according to FAO. Virtually all commercially important plantations grow this single genotype. Its vulnerability is inevitable and not unexpected. The Cavendish's predecessor, the Gros Michel, suffered the same fate at the hands of fungal diseases, so this is a warning that we may need to find a replacement for the Cavendish banana in the future, FAO said.

So far the problem has only been seen in Southeast Asia. However, Mahmoud Solh, Director of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division, warned: "The consequences of the problem will be more dramatic if this phenomenon reaches Latin America and the Caribbean, where banana is a major plantation crop and a source of employment and income for a large section of the population."

Fortunately, small-scale farmers around the world have maintained a broad genetic pool which can be used for future banana crop improvement. Banana is essentially a clonal crop with many sterile species, which makes progress through conventional breeding slow and difficult. Because of this, new breeding methods and tools, including biotechnology, will be helpful to develop resistant bananas for cultivation. This does not necessarily mean the use of transgenics, FAO said.

FAO called for: -development of more diversity in the banana, especially for export bananas.

-promoting awareness of the inevitable consequences of a narrow genetic base in crops and the need for a broader genetic base for commercial bananas.

-strengthening plant breeding programmes in developing countries for banana and other basic staple crops.

In the past, FAO has supported banana improvement through mutation breeding with the joint FAO and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Division in Vienna. However, scarce resources have slowed this effort. Since more than 50 percent of the banana germplasm (land races) are sterile, biotechnology and mutation breeding are important tools that can improve banana varieties without the threat of genetic drift, said FAO.


Celebrate DNA's 50th Birthday

Science, published by AAAS, is a sponsor of the 50th anniversary celebration, on 25 April in Cambridge, U.K., of the discovery of the structure of DNA. Activities include a conference for 500 scientists and the unveiling of a plaque at the Eagle Pub where Crick and Watson, fathers of the Double Helix, announced their find. Information on the event: Read more about this important discovery, link to an online "timeline," plus read about the AAAS-sponsored events in Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, U.K.:


Effective Striga Control Demonstrated in Ethiopia Gebisa Ejeta, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Purdue University

Invasion of crops by witchweeds (Striga spp) has become a serious production problem in Africa. While striga affects all crops, its infestation has particularly worsened, reaching epidemic proportion, in much of the sorghum (Sorghum bicolor ) and millet (Pennisetum glaucum) producing regions of Africa Available control measures are often found to be either too expensive or impractical for subsistence farmers in Africa. Genetic control of striga has been recognized as a more feasible alternative for subsistence farmers in Africa. Research at Purdue University has resulted in release of striga resistant sorghum cultivars that have been disseminated in 12 of African countries for wide cultivation in endemic areas. Lack of organized seed multiplication has curtailed the expanded use of these varieties in some of these countries.

A pilot project in Ethiopia, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), took an integrated Striga management (ISM) approach combining Striga resistant sorghum cultivars with the use of inorganic fertilizers and a water conservation measure using tied-ridges. The project started in 2001 with large-scale production by EARO of five tons of two Striga resistant sorghum cultivars from Purdue University. During the 2002 crop season, the pilot project was implemented as an emergency seed relief and demonstration effort in four regions (Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and Southern) of Ethiopia with outstanding results. A total of 880 one-half hectare demonstration plots were grown in the four regions. Plots planted to the ISM package (Striga resistant sorghum cultivars, P9401 and P9403, with application of 80kg/ha of urea and tie-ridged to avoid water runoff) yielded as much as 4tons/ha while susceptible local cultivars yielded less than one ton. In severe cases, where Striga infestation was high, local cultivars failed to produce any grain. The Striga resistant sorghum cultivars from Purdue University supported few emerged Striga plants, and when complemented with water conservation and nitrogen fertilization, were nearly free of Striga. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) provided resources for seed production and distribution as a relief effort to distribute Striga resistant sorghum cultivars to farmers threatened by drought and Striga. INTSORMIL research funds were used to support the research and development complements of the pilot project. Past research on development of the Striga resistant sorghum cultivars used in the pilot project was supported by USAID through INTSORMIL and by the Rockefeller Foundation via grants to Purdue University.

For further information on this project see:


Genetic Discovery in Cotton

Researchers of Iowa State University and Oregon State University have uncovered an unusual genetic pattern in cotton. According to Jonathan Wendel and colleagues, their study showed that gene function responds even more to small changes in the genome (the complete set of genetic instructions) than previously thought. The researchers tested for 40 randomly chosen cotton genes and found "an incredible level of alteration in gene expression."

Wendel explained that cotton is a polyploid which means that it has two copies of every gene instead of one. The researchers were surprised that immediately upon polyploid formation, the duplicate genes would change their form of expression. They noted that more than a quarter of the genes changed the way they were expressed from the parents. Studying the patterns they also found out that reciprocal silencing or genes becoming inactive occurred in the duplicates.

The study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the discovery is likely to have implications for other polyploid crops like corn and soybeans. Although the researchers concede that while those implications are not clear, they have far-reaching consequences. They hope to be able to harness this finding to further improve plants.

Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and Iowa State's Plant Sciences Institute supported the work.


Traditionally Bred Rice has Extra Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc

Filipino scientists have developed a "dream rice" that they claim is an answer to malnutrition. The scientists working at the world-famous International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila, Philippines, created the new nutritionally fortified variety through traditional breeding, not GM. The rice contains over twice the normal amount of iron alongwith Vitamin A and zinc.

(from the Norfolk Genetic Information Network, 30 Jan. 2003,


ICRISAT amd MSSRF Plan Virtual University on Drought

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) have initiated the process for establishing a Semi-Arid Tropics Virtual University (SAT-VU). Using information and communication technology (ICT) tools, the intention is to provide critically needed information to farmers in India and support them through drought.

"To mitigate the effects of drought there is an urgent need for sustained information, education and social mobilization effort among the strategic sectors of society, especially among the most vulnerable rural communities," said Dr. William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.

Agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan, Chairman of MSSRF, is co-hosting the Roundtable for working out a plan of action for the SAT-VU. National bodies such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD), are represented in the Roundtable. Senior representatives from the Governments of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; Indian and Sri Lankan national open universities; and the state open universities of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are also attending.

The aim is to launch the SAT-VU on World Environment Day on 5 June. A task force will be established for this once the ICRISAT Governing Board endorses the concept.

The Virtual University concept envisages a consortium of institutions using ICT applications to work together to deliver content and programs to learners. Unlike a conventional university associated with a single institution, the SAT-VU will be a seamless organization linking the expertise from many institutions.

More on ICRISAT at and the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation at

From CBT News:


Search for Locally Suitable Insect Resistant Maize in Kenya

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) continue to intensify research activities focusing on Insect Resistant Maize (IRMA).

Africa with its continued food deficiency and dependency to present a special challenge to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the goals is Laboratory trials at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have. The project's goal is to increase corn production and food security for African farmers and to develop corn that offers resistance to destructive insects.

It aims to develop and deploy corn varieties resistant to the stem borer. CIMMYT is also collaborating with with KARI in the development of improved locally adapted strains of corn with tolerance to drought and low nitrogen. These projects target farmers who rely on corn for their upkeep and who are badly affected by changes in weather conditions. Dr. Romano Kiome, Director of KARI, says that 17 corn genes identified worldwide are currently undergoing trials for their ability to confer insect resistance in corn plants.

KARI has conducted tests on identified genetically modified (GM) plants for efficacy against insects with some positive results. The research work involved screening local germplasm from KARI and imported germplasm from CIMMYT for resistance to stem borers under artificial and natural infestation. The objective was to identify superior germplasm as well as germplasm for crossing with local corn varieties to confer insect resistance to them.

According to Dr. Kiome said that it could take three to six years before the GM corn hits the market. Once approved, the crop will undergo trials in green houses, followed by on-station and on-farm settings. Kenya's Minister for agriculture, Dr. Bonaya Godana recently told researchers that there is need identify sources of resistance to stem borers and incorporate them into maize varieties adapted to the region's agro-ecological zones.

Science News and Development news item, March 6, 2003


Salt Tolerance Transferred from Wild Triticeae Species into Wheat

by Zan-Min Hu Institute of Genetics & Developmental Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China (c/o Richard Wang)

Abiotic stress is a major limiting factor in agricultural crop production in many countries. The major abiotic stresses of economic importance include drought, cold, heat, salinity, soil mineral deficiency, and toxicity. Salinity is usually exacerbated by intensive irrigation. In the USA, yield reductions because of soil salinity occur on an estimated 30% of all irrigated land. In China, 52.3 million hectares were cultivated under irrigation in 1998. Yield reduction due to salinity occurred on 40% of the irrigated areas. World wide, crop production is affected by salinity on nearly 50% of all irrigated land. Approximately 10 million hectares are not being used for agricultural production due to salinity problems.

Although some wheat cultivars and landraces are considered moderately tolerant to high salinity, they are still less salt-tolerant than many wild Triticeae species, especially those in the genus Thinopyrum. There is a long-term effort by plant scientists attempting to transfer salt tolerance from Thinopyrum species into wheat.1,2,3 A milestone has recently been achieved in this pursuit by scientists at USDA-ARS Forage & Range Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah, assisted by several visiting scientists from China as well as scientists at both USDA-ARS George E. Brown, Jr. Salinity Laboratory, Riverside, California and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico.4

The researchers first screened and identified a wheat addition line, AJDAj5, as having the highest salt tolerance among 11 wheat addition lines developed by a French scientist. AJDAj5 carries all 21 pairs of wheat chromosomes plus a pair of wheatgrass chromosomes from the species Thinopyrum junceum, which is well known for its salt tolerance. AJDAj5 is still less tolerant to salinity than wheat-wheatgrass partial amphidiploids, which have seven or more pairs of wheatgrass chromosomes in addition to the full complement of wheat chromosomes. This is because salinity tolerance is a complex quantitative trait, which is controlled by genes on several wheatgrass chromosomes that exert additive gene effects.

The researchers then crossed AJDAj5 with a unique wheat stock carrying a gene, PhI, which inhibits the action of another gene, Ph1b. When Ph1b was not inhibited, wheatgrass chromosomes would not come in close contact with wheat chromosomes; thus there would not be any genetic exchanges between them. The researchers used PhI to enhance the occurrence of genetic recombination in the hybrid between the wheatgrass chromosome from AJDAj5 and its counterpart wheat chromosomes from the Ph inhibitor line.

Indeed, the researchers subsequently identified four putative recombinant lines from 30 hybrid-derived families after screening them in high saline solutions. One of the four was totally sterile and did not set seed. The other three were confirmed to be recombinant wheat lines having only 42 wheat chromosomes, one pair of which had a tiny wheatgrass chromosome segment inserted in the middle of an arm. This type of gene transfer makes these recombinant lines more useful, because the smaller the alien chromosome segment, the lesser the chance that they carry deleterious traits from the alien species.


International Drive to Safeguard World's Seed Collections

Key leaders in agriculture announced today their progress in charting a course forward for an unprecedented effort to protect and maintain humanity's agricultural heritage. Crop diversity collections, housed in some 1,470 "genebanks," hold millions of plant samples that are the underpinning of a stable and sustainable food supply. These samples are the result of some 10,000 years of planting, plowing, and breeding of crops for human use.

Many of these collections are seriously underfunded, jeopardizing the ongoing security of agriculture and the world's ability to feed itself. In response, the Global Conservation Trust seeks to create an endowment to support crop diversity collections in perpetuity. Spearheaded by the Future Harvest Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Trust convened the first meeting of a newly constituted Interim Panel of Eminent Experts in development, agriculture, and science. (See attached list of panel members.)

The Panel considered legal options and rules of governance for the Trust and drafted ethical guidelines for the receipt, management, and disbursement of funds. The meeting was held in Rome on 25-26 February.

"Crop diversity is a little known necessity for meeting the most fundamental need of humankind: the need for food," said Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General of FAO. "I am pleased that this important effort is moving forward under the guidance and leadership of such an eminent array of scientists and statesmen. They will provide the necessary political, financial, and technical guidance to shape the Trust."

The Panel also sounded an alarm about the need for governments and the private sector around the world to take urgent actions to help protect global crop diversity.

"Funding for crop diversity collections has always been hand-to-mouth, most often decided on a year-to-year basis," said Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi, Chair of the Interim Panel of Eminent Experts. Ambassador Gerbasi successfully chaired the inter-governmental negotiations leading to the creation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. He now serves as Chair of the Interim Governing Body of the International Treaty. "The situation is now even more dire given world economies. An outbreak of armed conflict anywhere in the world could damage critical collections of crop diversity, and divert scarce funding from their maintenance. The world cannot let the infrastructure that underlies our food security crumble."

The Trust seeks to raise an endowment of US$260 million. Approximately US$25 million has been committed so far by the governments of the United States, Switzerland, Egypt and Colombia, and the United Nations and Gatsby Foundations.

Crop diversity provides the raw material necessary for farmers and plant breeders to develop reliable, hardier, more productive, and nutritious food crops. Such crops are needed to enable agriculture to remain at the forefront of the fight against poverty and hunger. Farmers and breeders must constantly bolster crops against pests, diseases, weeds, drought, poor soils, and other farming problems by breeding in new characteristics to protect them. Crop diversity is the pool from which they draw these traits.

"The Middle East is the center of origin for critical crops such as wheat, barley, peas, and lentils," said Geoffrey Hawtin, Director General of the Rome-based International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). Dr. Hawtin's appointment as Interim Executive Secretary of the Global Conservation Trust was confirmed by the Interim Panel at its meeting last week. "Last year, Afghanistan's main genebank was looted. All countries are interdependent when it comes to agriculture and when one genebank fails, the loss reverberates around the world. That genebank, like so many others, probably contained plant varieties that are already extinct in the wild and which now may be lost forever."

The meeting in Rome confirmed the Trust's critical role in implementing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Treaty, adopted in November 2001 by consensus of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's 140-member nations is the highest international law that addresses the conservation and use of plant genetic resources.

"The Global Conservation Trust operates within the framework of the International Treaty," said Gerbasi. "Its principles of transparency and equity will be the Trust's guiding principles. At thesame time, the Trust could provide a concrete funding mechanism to help realize the goals of the Treaty."

Further information on the Global Conservation Trust can be found at:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is one of the largest specialized agencies in the United Nations system and the lead agency for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and rural development. FAO works to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition, and the pursuit of food security-defined as the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is an association of public and private members supporting a system of 16 Future Harvest Centres that work in more than 100 countries to mobilize cutting-edge science to reduce hunger and poverty, improve human nutrition and health, and protect the environment.

(From SeedQuest March 4, 2003)


CLIMA Aims to Build Pulse Food Resources

A 'green revolution' involving Western Australia's Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) aims to build pulse food resources on the world's deteriorating soils and reverse trends which see 800 million people go hungry everyday. In a race to meet productivity demands, international scientists pooled their expertise in January at the '2nd International Congress of Plant Physiology' (inaugural held in 1988) and an 'International Chickpea Conference' (last held in 1989).India, which hosted both conferences, embodies the production dilemma, with its government hoping to drive grain production to 300 million tonnes by 2020 when available arable land will have dropped by 70 million hectares from 170 million ha.

Attending both conferences and meeting with local and international researchers during a month long sabbatical, University of Western Australia based CLIMA Director, Kadambot Siddique, pledged to help push production in these countries and in Western Australia, by exchanging suitable germplasm and co-operatively addressing production impediments. Benefits will flow both ways, with CLIMA hoping to access promising technology. "For example, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has developed cold tolerant chickpea germplasm which CLIMA and the Western Australia Department of Agriculture has been using to develop robust varieties able to withstand Western Australia's low inland overnight temperatures, which can knock returns by $60 per hectare," Professor Siddique enthused.

"Ascochyta blight has been even more damaging, halving chickpea production since its 1996 arrival in Australia. But breeding for resistance using genetic resistance sources identified by ICRISAT and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) could lead to superior varieties in Australia. "A spontaneous brachytic mutant at Hissar Agricultural University, India has also been isolated and used as a donor parent for erect chickpea growth which, if incorporated into CLIMA breeding programs, could enable local growers to better harvest chickpea with cereal headers.

"Like CLIMA, our collaborators overseas are progressing on many fronts. Germplasm exchange and technology transfer, between like minded partners, can advance crop science here and in Asia. "This Grains Research and Development Corporation supported conference travel allowed us to window shop for what we need and also to see what we can provide," Professor Siddique said. For its part, CLIMA will provide genetic resources and breeding technologies to help countries such as India overcome productivity challenges that have seen chickpea yields drop from 820 kg to 775 kg per hectare in recent years.

(From SeedQuest March 5, 2003)


The Global Environment Facility Project in West Asia

The Near East --10,000 years ago-- was the center of origin for a wide range of temperate crop and tree species that still underpin today's agriculture. It is particularly appropriate that it is in this region that some of the first positive steps are being taken to safeguard on both farm and community lands the landraces and wild relatives that still harbor so much genetic diversity.

By involving local farmers in conservation and management, as well as in passing on inherited knowledge and skills in how to grow and use the conserved plants, the benefits of this germplasm will remain available to bolster the fight against malnutrition and poverty. Thanks to the access provided by this material, plant breeders and scientists will have a sustainable supply of crossing material and genes conferring resistance to drought, salinity and other biotic and abiotic stresses which limit the yield of cultivated crops.

'Conservation and Sustainable Use of Dryland Agrobiodiversity in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority' is an $8.1 million project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme. Sixteen target crops, or crop groups of global significance, together with their wild relatives, are included. These range from wheat and barley through clovers and olives to pistachios and figs.

Implementation of the project on two sites in each participating country is by the national agricultural research systems (NARS), while the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is responsible for coordinating and executing the regional component. Also participating are the regional office of IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resource Institute) and the Damascus-based Arab Center for Studies of the Arid Zones and Dry Lands.

For further information on the GEF Project on Agrobiodiversity, contact Dr Ahmed Amri of ICARDA a.amri


Foundation Goes to Bat for African Farmers Erik Stokstad

Last week, researchers began setting up the headquarters of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, an organization that will act as a clearing-house and technology broker for African agriculture. Based in Nairobi, the foundation's $1.5-million-a-year budget comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Kenyan scientists are in the final stages of testing a virus-resistant sweet potato developed through a collaboration with Monsanto. It took 13 years to get to this point--a glacial pace for subsistence farmers. Eugene Terry wants to grease the skids for such partnerships.

Last week, Terry, a plant pathologist and native of Sierra Leone, began setting up the headquarters of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), an organization that will act as a clearing-house and technology broker for African agriculture. Based in Nairobi, the foundation's $1.5-million-a-year budget comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "We see it as a focal point where Africans can access new materials and information on which technologies can be built," says Rockefeller president Gordon Conway.

Along with depleted soils, numerous pests, and pathogens, African agricultural scientists face restrictions on their access to the right scientific tools. "Intellectual property rights are a barrier to us," says Peter Hartmann, director of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria. Even though many companies are willing to waive intellectual property (IP) rights, he says, getting the technology is a slow, daunting process. "Just trying to string the 'ownership' rights together requires investigations and a plethora of negotiations," he says. That's where AATF comes in.

The foundation, which will officially open in September, hopes to help match companies with African researchers, negotiate IP agreements, and provide advice on regulation. Terry says he's scouting around for the right projects, based on consultations with regional agricultural organizations. "We'll be learning by doing," he says.

The sweet potato project could have used such help. Its roots go back to 1990, when scientists at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi hooked up with Monsanto, which controlled key technology for adding a resistance gene. Monsanto granted KARI a royalty-free license and taught its scientists to create new varieties. As the first genetically modified (GM) crop in Kenya, however, it was hardly an overnight success. "The project has not moved rapidly, because KARI doesn't have the expertise to manage transgenic crop development," explains USAID's Josette Lewis.

The new foundation intends to provide that expertise, with help from major biotech companies. And industry, in the long run, hopes to recoup more than just good will. "As for the shareholder benefits," says Sam Dryden of Emergent Genetics in Boulder, Colorado, "the foundation is developing commercial markets."

Before AATF can make a dent in poverty rates, however, it must overcome issues ranging from legal wrangling to public skepticism about GM crops. "Companies are very aware that they could have liability slapped on them," Terry says. A mistrust of multinational companies may stigmatize AATF, warns Pat Mooney of the ETC Group in Winnipeg, Canada. "They could become [seen as] a kind of a Trojan trade rep for companies."

Monsanto's Gerard Barry, a member of the foundation's initial advisory committee, believes that AATF's African leadership and management will neutralize such criticism. "It gives it incredible credibility," he says. The foundation's real success, however, will be measured not by who sits in its boardroom, but rather by what it can deliver to the tables of millions of impoverished Africans.

SCIENCE News This Week March 21 2003, 299 (5614)


FoodAfrica Initiative

Food systems in sub-Saharan Africa will have to respond to a very dynamic environment in the coming years if they are to contribute to food security, income generation and employment prospects of the many millions of people who depend upon them. This initiative, sponsored by amongst others the European Commissioin and the International Foundation for Science, considers these issues through an Internet Forum (31 March -11 April 2003) and an International Working Meeting to be held in Cameroon (5 - 9 May 2003).

The organizers (the Natural Resources Institute, Institut de Recherches Médicales et d'Etudes des Plantes Médicinales in Cameroon and the International Foundation for Science) would like to invite you to participate in this initiative.

Further information and how to register can be found on the Food Africa web site


The African Center for Crop Improvement

The African Center for Crop Improvement (ACCI) is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal (UNP) in South Africa. The University of Natal (UN) is presently merging with the University of Durban-Westville. When this process is completed by January 2004, the new university (with a combined student population of some 34 000 students in 2002) will then be the largest in South Africa. UN is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, English medium university with increasing numbers of international students. The Faculty of Science and Agriculture, within which the ACCI is located, has eleven agricultural disciplines plus a full complement of biological and physical sciences.

The philosophy of the ACCI is that: -It is good to train African plant breeders on African crops, in Africa. -Population breeding is a viable, cheap and relatively quick breeding approach for multiple criteria breeding in many crops. -Horizontal Resistance breeding is the only viable option in breeding for resistance against many diseases and pests, in many crops. Other breeding approaches consistently create boom-and-bust cycles of resistance and susceptibility. -Biotechnology is a powerful technology which may be useful in cases where conventional breeding techniques have failed to produce significant improvements in crops. The technology has to be integrated with an excellent knowledge of convential genetics, and access to the appropriate laboratories, equipment and budget

The aim of the ACCI is to train African PhD students in the applied breeding of African crops in order to make a significant impact on the improvement of crops in their home countries.

The focus is on the breeding of African and African grown crops (cereals, roots and tubers and pulses) for increased drought tolerance and improved food security for the poor in Africa.

The following are the types of crops on which the students will focus their research: Cereals: sorghum, millets, rice, and maize; Roots and fruits: banana, cassava, sweet potato, potato, and taro; Legumes: dry beans, cowpea, pigeon pea, and Bambara groundnut.

The ACCI students are drawn from African countries where their research efforts can be expected to lead to impact, e.g. Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia,


African Marker Assisted Selection Scientists Network (AMASSNET)

AMASSNET is in the process of becoming a network for DNA marker assisted selection (MAS) scientists for Africa. We are trying to get other scientists from other countries to join together. So far Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe are involved. Please kindly let us know by way of email whether you would be interested. Or kindly give us the contact of another scientist in your country we may contact. We will be forwarding a brief introduction and objectives later whereby your contributions will be highly appreciated.

Contact person: Dr. Jedidah Wamuyu; Email:


Selected Excerpts from FAO-BiotechNews

E-mail address: FAO website FAO Biotechnology website (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish)

From 28 February 2003:

A) World Agriculture: Towards 2015/30

FAO has just released "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030 - An FAO perspective". This comprehensive 444-page report is FAO's latest assessment of the long-term outlook for the world's food supplies, nutrition and agriculture. It assesses the prospects, worldwide, for food and agriculture, including fisheries and forestry, over the years to 2015 and 2030. It presents the global long-term prospects for trade and sustainable development and discusses the issues at stake in these areas over the next 30 years. It updates and extends the previous FAO global study "World agriculture: towards 2010" issued in 1995. One of the 13 chapters considers "selected issues in agricultural technology" and here, section 11.4 (pages 314-327) focuses on the potential, risks and likely benefits of agricultural biotechnology. See the full report (in English) or a summary report (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact for more information.

B) Presentation on biotechnology by FAO Assistant Director-General, Agriculture Department

Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General, FAO Agriculture Department, gave a presentation entitled "Which road do we take?: Harnessing genetic resources and making use of life sciences, a new contract for sustainable agriculture" at a Conference entitled "Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: Options from life sciences and biotechnology" organized by the European Commission on 30-31 January 2003 in Brussels, Belgium. She indicated that in biotechnology we are currently witnessing a "molecular divide", where "the gap is widening between developed and developing countries, between rich and poor farmers, between research priorities and needs, and above all between technology development and actual technology transfer". She concluded that "biotechnology must be redirected to address the pressing needs of the poor and the new requirements for food quality and quantity and new agricultural products, by complementing existing techniques and holistic agronomic approaches to sustain production and manage risks. Our three principles (promote an open dialogue, redirect research [to respond to key challenges], ensure fair access and benefit-sharing) should form the basis of a new, broad-ranging social contract, between North and South, between public and private research, between scientists and citizens - to bridge the molecular divide".

See the full 8-page text (in English) at, a news story about the presentation (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact to request a copy by e-mail.

C) Codex Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology

The 4th Session of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology takes place in Yokohama, Japan on 11-14 March 2003. The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body set up to establish international standards on foods. The agenda and working documents are available at (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for further information.

D) Biosafety Clearing-House

At its first meeting in December 2000, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety recommended the development of a pilot phase of a Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH). This was launched in April 2001. Version 2.0 of the pilot phase of the BCH has now been launched (1 February 2003). New developments include, inter alia, improved search facilities and faster download times, expansion of the capacity-building databases, additional help functions and access to more databases. See or contact for more information.

E) WHO report - discussion extended

The second draft of the WHO summary report "Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: An evidence based study" (see FAO-BiotechNews 1-2003) is still available for comments. This draft report, accessible through the internet by password only, has been open for an interactive discussion since 6 January 2003. Discussion has now been extended to 31 March 2003 to allow greater participation from interested parties. There are currently about 200 listed participants and 30 comments posted. Anyone interested in gaining access to the discussion forum may send an e-mail to

F) Trade in GM food

A discussion paper entitled "Trade in genetically modified food: A survey of empirical studies" by C. Pohl Nielsen, S. Robinson and K. Thierfelder has just been published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the 16 research centres supported by the CGIAR. The paper surveys analyses of the current and potential economic impact of GM technology, under different scenarios concerning how the world trading system and national markets handle GM commodities. This is number 106 of the TMD (Trade and Macroeconomics Division) Discussion Papers, which contain preliminary material and research results, and are circulated prior to a full peer review in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment. It is expected that most Discussion Papers will eventually be published in some other form, and that their content may also be revised. See or contact for more information.

G) Biosafety meeting report

The International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) has just published "A framework for biosafety implementation: Report of a meeting", edited by M.A. McLean, R.J. Frederick, P. Traynor, J.I. Cohen and J. Komen. It is the report of an expert consultation convened by ISNAR entitled "A framework for biosafety implementation: A tool for building capacity." that was held in Washington DC, United States on 23-26 July 2001. See (PDF, 491 KB) or contact for more information.


From 27 March 30, 2003:

A) FAO e-mail conference - Regulation of GMOs

The FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture is devoting its next e-mail conference to the theme of "Regulating GMOs in developing and transition countries". This moderated conference covers the agro-industry, crop, fisheries, forestry and livestock sectors and begins in late April, lasting for four weeks. It is organised by the FAO Working Group on Biotechnology and is the first conference to be held this year. The outcome of the conference will be used for the upcoming FAO publication, The State of Food and Agriculture 2003. A background Document will be provided to Forum Members before the conference. All messages posted during the conference will also be placed on the Forum website ( You are hereby invited to join the Forum and to participate in the conference !! To join the Forum (and also register for the conference), send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering only the following two-line text message: subscribe BIOTECH-L subscribe biotech-room1

Those who are already Forum members should leave out the first line of the above message, to register for the conference. For more information, contact

B) Focus on agricultural biotechnology

As part of its on-line "Focus on the issues" series, FAO's Media Relations Office has just released "Agricultural biotechnology: will it help?". This series of nine articles, aiming to provide background information for the non-specialist, describes current and potential applications of agricultural biotechnology, focusing on genetic modification, for animals, crops, fish and trees. It also presents the main arguments put forward both for and against the use of GMOs in agriculture and, finally, provides links to other information sources. See (in Arabic, English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information.

C) Biotechnology in food and agriculture

The Secretariat of FAO's Working Group on Biotechnology has prepared an information paper on the Working Group's activities for the 17th biennial Session of FAO's Committee on Agriculture (COAG), to be held at FAO Headquarters, Rome from 31 March to 4 April 2003. At its 15th Session in 1999, COAG made five main recommendations regarding biotechnology and this report describes progress made since then on each recommendation in bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to FAO's work on biotechnology. See (document COAG/2003/INF/4 - in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information.

D) A challenge to the world's scientists

In an editorial in the journal Science (7 March 2003), Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, presented "A challenge to the world's scientists". He wrote that science continues to offer powerful tools for solving the many challenges facing humanity (including food security, human diseases, pollution and proliferation of weapons) and that recent advances in information technology, genetics and biotechnology offer extraordinary prospects for humankind as a whole. He noted, however, that there is a scientific divide between developing and developed countries where, for example, "ninety-five percent of the new science in the world is created in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the world's population. And much of that science- in the realm of health, for example-neglects the problems that afflict most of the world's people". He argued that commitment from scientists and scientific institutions throughout the world will be needed to change this imbalance and to bring the benefits of science to all. See &posted=7%20Mar%202003&c=1&r=1 or contact for more information.

E) UNCTAD - Policy dialogue on biotechnology applications and trade

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), whose goals are to maximise the trade, investment and development opportunities of developing countries and assist them in their efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis, organised a "Policy dialogue on biotechnology applications and trade" on 11 March 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland, in collaboration with the United Nations University's Institute of Advanced Studies. This meeting was part of the Science and Technology Diplomacy Initiative (STDI) established by UNCTAD in collaboration with Harvard University´s Science, Technology and Innovation Program. The STDI seeks to make trade diplomats and policy makers more aware of the scientific underpinnings of trade issues and to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to negotiate and make informed decisions in international negotiations where science and technology play a role. See the opening statement to the meeting by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, (, a recent UNCTAD paper (February 2003) giving more information on the STDI or contact for more information.

F) OECD Biotechnology Update

Issue number 12 (March 2003) of OECD Biotechnology Update has just been published. Its purpose is to provide up-to-date information on the diverse activities at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) related to biotechnology. It contains 14 pages with items on news, recent and future events, recent and future publications and provides web and e-mail contacts for the different areas of activity. The previous issue was published in March 2002. See (177 KB) or contact for more information.


Genetically Modified Crops Could Be Better for Environment, Danish Study Finds

Genetically modified crops might be better for the environment than the unmodified form, allowing insects and spiders to flourish around their edges and providing more food for birds, according to new research, reports the Independent of London.

The finding could hint at the results that will emerge from the farm-scale trials of GM crops now being carried out in Britain. Those will end this summer and be used by the Government to decide whether to allow commercial planting of GM crops, in which a key consideration is their effect on surrounding plant and animal life.

Tests at Denmark's National Environmental Research Institute discovered that when GM sugar beet was used precisely according to the instructions from the manufacturer, Monsanto, the plots had twice as many weeds compared with those planted with conventional beet. Beate Strandberg, who led the research, told New Scientist magazine that the GM plots also had more animal life than the conventional ones.

She thinks that the results from her tests will foreshadow those from the UK's farm-scale trials. Research at the Broom's Barn Experimental Station in Suffolk found earlier this year that if less herbicide is used than the manufacturers recommend, then the wildlife does even better. Dr Strandberg said that this confirmed her own work, which found that holding back on the use of weedkiller produced 10 times more weeds, and twice as many insects, but did not reduce the beet yield. "We have had very similar things going on," she said.

In the British farm-scale trials, which have been running for five years, the farmers have been told to follow the manufacturer's label instructions precisely when spraying GM crops so that the effect of widespread growing will be clearer, writes the Independent.

Not all the findings were positive. The use of GM crops seemed to affect the balance of weeds species in fields: many died in late summer before they could produce seeds. The use of Monsanto's glyphosate weedkiller, to which the GM beet is resistant, could also help weeds such as dwarf nettles over those such as meadowgrass, and hence have "unpredictable" effects on the biodiversity within farm areas, the researchers said.

The Danish team has been working since 1990 on the effects of GM crops that are resistant to particular weedkillers. GM crops hold the promise of potentially higher yields, because their genetic modification means farmers can spray them with weedkiller without harming them; only the weeds die. But this has raised questions about the effect on animals and weeds that grow in the margins around the crops themselves, according to the Independent.

Another issue that was not tackled directly in this study was whether the genes from the GM crops could pass to weeds. The British farm-scale trials will also investigate that, and try to rank its importance.

(from, March 13, 2003)


USDA May Set Strict Rules for Biotech Wheat

The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Saturday it may impose strict requirements on Monsanto Co to ensure it was abiding by its pledge not to sell biotech wheat until foreign markets accepted it, reports Reuters.

Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" wheat, which would be the first genetically modified wheat in the world, is under review by the U.S. and Canadian governments and could be approved for commercialization within the next two years.

Critics have said consumer attitudes about genetically modified wheat are so negative that both domestic and foreign buyers are likely to shun all U.S. wheat if it is sold.

Even if the wheat is approved by the United States, Monsanto has promised not to sell it until at least Canada and Japan accept it. The St. Louis-based company said a secure segregation system must also be in place to ensure the separation of genetically modified and traditional wheat.

"We understand this is a sensitive issue and we will get the approvals before we market any of these products," Monsanto wheat expert Michael Doane told a biotech advisory committee that advises the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and Wheat Export Trade Education Committee.

The new Monsanto wheat has been engineered to withstand herbicide so weed control is easier for farmers. The United States is the world's largest producer of biotech crops. Corn and soybeans are its biggest sellers, writes Reuters.

The USDA said Monsanto may have to meet certain requirements if and when the government approves the product.

U.S. wheat exporters currently sell their wheat to foreign markets with a USDA-approved statement saying no biotech wheat is commercialized in the United States.

"If we are going to continue to issue a statement, we need assurances that statement is correct," said David Shipman, deputy administrator for the USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service.

USDA is considering a proposal to require that Monsanto submit to independent audits "from the top all the way down" to ensure no biotech wheat was being sold, Shipman said.

The company would also have to sign a statement before every marketing year that it would not commercialize the genetically modified wheat. And Monsanto would need to provide information so DNA testing could be conducted by USDA, according to Reuters.

Monsanto could face felony charges if it knowingly violates any of these proposals, Shipman said. Monsanto said it was too early to comment on USDA's proposal.

Monsanto field-tested Roundup Ready wheat on 35 acres in the United States last spring. Doane said it would plant some this year in Montana, North Dakota, and perhaps Idaho.

Growers and environmental groups last week filed a petition with the USDA demanding a moratorium on the Monsanto wheat, writes Reuters.

(From, March 17, 2003


A Transformation Method for Obtaining Marker-free Plants of a Cross-pollinating and Vegetatively Propagated Crop

Abstract from a paper by Nick de Vetten, Anne-Marie Wolters, Krit Raemakers, Ingrid van der Meer, Renaldo ter Stege, Els Heeres, Paul Heeres & Richard Visser Published in Nature Biotechnology

It is generally thought that transformation of plant cells using Agrobacterium tumefaciens occurs at a very low frequency. Therefore, selection marker genes are used to identify the rare plants that have taken up foreign DNA. Genes encoding antibiotic and herbicide resistance are widely used for this purpose in plant transformation.

Over the past several years, consumer and environmental groups have expressed concern about the use of antibiotic- and herbicide-resistance genes from an ecological and food safety perspective. Although no scientific basis has been determined for these concerns, generating marker-free plants would certainly contribute to the public acceptance of transgenic crops. Several methods have been reported to create marker genefree transformed plants, for example co-transformation, transposable elements, site-specific recombination, or intrachromosomal recombination.

Not only are most of these systems time-consuming and inefficient, but they are also employed on the assumption that isolation of transformants without a selective marker gene is not feasible. Here we present a method that permits the identification of transgenic plants without the use of selectable markers. This strategy relies on the transformation of tissue explants or cells with a virulent A. tumefaciens strain and selection of transformed cells or shoots after PCR analysis. Incubation of potato explants with A. tumefaciens strain AGL0 resulted in transformed shoots at an efficiency of 15% of the harvested shoots, depending on the potato genotype used. Because this system does not require genetic segregation or site-specific DNA-deletion systems to remove marker genes, it may provide a reliable and efficient tool for generating transgenic plants for commercial use, especially in vegetatively propagated species like potato and cassava. The complete paper is available on the website of Nature Biotechnology at

(From SeedQuest, March 13, 2003)


European Commission Addresses Co-existence of GM, Conventional and Organic Crops

Today, the European Commission held a policy discussion about co-existence of genetically modified (GM), conventional, and organic crops. The Commissioners addressed the concept of co-existence, preparatory work carried out so far, possible farm management measures, the feasibility of GM-free zones and liability for adventitious presence. The Commission also discusses policy options and action to be taken on the national and EU level. The Commission noted that co-existence concerns the economic consequences of adventitious presence of genetically modified (GM) crops in non-GM crops. The issue has its origin in the principle that farmers should be able to cultivate freely the agricultural crops they choose, be it GM, conventional or organic. No form of agriculture should be excluded in the EU. Today's discussion will serve as a basis for a round table on co-existence on 24 April 2003, where stakeholders will have their say. The Commission will then speedily table guidelines how to address the issue of co-existence.

"Co-existence raises questions which have to be addressed. It is important to be clear about the rules and the legal framework, be it on a national or EU level. Let there be no mistake: Co-existence is about economic and legal questions, not about risks or food safety, because only authorised GMOs can be cultivated in the EU. The application of co-existence measures is not new. Already in conventional farming, seed producers, for example, have a great deal of experience of implementing farm management practices to ensure seed purity standards. The next step will be to extensively discuss the different options with member states and stakeholders. Then the Commission will quickly bring forward guidelines.", Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said.

What is co-existence?

The cultivation of authorised GMOs in the EU will also have an impact on agricultural production. In particular, it raises the question of how to manage the adventitious mixing of GM and non-GM crops (admixture), resulting from seed impurities, cross-pollination, volunteers (self-sown plants, mainly from harvest fall-out carried over to the next growing season), harvesting-storage practices and transport, as well as its possible economic consequences. The ability of the agricultural sector to deliver a high degree of consumer choice is linked to its ability to maintain different production systems.

The most cited example of income loss due to admixture is that of conventional and organic farmers who have to sell their crop at a lower price because of the adventitious presence of GM crops above the authorised threshold level. The opposite example is where a speciality GM crop could depreciate in value because of admixture with non-GM crops.

Examples of possible farm management measures • isolation distances between fields; • buffer zones; • pollen barriers; • control of volunteers (self-sown plants); • crop rotation and planting arrangements for different flowering periods; • monitoring during cultivation, harvest, storing, transport, and processing. The issue of GM-free zones

The Commission reckons that voluntary local arrangements are feasible between farmers or between farmers and industry to ensure the absence of one or more GM-crops in specific areas. Examples of such arrangements already exist for crops requiring high purity standards or separation, such as erucic acid oilseed rape. However, in general a ban of the cultivation of GM-crops in Member States has to be excluded, since the protection of economic interests alone cannot be invoked as a legally valid justification for imposing such strong limitations on fundamental liberties. In addition, the establishment of GMO-free zones against the will of some farmers runs counter to the very principle of co-existence.


The question has been raised as to whether the possibility to seek compensation for economic loss in the event of gene admixture needs to be regulated on an EU level. In respect of the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission considers that the first step must be to find out whether the existing national laws do not already offer sufficient and equal possibilities in this regard. Another question that arises is how to establish the causality link between the action and the damage.

Crop-specific solutions

Any approach to addressing the issue of co-existence needs to take into account the differences between crops and crop varieties with respect to their potential to spread to neighbouring fields. A study of the Joint Research Centre and a recent report on co-existence from a Danish expert group confirmed that the probability of admixture, as well as measures for reducing it, are highly crop-specific. The Danish study also suggests that under conditions of a limited GMO share (10%) and a general threshold of 1% for adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops, co-existence can be ensured for most crops in Denmark (i.e., beet, maize, potatoes, barley, wheat, oats, triticale, rye, lupine, broad beans and peas). For some crops current farming practices may need to be modified, whereas in other cases difficulties with co-existence are virtually non-existent under these conditions. However, for oilseed rape, as well as for seed production of certain crops, ensuring co-existence may be more problematic and further evaluation is required before guidelines can be developed.

Location-specific differences are a key in determining efficient and cost-effective measures for ensuring the co-existence of different production systems. For a few crops, mainly oilseed rape, measures to ensure co-existence could involve significant changes in farming practices.

(From SeedQuest, March 5, 2003



The web site on Biotechnology, Breeding and Seed Systems for African Crops, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, includes a list of plant breeding resources on the web.


The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has a series of web pages dedicated to farmer participation in research, including activities, achievements and publications.


Crop-specific data-bases and information sites: