Knowledge for Development

Relevant publications

The bumpy path towards knowledge convergence for pro-poor agro-biotechnology regulation and development: exploring Kenya’s regulatory process

Knowledge production dynamics are explored through an empirical account that documents the biotechnology regulatory trajectory in Kenya over almost two decades. The author, Ann Njoki Kingiri, of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Nairobi, Kenya, bases her analysis on papers describing the political nature under which biotechnology development and biosafety regulation have co-evolved. She concludes that scientific knowledge predominantly directs biotechnology development and regulation. Although this process has lacked legal direction, she suggests that lessons learnt from Kenya’s regulatory process should move the country’s biotechnology sector to a higher level in putting the research products in the pipeline to use. (InTech publishers, 14/03/2012)Download the article (PDF) 


Measuring the effectiveness of crop improvement research in Sub-Saharan Africa

This report summarizes the key findings of the Diffusion and Impact of Improved Varieties in Africa (DIIVA) project and advances the understanding of the adoption and diffusion of new varieties in Africa by expanding knowledge about areas where diffusion was previously not well documented and by improving the methodologies used for measuring diffusion. (CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council    (ISPC Secretariat, 15.07.2014)


Governing agricultural biotechnology in Africa: building public confidence and capacity for policy-making

Norman Clark, John Mugabe, and James Smith provide an analytical context of biotechnology and biosafety in three African countries by reviewing the nature of science policy research, especially as it applies to potential developmental impacts of biotechnology. The book throws new light on biotechnology governance in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda that have been struggling with biotechnology development and related biosafety policy and pays attention to experiences in OECD countries. In addition, the authors pay close attention to the analysis of risk and how it may be managed. They discuss the flawed nature of traditional approaches to biosafety management (treating biosafety risks as reducible to probabilistic values) and argue that these approaches are not only invalid from a purely scientific point of view, but also fail to deal with attitudes of civil society. They think that it is largely for these reasons that the 'precautionary principle' has begun to be taken seriously.   (Africa Portal, 09/2014)


Novel plant bio-resources: Applications in food, medicine and cosmetics

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is the editor of a book entitled Novel Plant Bioresources: Applications in Food, Medicine and Cosmetics, recently published by John Wiley & Son. The book serves as the definitive source of information on under-utilised plant species, and fills a key niche in the understanding of the relationship of human beings with under-utilised plants. After an introductory section which sets the scene with an overview of the historical and legislative importance of under-utilised plants, the main four parts of the book are dedicated to the diverse potential application of novel plant bioresources in food, medicine, ethno-veterinary medicine and cosmetics. Examples and contributors are drawn from Africa, Europe, the USA and Asia. The economic, social, and cultural aspects of under-utilised plant species are addressed, and the book provides a much needed boost to the on-going effort to focus attention on under-utilised plant species and conservation initiatives. By focusing on novel plants and the agenda for sustainable utilisation, Novel Plant Bioresources highlights key issues relevant to under-utilised plant genetic resources, and brings together international scholars on this important topic.   (Wiley-Blackwell, 04/2014)   


How can we exploit plant science and biotechnology to reduce micronutrient deficiencies?

Irene Murgia of the Department of Biosciences, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy and colleagues provided the most recent papers identifying advances on plant biofortification for micronutrients and a comprehensive overview of the different approaches that can be pursued for producing micronutrient-rich staple plants. Some of the major points arising from these papers relate to vitamins (Bs, C and D), metal micronutrients (Iron, zinc and manganese) and iodine. The papers presented here demonstrate how knowledge in plant metabolism, physiology, and molecular biology can provide approaches for increasing the nutritional value of plant derived foods. The contributions also draw attention to the need for multidisciplinary efforts to cope with the challenges of food security and micronutrient malnutrition.  (Front. Plant Sci, 6/11/2013)


Discovery of a gene in rice that promotes a deeper root system

An international team led by the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan, has discovered the DRO1 gene that makes the roots of rice plants grow downward instead of outward. This allows the plants to reach water held deeper in the soil. Plants with DRO1 can continue to grow and produce grain even under extreme water stress. The researchers also found that the DRO1 gene appears to change only the angle of root growth and slightly increase the length of the root tips, rather than the overall root density, meaning that energy is not diverted away from the production of grain.   (IRRI, 10/2013)


Genetically modified crops in Africa: Economic and policy lessons from countries south of the Sahara

This book by IFPRI investigates how this tool might be effectively used to evaluate the benefits, costs, and risks for African countries in adopting GM crops. The authors gather together studies on the economic effects and impact on trade of GM crops, how consumers view such crops, and other issues. They find that GM crops have had, on average, a positive economic effect in the African nations (Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda) where they were used and identify future steps for enhancing their adoption. Promising policy initiatives include making biosafety regulations that do not make the development prohibitively expensive, fostering intraregional trade in GM crops, and providing more and better information about GM crops to consumers who might currently be sceptical of them.   (IFPRI, 02/10/2013)


Landscape Genomics in Livestock

Scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, investigate how geographical and environmental characteristics affect the genetic  structure of livestock populations around the world to help correlate genetic variation patterns with geographic variables.  They explore the potential of a number of  different molecular markers, in source material varying from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to Y chromosomes, for livestock landscape genomics. The main marker  systems in livestock studies are Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism' (AFPL, combining DNA digestion and polymerase chain reaction PCR amplification),  microsatellites (markers in the nuclear DNA), mitochondrial DNA (examination of uniparental clonal inheritance), Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), and  Copy Number Variation (CNV). In a similar effort to crop breeders analysing crop wild relatives and underutilised plants for useful gene discovery, livestock  researchers have analysed the genomes of local/native breeds to associate unique loci with environmental parameters. This effort can help improve livestock herds  gravely affected by rapid and permanent changes in the environment.          (via EPFL, 2013)    


Turning over a new leaf in plant genomics

A special issue of Genome Biology, published early July 2013, highlights current top plant research with articles on crops (sorghum, maize, barley, cocoa, wheat, vegetables), micro-organisms (plant-microbe interactions, root hairs), methods and techniques (cloning, mapping-by-sequencing), etc.  ‘One of the immediate challenges of plant genomics is to mine more  efficiently the vast amount of data that are being generated on a daily basis as more and more plant genomes are being sequenced’, says Dr Mario Caccamo, co-editor of the review.  ‘However, opportunities are emerging that allow scientists to play a key role in securing affordable and nutritious food for an increasing human population’. This special issue provides a  collection of reviews, opinions and presentations of current scientific work; the vast majority are free to access.(Genome Biology Volume 14 Issue 6, 2013)


Key environmental impacts of global genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2011

This paper updates previous assessments of the environmental impact crop biotechnology has had on global agriculture. According to this paper, the adoption of the technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 8.9% and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on GM crops. The technology has apparently facilitated a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from this cropping area, which, in 2011, was equivalent to removing 10.22 million cars from the roads. (Landes Bioscience, Vol. 4 Iss. 2, Spring 2013)


Genetics in agriculture

In this issue of GeneWatch: livestock genebanks, agricultural biotechnology policy, patented seeds, agricultural technologies in a warming world, and more. for Responsible Genetics, Jan-Mar 2013)


Key environmental impacts of global genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2011

This paper updates previous assessments of the environmental impact (associated with changes in pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions) crop biotechnology has had on global agriculture. Bioscience, Vol 4 Iss 2, Spring 2013)


A review of existing regulatory systems for GM food products labelling

The labelling of GM foods is a key issue in the ongoing debate over the risks and benefits of food crops produced using biotechnology. This Legal and Policy Brief of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE, African Union/NEPAD) reviews the labelling requirements of genetically modified (GM) food products for developing countries and developed countries including: South Africa, Kenya, European Union and USA. This brief clarifies the major dichotomy that separates countries with voluntary labelling guidelines from those with mandatory labelling requirements. (AU/NEPAD ABNE, 2013) 


Genetic diversity among farmer-preferred cassava landraces in Uganda

This study was carried out to determine genetic diversity within and among 51 farmer-preferred cassava (Manihot esculenta) landraces and 15 elite accessions grown in Uganda. The genetic diversity assessment in this study revealed that 24% of a total of 154 alleles were unique alleles present only in landraces. Including these landraces with unique alleles in cassava breeding schemes will increase the chances of producing farmer preferred adapted elite cultivars. The study also revealed genetic differentiation among accessions from different regions providing an opportunity for establishment of heterotic pools within a breeding programme. (African Crop Science Journal, Vol. 20, 2012) 


Entrepreneurial women in science: The sky is the limit

At the global level, two thirds of the 774 million illiterate adults are women, and this percentage has not improved over the past two decades. This is prompting some serious reflection and prospective thinking. Robert Zoellick, for example, former president of the World Bank, once said that investing in girls is not just a good thing but a smart thing to do. MDG Goal 3, which emphasizes gender equality, is most likely to be missed but remains a laudable objective. It is increasingly recognized that eliminating the gender gap can boost GDP in the United States, the Eurozone and Japan by 9%, 13% and 16%, respectively. In the BRICS, and other fast-growing developing countries, including Mauritius, the gap is already narrowing. 


Guide to EU legislation on the marketing of seed and plant propagating material in the context of agricultural biodiversity

This report by the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI, Norway) presents the EU legislation on the marketing of seed and plant propagating material, detailing how it affects agricultural biodiversity. It discusses the principles of the EU’s twelve basic directives in this area and the three directives providing derogations for the purpose of conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. In addition, the report reviews the development of such legislation in Europe, its effects on agricultural biodiversity, and the content and consequences of the EU directive that provides derogations for conservation varieties. (FNI, 08/2012) 


The access and benefit sharing agreement on teff genetic resources: facts and lessons

This report tells the story of an agreement on access to teff genetic resources in Ethiopia, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, that was hailed as one of the most advanced of its time. The agreement was seen as a pilot case for the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in terms of access and benefit sharing. The implementation of the agreement failed and as a result, Ethiopia was left with fewer possibilities for generating and sharing the benefits from the use of teff genetic resources. This report provides an in-depth analysis of the course of events with regard to the agreement as well as a related patent on the processing of teff.   (FNI, 2012)   


Increasing food production in Africa by boosting the productivity of understudied crops

Zerihun Tadele (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Kebebew Assefa (Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center, Ethiopia) have compiled a review of the major understudied (‘orphan’) crops of Africa (for example: teff, fonio, grass pea, okra, amaranth, among several other crops), listing their desirable and undesirable properties and the current knowledge (economic and scientific) on their production and improvement efforts (and the organisations working on the subject). The call for an agricultural revolution must point to further research on orphan crops of Africa if they are to benefit from modern improvement techniques to enable a truly secure agricultural sector on the continent. Partnerships, farmer participation and modern research capacity dedicated to these understudied crops may well get improved varieties out in the fields.(Agronomy 2012, 2(4), 240-283)


New genes in traditional seed systems: diffusion, detectability and persistence of transgenes in a maize metapopulation

Gene flow of transgenes into non-target populations is an important biosafety concern. The case of genetically modified (GM) maize in Mexico has been of particular interest because of the country’s status as centre of origin and landrace diversity. In contrast to maize in the U.S. and Europe, Mexican landraces form part of an evolving metapopulation in which new genes are subject to evolutionary processes of drift, gene flow and selection. There has been little study into the population genetics of transgenes under traditional seed management. Here, recently compiled data on seed management practices are combine with a spatially explicit population genetic model to evaluate the importance of seed flow as a determinant of the long-term fate of transgenes in traditional seed systems. Our results have important implications concerning the feasibility of long term transgene monitoring and control in traditional seed systems.(Bioversity International, 2012)


Vegetable breeding in Africa: Constraints, complexity and contributions toward achieving food and nutritional security

Many Africans are presently confronted with nutritional insecurity as their diets are often deficient in essential vitamins and minerals owing to lack of sufficient consumption of fruit and vegetables. This results from problems of availability, affordability and lack of knowledge. There has been a substantive, long-term underinvestment in research and development of the horticultural sector in Africa with particular reference to those indigenous crops which are naturally high in nutritious vitamins and minerals. Lack of breeding effort, ineffective seed supply systems and an inadequate information, regulatory and policy framework have all contributed to the widespread occurrence of malnutrition on the continent. However, public sector research, development and policy amelioration efforts supported by a nascent private seed supply sector are now showing progress. Many new, improved, nutrient-dense indigenous and standard vegetable varieties are being released for which smallholder farmers are finding growing markets in both rural and urban settings. If such developments continue favourably for the next decade, it is expected that progress towards a reduction in poverty and malnutrition in Africa will be marked.(Food Security 4:115-127, 2012 via AVRDC)