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GMO-FREE PRODUCTS & SEEDS: Gates Foundation supports non-GE b-carotine rich sweetpotato in Africa

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   18.04.2006

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HarvestPlus has received a US$ 6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce a nutritionally improved staple food -orange-fleshed sweetpotato- into the diets of the undernourished in East Africa.

The grant will significantly advance HarvestPlus” efforts to grow and distribute high vitamin A sweetpotato and communicate their health benefits widely among the poor.

”Agriculture can be a tool for public health, although developing new technology is only half of the solution. The other half lies in effectively getting biofortified foods to the undernourished,” said Howdy Bouis, Director of HarvestPlus. ”With the Gates Foundation”s assistance, we will be able to significantly advance our efforts to disseminate high vitamin A sweetpotato developed by the International Potato Center (CIP) and African partners much sooner than expected.”

Originating in the Americas, orange sweetpotato is rich in beta-carotene, an essential building block of vitamin A. However, the crop is not widely grown or consumed in East Africa, where white sweetpotato is preferred. Since the mid-1990s, CIP has been breeding sweetpotato varieties that are rich in beta-carotene and match local growing conditions and cooking preferences, but that was only part of what was needed. ”The Gates Foundation grant will allow HarvestPlus, CIP, and other partners to improve our understanding of markets and how to shift consumer preferences in order to more effectively reach end-users with biofortified sweetpotato and enhance our impact on reducing child and maternal mortality,” said Pamela Anderson, Director General of CIP.

HarvestPlus will apply the Gates Foundation grant in pilot areas throughout East Africa, including Uganda where vitamin-A deficiency affects 38 percent of all children, and in Mozambique where the proportion is even higher at 68 percent.

More than 500,000 children are blind because of vitamin A deficiency and many more suffer from weakened immune systems due to a lack of this essential nutrient, according to World Health Organization estimates. Vitamin A deficiency has been shown to increase child mortality by 23 percent.

HarvestPlus is a Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It was launched in November of 2003, and is coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). ”New agricultural technologies require champions to insure their successful implementation. In order to deliver biofortified foods to undernourished consumers, HarvestPlus will need to engage all enablers, from policy makers and technology diffusers, to household decision makers and consumers,” said Francisco Reifschneider, Executive Director of the CGIAR.

”Once again, we are extremely grateful to the Gates Foundation for supporting the vital work of HarvestPlus to reduce hunger in the developing world. This new grant will enable us to make our first attempt at disseminating biofortified crops to those in need,” said Reifschneider.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   22.06.2007

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Potato farmers in Kenya increased their potato production by 30 percent simply by using tubers from selected healthy-looking plants as seed.

The beauty of the technology, known as positive selection, is that it is easy to adopt by small scale farmers because it does not require any cash investment, just some sticks and labour.

CIP, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Ministry of Agriculture of Kenya have trained over 100 extension agents and farmer trainers. They in turn trained over 70 farmer groups involving more than 1000 farmers since 2004. ”The training was a real eye opener, we never knew that most of our potato plants were sick,” said Michael Macharia, an extension worker trained as a trainer in May 2005. ”This technology responds directly to the need of our potato farmers because they have no access to clean seed.”

In Kenya, as well as in most developing countries, high quality seed potatoes are not available to small scale farmers. There are limited amounts of quality seed available for a few released varieties, but it is expensive. For popular landraces no seed is available. This makes farmers plant potatoes from their previous crop infected with diseases, resulting in low yields.

Farmers groups are being trained on distinguishing between sick and healthy plants by the trained extension staff. Healthy looking plants are pegged before flowering and monitored till harvest. Pegged plants are harvested one by one and a final seed potato selection is made based on the number, size and quality of the tubers. By repeating this process over a few seasons, yields can be gradually increased. The farmer groups see this for themselves because a field experiment compares their own method with positive selection.

”I have done positive selection for three seasons […] and it has doubled my yields,” said Wainaina Njoroge, a member of Pagima group in the Naivasha division. ”I expect to harvest 20 bags from this quarter acre*. Fellow farmers are now coming to me to buy seed as they have seen it is better than what they have.”

”My last crop looked so good that thieves came during the night to harvest it,” said Peter Kinyae from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Tigoni. ”Interestingly we have seen several cases of theft from fields where groups had planted positive selected seed. This is a good indicator that the technology works.”

”The approach of teaching farmers positive selection is being further investigated by CIP to judge its potential for solving the seed problem in other developing countries,” said Peter Gildemacher, a CIP potato specialist based in Nairobi. ”Trials with farmers are on-going in Ethiopia and Uganda, as well as Peru and India and the technology is being promoted in Mozambique and Malawi. We are also developing a set of training materials from the experience in Kenya.”

The training material has now been published as a manual, together with a shorter Farmer’s Field Aid that includes photographs and short descriptions, meant to be used in the field. The training manual** makes the positive selection methodology available for use by development organizations interested in improving the livelihoods of resource poor potato farmers in developing countries. It can be adapted to local circumstances in potato growing areas in Sub-Sahara Africa and beyond. Because of the cost effectiveness of the training as well as the easy adoption of the technology this program can change the outlook of potato farming in areas where the development of a specialized commercial seed potato industry is still a long term dream to become reality.


*(approximately 22 tonnes per hectare)

**Select the Best. Positive selection to improve farm saved seed potatoes. Trainers manual. (2006) Peter Gildemacher, Paul Demo, Peter Kinyae, Mercy Wakahiu, Moses Nyongesa, Thomas Zschocke. CIP. ISBN: 978-92-9060-302-3. See to buy the manual or download a pdf.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Agricultural Research, USA

AUTHOR: Luis Pons


DATE:   01.07.2007

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That’s one hot HABANERO!

It’s bright orange, nematode resistant, and hot. Make that very hot!

It’s TigerPaw-NR, a new, groundbreaking habanero pepper developed and released recently by scientists at ARS’s U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s bound to make an impression on consumers whose desire for pungent peppers is on the rise.

Geneticist Richard Fery, who developed TigerPaw-NR with plant pathologist Judy Thies, says the pepper—named when a fellow scientist saw a picture of its fruit and claimed they looked like tiger paws—will interest casual gardeners and serious growers alike.

”Not only is it among the spiciest ever developed at ARS,” he says, ”it’s also highly resistant to many important species of root-knot nematodes.”

How spicy is TigerPaw-NR? It scored a scorching 348,634 on the Scoville Heat Scale, placing it among the elite of the world’s hottest peppers. The Scoville scale shows peppers’ relative heat in terms of their content of capsaicin, the compound that produces a burning sensation on the tongue. Jalapeños fall into the 3,500-5,000 range of this scale, while habaneros rate 100,000 and higher.

But TigerPaw-NR’s true uniqueness lies in its nematode-resisting abilities. ”All habanero-type cultivars currently available to commercial growers and home gardeners are susceptible to nematodes,” says Fery. These microscopic, soilborne worms are major pests of many other crops worldwide.

Fery says that TigerPaw-NR can fend off the southern root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita; the peanut root-knot nematode, M. arenaria; and the tropical root-knot nematode, M. javanica. In greenhouse tests, the pepper had 97 percent fewer nematode eggs per gram of fresh root than did its susceptible parent.

Fery and Thies developed TigerPaw-NR through conventional recurrent backcross breeding, which transferred the gene responsible for root-knot nematode resistance in PA-426, a Scotch Bonnet type of pepper, into PA-350, a classical habanero type. Thies says that in tests, nematode resistance of the new pepper was equal to that of PA-426.

Fery has also been involved in the recent release of two new southernpea varieties: WhipperSnapper, a dual-purpose cultivar that can be used to produce both snaps and fresh-shell peas; and GreenPack-DG, the first pinkeye-type southernpea to be released whose green seed color is conditioned by both the green-cotyledon and green-testa genes.

He says that WhipperSnapper, developed in collaboration with scientists at Louisiana State and Lincoln universities, can be used to produce abundant quantities of snaps during seasons too hot for successful culture of snap bean cultivars. GreenPack-DG, developed under a cooperative research and development agreement with Western Seed Multiplication, Inc., of Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, has potential to replace Charleston Greenpack in the frozen food industry.

This research is part of Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (#301), Plant Diseases (#303), and Methyl Bromide Alternatives (#308), three ARS national programs described on the World Wide Web at

Richard L. Fery and Judy A. Thies are with the USDA-ARS U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, 2700 Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC 29414; phone (843) 402-5300, fax (843) 573-4715.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: USDA Agricultural Research Service, USA

AUTHOR: Jan Suszkiw


DATE:   29.06.2007

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A new germplasm line named ”ABC-Weihing” is now available for breeding high-yielding varieties of great northern beans that can resist common bacterial blight.

Caused by the pathogen Xanthomonas campestris pv. phaseoli, bacterial blight is an endemic disease affecting bean crops east of the U.S. Continental Divide. Antibiotic treatment, clean-seed programs and sanitation are standard control measures. But crop resistance is the keystone defense, notes Phil Miklas, a geneticist in the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit, Prosser, Wash.

In susceptible bean plants, disease symptoms include large brown blotches with lemon-yellow borders on leaf surfaces and small discolored seed in infected pods. Severe outbreaks can cause yield losses of up to 40 percent in susceptible crops.

Miklas and Carlos Urrea, a University of Nebraska (UN) bean breeder, developed ABC-Weihing using marker-assisted selection, a method of detecting inherited genes that is faster than conventional screening of plants for disease resistance and other traits. ABC-Weihing is the offspring of several crosses the scientists made, starting in 1997, between a Great Northern bean cultivar and ”XAN 159,” a germplasm breeding line.

In greenhouse tests, ABC-Weihing also resisted eight strains of bean rust, as determined by ARS plant pathologist Marcial Pastor-Corrales, ARS Vegetable Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., and all non-necrotic strains of bean common mosaic. ABC-Weihing’s upright growth also helped protect it from soilborne assault by white mold.

Other features include white flowers that bloomed 45 days after planting and seed that was slightly larger than ”Matterhorn,” a commercial check variety used in trials in North Platte, Neb., Carrington, N.D., and elsewhere. In those tests, ABC-Weihing had an average seed yield of 1,869 pounds per acre versus 1,896 pounds per acre for Matterhorn.

Detailed information on ABC-Weihing will appear in an upcoming issue of Crop Science. Urrea is handling seed requests.

The United States is the sixth-leading producer of edible dry beans, generating farm sales of $451 million in 2001-03, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

ARS is USDA’s chief scientific research agency.



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