GMOs: Burkina Faso Settles Dispute with Monsanto

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By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Burkina Faso’s cotton companies and growers have settled their long dispute with Monsanto Seed Company over their revenue losses allegedly caused by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton.

Among the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso, which began the nationwide introduction of cotton containing Monsanto’s Bollgard II trait in 2008 to fight against pests, is Africa’s top cotton producer.

However, a decline in quality of cotton, which lowered the crop’s value on the global market, was blamed on Monsanto by the country’s cotton companies and the national farmers union. They demanded $76.5 million in compensation from Monsanto and withheld nearly $24 million in royalties.

A report by Reuters states that “the agreement, which includes the dividing up of royalties withheld by Monsanto’s Burkina Faso partners, brings to an end a collaboration that had at one time promised to offer the company a foothold in Africa.”

The managing director of SOFITEX, Wilfried Yameogo stated that his company agreed to accept 25 percent of royalties as part of the agreement reached with Monsanto even as Monsanto would not confirm the settlement amount and said the agreement terms were confidential.

The Creve Coeur-based seed giant has previously acknowledged changes in cotton fiber length, but said a fiber quality is influenced by both environmental conditions and genetic background.

Burkina Faso did not renew its contract with Monsanto last year and this season returned to its conventional cotton strain.

Monsanto has since exited its cotton business in Burkina Faso, citing difficulties securing a “reasonable return” on its investment, spokeswoman Christi Dixon said.

GMOs: Senegal Supports Adoption of Agric Biotech

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By Abdallah el-Kurebe

‎President Macky Sall of Senegal  has thrown his weight behind the adoption of agricultural biotechnology in the country.

‎He made the declaration during the 2017 Annual Session of the Senegal National Scientific and Technical Academy (ANSTS‎) on the situation, implications and perspectives of GMOs in Senegal.

At a session chaired by him, President Sall made it clear that he supported the implementation of biotechnology in Senegal providing that necessary measures to minimise risks, were taken.

‎”I must say very clearly that I am for the use of GMOs based on the precautions taken and based on a dynamic regulation, otherwise we would be against progress. We must decide and step forward. We need to move forward because we have food security imperatives.

“This is a society choice that engages the future of our nation. It must be taken with full knowledge of the facts, while respecting the interests of present and future generations.‎ Our new strategy for economic and social development is based on the science and technology sector, which is essential for the progress and well-being of the people. That is why I want to seek the ‘informed opinion of the Academy’ on the issue of GMOs which remains an important development issue.

“It is undeniable that GMOs can help meet current challenges, such as food insecurity, public health issues, natural resource conservation and climate change,” he stressed.

The President agreed that it was because biotechnology was an opportunity to effectively respond to these challenges that he agreed with ANSTS that “the precautionary principle must not lead to inertia. There is also a need to amend the 2011 law regulating biosafety.”

Sall instructed the Minister of Environment and other stakeholding government institutions to help speed the process of revising the biosafety law, which was currently unworkable. 

“We need serious thought to develop a strategy to maximize the use of GMOs, while mitigating the risks associated with them. ‎That is why it is necessary to strengthen the National Biosafety Authority and to have an appropriate legal system combined with an efficient information system based on objective scientific values to assess the cost/benefit/risks ratio,” he further stressed.

‎Vice-Chair of the Academy, Ms. Yaye Kene Gassama presented the findings of a study carried out by the institution on the opportunities and risks for adopting biotechnology in Senegal. 

According to her, “It is scientifically proven by notable international institutions that GMOs are safe food and feed,” adding however that precautious measures needed to be taken to minimize potential environmental risks.  

On socio-economic concerns, Gassama said that “based on the study, 68% of the population in the country support the adoption of GMOs, 21% are against and 11% had no expressed opinion.”

The Session was an opportunity for the Regional Office of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in Dakar to access an up-to-date information on the status of biotechnology and scientific research in the country as well as meet members of the scientific community and decision makers of the country.

For the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), which has been supporting Senegal, it was an achievement.

“The academic session has paved the way for a quick revision of the restrictive biosafety law in the country and for a smooth adoption of biotechnology in the country for several years. The necessary resources should be allocated to facilitate the process and especially to support ANB with adequate equipment and capacity building.”

PRESS RELEASE: Closing Asia workshop calls for inclusive approach to energy access

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Participants in Bangkok

Bangkok: Delegates to the Smart Villages Initiative Closing Workshop for South and Southeast Asia in Bangkok March 7-9 agreed that a bottom-up approach involving villagers themselves is essential to catalyse energy access and spread its resultant development dividends in the large number of rural off-grid communities that still exist across the region with little chance of grid connection. Organised in conjunction with the Global Young Academy (GYA), the Thai National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), and the Thai National Science Museum, the workshop also stressed the need for more evidence of the impact of so-called technology leapfrogging on rural development in agriculture, entrepreneurship, healthcare, education, and governance. 

According to Smart Villages Co-Leader Dr. John Holmes, the workshop was a synthesis of the lessons learnt from SVI’s engagement programmes in South and Southeast Asia: “Over the last three years, we have looked at a wide variety of both region-specific and general off-grid energy related issues including renewable energy for islands, the water-energy nexus, cookstoves, and disaster resilience. Several key concerns have become clear which we now intend to turn into policy advice for politicians at all levels to help them meet not only Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 of Energy Access for All, but also the numerous other SDGs, whose success depends on energy access. 

Paramount amongst these concerns, Dr. Holmes says, is the need to build solutions from the bottom-up, through effective engagement with villagers themselves: their empowerment should be a priority development outcome. Having ensured villager engagement, the next priority is to drive integration between other other rural development stakeholders including the various government ministries concerned with energy, health, education, clean water and sanitation, NGOs, productive enterprises, and civil society.“Of course, key to this integration will be producing evidence of impacts. Here more needs to be done to gather the evidence from the villages on how initiatives on energy access and connectivity, when appropriately integrated with other village level development initiatives, can lead to improved development outcomes,” continues Dr. Holmes.

One particular issue that has become evident during SVI’s work is the question of micro-grid finance. “While solar home systems can provide basic levels of electricity access and are increasingly affordable to villagers, stimulating and enabling productive enterprise is key to the economic development of villages, but requires the higher levels of electricity provided by mini-grids. This requires a step increase in investment, which in turn relies on the increased incomes arising from productive enterprise. We will be producing ideas on how to address this in our final reports since it applies to other regions we have studied,” adds Dr. Holmes.

Finally, Dr. Holmes stressed the need for the scientific community to take a more interdisciplinary approach involving the social and economic sciences, as well as engineering and natural sciences.

Biotech agencies and NIREC report: Unpatriotic activism, whose interest?

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By Dr. Hannah Nnadi

Dear Editor,

 

I’m writing the article below as a concerned Nigerian, who has watched how some activists have taken it upon themselves to smear the integrity of government agencies and individuals working for the good of the country.

 

Nigerians should be aware and be on the alert for these activists in order not to be misled.

 

The attitude of these so called activists to

frustrate government

agencies must be resisted as their actions are very unpatriotic and misleading.

 

In light of ongoing discussions and debates on the issues raised, I would be grateful if you can help publish this article.


Recently, a group representing NIREC issued a press release with the intention of misleading the public and pursuing an alien agenda. In the said release, the group led by anti GMO activists listed the names of the Director General/CEO of the National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, and Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, the Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency as members of NIREC.

 

Both agencies reacted to the release and issued statements distancing themselves and their DGs from the purported report. Nnimmo Bassey, one of the architects of the report, in an article published by Environews acknowledged that both agencies and their directors general were not part of the report.

 

In that publication, Bassey, after shamefully acknowledging that those personalities were not members of NIREC, went further to cast aspersions on the integrity of the agencies with the intention of discrediting them before the public. Bassey has become desperate and personal in his pursed agenda. His actions show a vendetta against these personalities and dragging the public along.

 

It is therefore important to state the following:


1. The NBMA and NABDA are both agencies of government created by law.


2. Both agencies were established and given specific mandates by the federal government.


3. Nnimmo Bassey was an active player in the processes that cumulated in the

establishment of the NBMA, so to turn around and say that the Agency is a brain child of NABDA questions his credibility and integrity. Moreover, the national biosafety bill passed through two legislative houses from 2009 to 2015. He cannot be more knowledgeable on matters of biological sciences as an architect than the experts on the subject matter. 


4. There is a difference between activism for personal aggrandisement and activism for national development, Nnimmo of the former.


5. Government will not be drawn into the mud by self seeking and see-nothing-good-in-Nigeria activists.


6. Paid activists have infiltrated and cornered the objective for setting up NIREC to their own selfish interests. NIREC should be on the watch out so that it will not be dragged to the mud.


7. It is a shame that Bassey cannot, till now, differentiate between the National Biosafety Management Agency abbreviated as NBMA and the National Biotechnology Development Agency abbreviated as NABDA.


8. NBMA is a government agency that strictly regulates the use of modern biotechnology inNigeria. NABDA is another government agency charged with the responsibility of promoting the use of modern biotechnology. Because one regulates and the other promotes does not mean, they cannot collaborate or work together.


9. There is a limit to which individuals seeking their daily bread should go. Running down a government agency that you contributed actively to establish questions your rationale

and unnecessary and destructive criticisms.

Dr. Hannah Nnadi is a Research Scientist based in Lagos

Scientists discuss global cassava progress

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Cassava farm

IBADAN, NIGERIA: The world’s top cassava experts will gather in Nigeria to report progress on developing new varieties of cassava with higher yield and nutritional content. The meeting will take place on March 14-16, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan.

 

“Africa produces more than half of the world’s cassava — about 86 million tons from over 10 million hectares,” said Chiedozie Egesi, IITA-based project manager of theNext Generation Cassava Breeding (NextGen Cassava) project, who also works to biofortify cassava with essential micronutrients. “But disease pathogens and climate change threaten cassava production and jeopardize the income and food security of smallholder farmers. Since 2012, scientists on the NextGen Cassava project have been working to significantly increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding and unlock cassava’s full potential.”

Cassava is a clonally propagated crop and seed set is difficult. New varieties with enhanced productivity and nutritional traits typically take up to 10 years to develop.


Scientists on the NextGen project are focused on giving breeders in Africa access to the most advanced plant breeding technologies to deliver improved varieties to farmers more rapidly.

 

Partners of NextGen Cassava are using a state-of-the-art plant breeding approach known as genomic selection to improve cassava productivity for the 21stcentury,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics, director of International Programs, who is the principal investigator on the multi-partner grant.

 

Genomic selection shortens breeding cycles, provides more accurate evaluation at the seedling stage, and gives plant breeders the ability to evaluate a much larger number of clones without the need to plant them in the target environment. Using genomic selection, new releases of cassava are ready in as little as six years.


“The best clones from NextGen Cassava genomic selection efforts are in Uniform Yield Trials this year and are due to be released to farmers in the next two years,” said Egesi.

 

Cassava is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change because it requires few inputs and can withstand drought, marginal soils and long-term underground storage. A cash and subsistence crop, the storage roots of this perennial woody shrub are processed, consumed freshly boiled or raw, and eaten by people as well as animals as a low-cost source of carbohydrates. No other continent depends on cassava to feed as many people as does Africa, where 500 million people consume it daily.  “The purpose of NextGen Cassava project is to improve the cassava breeding process making it faster and more efficient to produce the varieties farmers need,” said Peter Kulakow, cassava breeder at IITA, Ibadan.

 

In 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID) under its UK Aid program invested $25.2M to improve the staple crop’s productivity and build human and technical capacity for plant breeding in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The five-year project, led by Cornell University, works with 10 institutional partners across six countries on three continents: Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI/USA), Embrapa (Brazil), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT/Colombia), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA/Nigeria), National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI/Uganda), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI/Nigeria), University of Hawaii (USA), U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, and U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. Most recently, NextGen Cassava has expanded to include Tanzania, partnering with the Lake Zone Agricultural Research and Development Institute (LZARDI).

The partners share cassava data, expertise, and information on a publicly available website (www.cassavabase.org ).

 

In addition to reporting on the latest genomic information from cassava sequencing to improve productivity and yield, project partners will discuss progress on incorporating cassava germplasm diversity from South America into African breeding programs, training the next generation of plant breeders, and improving infrastructure at African institutions.