New release: Plant Parasitic Nematodes –


By Richard Sikora, Danny Coyne, Johannes Hallman and Patricia Timper

Plant parasitic nematodes – overlooked, neglected, little known and mostly out of sight; surprising then that they cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage to global crop production annually.  In the tropics and subtropics they persistently undermine production, result in massive waste of disfigured and unmarketable produce, and literally plague some crops.

One species alone, the tropical root knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita, has been referred to as the single most important crop pathogen worldwide. And as a group, root knot nematodes are viewed as the most serious biotic threat to tropical crop production. In the tropics, nematodes can occur as a bewildering combination of species that, for example on banana, wheat,  groundnut, cotton, soybean, coffee, sugarcane and most vegetable crops worldwide, can create havoc for small to medium-sized families who often lack means and/or access to modern management tools.

Because plant parasitic nematodes have shorter lifecycles, leading to more rapid multiplication and population buildup, damage occurs more suddenly and devastatingly than in temperate agriculture. Occurrence of multiple genera and species at the same time limits management options, in particular the use of resistance or crop rotation. Some species of nematodes, including M. incognita, also have a bewildering number of crop hosts which they can parasitise, feed and multiply.

 

Plant parasitic nematodes mostly infect roots but can infect tubers, stems and leaves. They either enter the plant tissue and feed from within, or feed from the outside using a modified tooth to pierce cells and suck out the contents for nourishment. The feeding action results in physical damage to the tissue through necrosis, stunting roots or distorting tissue. They also create entry points for fungal and bacterial pathogens, resulting in increases in overall root rot damage. Some nematodes even transmit plant pathogenic viruses, while others disrupt tissue growth affecting root and tissue functionality and additionally leading to physical disfigurement that affect marketability of root and tuber crops.  All in all, they cause serious damage to many crops and add to the problem of food security worldwide, especially for “approximately 2 billion of the world’s poorest [who] live in households that depend on agriculture in some form for their livelihoods”.

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Because of their size and presence in the soil ecosystem, it is surprising that we have not heard more about these pests and are not more aware of the damage they cause. In general, tropical nematodes have been less studied and therefore we know less about them than their cooler cousins in the temperate climatic zones. To some extent, this is due to a lack of expertise in this field and in particular the limited number of tropical nematologists to inform the uninformed.

The future of agriculture is strongly tied to the issues of food security, natural resource conservation and overall sustainability. Only improvements in the way we conduct agriculture will help feed the ever growing world population. Problems are especially dramatic in the tropics and subtropics where production is predominantly linked to small and medium-sized family farms where a large proportion of yield is lost to soil-borne pests, in particular nematodes. As climate change and soil degradation continue to advance, the management of soil-borne nematodes and their effect on crop health and food production will be critical. Improving root health using established and modern technologies for plant parasitic nematodes will become of the utmost importance. The root systems of all crops in these regions are negatively affected by extreme climate, adverse ecologic constraints and poor nematode management, and this problem needs to be addressed.


Plant Parasitic Nematodes in Subtropical and Tropical Agriculture, edited by Richard Sikora, Danny Coyne, Johannes Hallman and Patricia Timper, is available now from the CABI Bookshop.

Richard Sikora headed Nematology and Soil-Ecosystem Phytopathology at the Institut für Pflanzenkrankheiten of the University of Bonn, Germany, from 1971 until retirement in 2008. 

Danny Coyne is a Soil Health Scientist / Project Manager for the East Africa Banana Breeding Project. 

 Johannes Hallman has worked as a nematologist at the Julius Kühn Institute, Federal Research Centre of Cultivated Plants, in Münster, Germany, since 2001.

Patricia Timper is currently employed as a Research Plant Pathologist with the Agricultural Research Service (United States Department of Agriculture) in Georgia, USA.

 

Wheat genome sequenced | Global Plant Protection News


BEAUTIFUL SIGHT: The sun rises on a Kansas State University wheat plot in Manhattan.

Fully annotated wheat reference genome paves way for better varieties of wheat.

Aug 17, 2018

Kansas State University scientists, in collaboration with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, published a detailed description of the complete genome of bread wheat, the world’s most widely-cultivated crop today in the international journal Science.

This work will pave the way for the production of wheat varieties better adapted to climate challenges, with higher yields, enhanced nutritional quality and improved sustainability. The article is titled “Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding using a fully annotated reference genome.”

The research article — authored by more than 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries — presents the reference genome of the bread wheat variety Chinese Spring. The DNA sequence ordered along the 21 wheat chromosomes is the highest-quality genome sequence produced to date for wheat. It is the result of 13 years of collaborative international research and the support of the National Science Foundation, Kansas farmers and many others.

“It is a dream come true for Kansas wheat farmers, who were the first to invest in the wheat genome sequencing project and were pivotal in rallying U.S. wheat farmers in support of the wheat genome sequencing project,” said Bikram Gill, distinguished professor emeritus of plant pathology at Kansas State University who organized the first National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored workshop planning meeting on wheat genome sequencing in Washington, D.C., in 2003.

A key crop for food security, wheat is the staple food of more than a third of the global human population and accounts for almost 20 percent of the total calories and protein consumed by humans worldwide, more than any other single food source. It also serves as an important source of vitamins and minerals.

Kansas farmers grow an average of 340 million bushels of wheat each year, but acres planted to wheat have dropped dramatically over the past decade, from 10 million acres to fewer than 8 million. To meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 percent each year.

With the reference genome sequence now completed, breeders have at their fingertips new tools to address global challenges. They will be able to more rapidly identify genes and regulatory elements underlying complex agronomic traits such as yield, grain quality, resistance to fungal diseases and tolerance to physical stress — and produce hardier wheat varieties.

“Completion of the sequence is a landmark event that will serve as a critical foundation for future wheat improvement,” said Allan Fritz, Kansas State University professor of agronomy and wheat breeder. “It is the key to allowing efficient, real-time integration of relevant genetics, making the selection process more efficient — it’s a turbocharger for wheat breeding.”

It is expected that the availability of a high-quality reference genome sequence will boost wheat improvement over the next decades, with benefits similar to those observed with maize and rice after their reference sequences were produced.

“Kansas wheat farmers have been supporting the wheat genome sequencing efforts through the Kansas Wheat Commission’s wheat assessment since the establishment of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium in 2005, with a cumulative amount of nearly a quarter of a million dollars,” said Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer for Kansas Wheat. “The sequence of the bread wheat genome has already had a positive effect on wheat improvement, which not only affects the science behind wheat breeding, but has a long-lasting positive outcome in regard to wheat producer productivity, profitability and, ultimately, livelihoods.”

Sequencing the bread wheat genome was long considered an impossible task because of its enormous size — five times larger than the human genome — and complexity — bread wheat has three sub-genomes and more than 85 percent of the genome is composed of repeated elements.

“It is exciting to be a part of this landmark achievement,” said Jesse Poland, associate professor at Kansas State University and director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center and the U.S. Agency for International Development Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics. “This international effort, toward something that was once deemed impossible, will have tremendous impact on wheat in Kansas, and the world.”

In addition to the sequence of the 21 chromosomes, the Science article also presents the precise location of107,891 genes and of more than 4 million molecular markers, as well as sequence information between the genes and markers containing the regulatory elements influencing the expression of genes.

The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium achieved this result by combining the resources it generated over the last 13 years using classic physical mapping methods and the most recent DNA sequencing technologies; the sequence data were assembled and ordered along the 21 chromosomes using highly efficient algorithms, and genes were identified with dedicated software programs.

All consortium reference sequence resources are publicly available at its data repository at URGI-INRA Versailles and at other international scientific databases such as GrainGenes and Ensembl Plants.

Source: Kansas State University News Service

 

A 99-million-year-old beetle likely pollinated prehistoric plants.


TheScientist

A dorsal view of the 99-million-year-old beetle Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus. Scale bar is 1mm.

chenyang cai

 

Most modern gymnosperms—conifers and gingkoes, for instance—rely on the wind to spread their pollen. For some gymnosperms called cycads, insects serve as their pollen shuttle service, and did so long before flowering plants needed bees and butterflies for pollination. The discovery, published today (August 16) in Current Biologyof a beetle fossilized in Burmese amber together with grains of cycad pollen reveals that the relationship between these plants and insects may have begun long before the 99-million-year-old fossil formed—at least 167 million years ago—the earliest evidence uncovered to date.

This amber fossil “almost captures behavior, and that’s really hard in the fossil record,” says Nathalie Nagalingum, a plant evolutionary biologist at the California Academy of Sciences who was not involved in the study. “It’s not exactly showing that the pollen grains were on the insects, but it’s almost there. It’s kind of remarkable.”

Previous findings have shown that both beetles and cycads were around at least 250 million years ago, and may have been interacting even back then. But finding evidence of their partnership in fossils compressed in rock—the primary type of fossil available from earlier than about 120 million years ago—is tricky because of the lack of detail.

Study coauthor Chenyang Cai, a paleobiologist affiliated with the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China and the University of Bristol in the UK, suspected that the group of beetles called boganiids he’d seen in stone fossils dating from about 160 million to 200 million years ago were candidates for pollinating ancient plants based on the shape of their large mandibles and because similar beetles pollinate modern cycads these days. So when his colleague and study coauthor Diying Huang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology brought Cai a fossil of Burmese amber that Huang had purchased from Myanmar locals at the Chinese-Myanmar border that appeared to contain such a beetle, Cai was elated. The amber just might give him the detail he’d been searching for.

Cai cut and polished the specimen to get a closer look and realized that the 2-millimeter-long beetle had large mandibles and extremely long mouthparts called maxillary palps—features characteristic of pollinators. He also found that the amber contained clusters of pollen grains. In the study, the authors compare the beetle’s morphology to that of a modern cycad pollinator and classify the fossil as a boganiid beetle, which they named Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus. The three-dimensional features of the pollen grains appeared to be from cycads. Taken together, the preserved specimen points to a pollinator relationship dating back many millions of years.

Pollen grains fossilized in amber alongside an ancient beetle

chenyang cai

 

“It’s a very interesting and intriguing paper,” says Conrad Labandeira, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, who did not participate in the study. “The authors did a pretty good job of looking at this specimen and putting it in its appropriate phylogenetic context and looking at the pollen and putting that into a phylogenetic context and then combining the two into an ecological relationship that goes all the way back to the early part of the Mesozoic [Era].”

Nagalingum cautions that these pollen grains are very difficult to ascribe to a particular plant group, and they could also have come from another ancient gymnosperm. “There’s just so much uncertainty associated with paleobotany” because complete plant fossils are so rare, she says.

Sarah Mathews, a botanist affiliated with the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra and Harvard University, agrees that the biggest open question is the pollen’s identity. It is a reasonable hypothesis that the pollen comes from cycads, she says, but “the clincher would have been, they have the beetles with the pollen grains [and] an actual pollen cone of a cycad.”

According to Mathews, it is possible that such a fossil exists and just hasn’t been found yet. “There’s much more out there to be discovered,” she says. “One of the reasons this is exciting is it gives us another hint of what the interactions between plants and insects actually were in a time that is very long ago.”

C. Cai et al., “Beetle pollination of cycads in the Mesozoic,” Current Biologydoi:10.1016/ j.cub.2018.06.036, 2018.

Turkey imposes up to 140% tax on rice, alcohol, cars from US


Turkey took its boldest steps yet to try to ward off a financial crisis by making it harder for traders to bet against the battered lira and easing rules on restructuring troubled loans that have already topped $20 billion.

As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified a diplomatic feud with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump with a spate of new import tariffs, the nation’s banking regulator published new rules that have so far succeeded at lifting the lira off record lows. Investors continued to demand higher interest rates.

The measures “are aimed at the symptoms of recent lira weakness and not the cause,” said Nigel Rendell, an analyst at Medley Global Advisors LLC in London. “The cure for a persistently weak currency is not rocket science, nor is it liquidity measures and policy tweaks – it is higher interest rates.”

Erdogan, who tightened his grip on power in June elections, is refusing to give in to pressure from Trump to release an evangelical pastor who he accuses of aiding a coup attempt against him two years ago. A court on Wednesday rejected an appeal for the release of Andrew Brunson from house arrest.

The standoff between the two NATO allies has escalated quickly since Trump slapped sanctions on the interior and justice ministers on 1 August, following that move with tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports last week.

Tit for Tat

In retaliation on Wednesday, Turkey said it was imposing taxes of ranging from 50 to 140% on rice, alcohol and cars from the U.S. That comes after Erdogan called on Turks to boycott American electronics, like the iPhone, which have in any case become a lot more expensive as the lira lost almost 40 percent of its value this year. The collapse, which intensified this month and triggered contagion that spread across emerging markets, is making it much more costly for businesses to refinance at least $16 billion in bonds denominated in foreign currencies that are due by year-end, according to calculations by Bloomberg.

Businesses that earn revenues in lira and have dollar loans are also struggling. While officially the bad debt ratio at Turkey’s banks is just 3 percent, lenders are in the process of renegotiating upwards of $20 billion of loans to try to prevent them from going into default.

Against this backdrop, the nation’s banking regulator issued back-to-back statements starting late on Tuesday to try to ward off a crisis. The steps spurred a 3% gain in the lira to 6.1648 per dollar by 1:56 p.m. in Istanbul, after an 8.4% advance on Tuesday. The recovery also spilled into the bond market, with yields on 10-year local debt falling 28 basis points to 21.1%.

The regulator gave banks more flexibility in dealing with Turkish companies and individuals who aren’t able to make debt payments. Banks can extend the maturities, refinance loans, extend new debt to help troubled companies, and seek new collateral. They can also demand debtors sell assets to repay loans. Overdue loans can now be restructured within two years from the day a framework agreement is signed.

In another unconventional step, the regulator said that until markets “normalise,” it would temporarily stop applying the effect of day-to-day losses on the securities held by banks to their capital adequacy ratios.

Then on Wednesday, it limited the amount of currency swap transactions banks can participate in by half to 25% of shareholder equity, after imposing a 50 percent limit on Monday from none earlier. What this does is prevent investors, like hedge funds, from accessing lira liquidity in the offshore swap market. This drives up short-term borrowing costs and makes it less appealing to borrow liras from local lenders to bet against, or short, it.

Higher rates

The lira is still down 20 percent in August and many investors will wait for steep interest rate hikes from the central bank before they return, especially with inflation at a 15-year high of almost 16 percent and climbing. On Tuesday, Turkish companies and banks joined the call for higher interest rates to stabilize the situation. “This is the usual smoke and mirrors. It can buy time, finger in the dike, but the longer term issues remain,” said Tim Ash, a senior emerging market strategist at Bluebay Asset Management LLC in London.

While policy makers have hiked lending rates by 500 basis points this year to 17.75 percent, they’re under constant pressure from Erdogan to keep rates low because he thinks it’s better for the economy. Before winning near-absolute power in June, he pledged to meddle more in monetary policy.

With the diplomatic spat with the U.S. showing no signs of letting up, Erdogan will be speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday and French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in Ankara.

According to Bloomberg calculations, Turkey’s new tariffs affect goods that accounted for $1 billion of imports last year, similar to the value of the metals subjected to higher U.S. taxes. The decision shows Turkey giving a proportionate response to American “attacks” on the Turkish economy, Vice President Fuat Oktay said in a tweet.

livemint

What has been happening to agriculture?


Pakistan’s agriculture received a boost in the 1960s when it posted a growth rate of 5.1%. Improved varieties, steady access to water due to incentivisation of tube wells and heavy public investment in irrigation canals and storages contributed to this growth. An effective extension service made no mean contribution. All this has changed since, and for the worse. Land distribution constrains the agricultural growth more than ever before. From 27.08% in FY2000, the share of agriculture in GDP has gone down to 18.86% in FY18. Historically, as economies progress towards greater industrialisation, the share of agriculture becomes smaller and smaller. Industry produces rapid growth and its share in GDP keeps on rising. Industrial growth rate is above agriculture, but it does not mean agriculture stagnates. In a healthy economy, agriculture becomes more intensive and produces larger amounts of output due to greater productivity.

The fall in the share of agriculture since 1999-2000 was 8.22 percentage points. However, the increase in the share of industry from 19.31 % to 20.91% implied an increase of only 1.6 percentage points. This means that the major share of the decline in the share of agriculture was gained by the services sector, as it rose by 6.62 percentage points from 53.61 to 60.23%. So the classical path of agriculture giving way to industrialisation turns on its head. In this period, industrial growth was 5.03% per annum, but the agricultural growth was close behind at 4.87%. At 5.18%, the services sector recorded the highest annual average growth. Overall GDP growth was 4.49%. This is where the first part of the problem lies. Industry was supposed to take Pakistan into the high growth league of Asian Tigers. It has been the darling of the policymakers. Import tariffs, taxes, subsidies, public spending, regulatory framework and credit policies have all been geared to nurture the industrial class. What we have, however, is a Statutory Regulatory Order class, taking rent seeking to ever greater heights, yet grumbling all the time that the government is not doing enough.

What this class is doing in return is a pathetic story told by every edition of the Labour Force Survey. According to the last available edition, the industrial sector provided 23.5% of the employment in 2014-15, up from 21% in 2001-02. The economy needs a double-digit growth for a decade to fully absorb the ever-expanding army of the unemployed. Industry has failed to demonstrate the potential to be the major contributor to this growth. The second part of the problem is that whatever growth this sector achieves, its job creation capability, measured by the so-called employment elasticity, is the lowest.

Services, the largest sector, have a low elasticity of employment. While the share of the sector increased from 54.96 to 58.61% between 2001-02 and 2014-15, the share in employment declined from 38 to 34 %. Agriculture remained the largest employer, with its share increasing from 41.4 to 42.47 %, despite a low average annual growth of 2.63%. Agricultural growth has been stunted by relegation of the sector to a residual in official policy. As a result, Pakistan has become a net importer of food as well as agricultural products. More than the industrial zones, the growth potential of the CPEC connectivity is likely to be maximised by the recognition of agriculture as the lead industry. Indications of a food and agriculture deficit are writ large on the face of the region.

By Dr Pervez Tahir: Express Tribune

Transgenic rice plants could neutralize HIV transmission


Newswise — AMES, Iowa – Extracts from transgenic rice plants could help stop the spread of HIV, according to research results from an international effort that included an Iowa State University scientist.

Raziel Antonio-Ordonez, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy, contributed to a research team that successfully developed a transgenic rice plant that expresses three different proteins that can stop human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from entering human cells. The finding could lead to a less costly, easier way of producing prophylactics that could stop the spread of HIV, particularly in the developing world. The peer-reviewed academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the research findings.

The research team also included scientists from the Universitat de Lleida-Agrotecnio Center in Spain; the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute, Spain; the National Cancer Institute; Imperial College in London and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies. The team was led by Paul Christou at Universitat de Lleida.

Scientists previously had shown that expressing anti-HIV proteins in plants was possible, though refining those proteins into a form that could be useful to prevent the spread of the virus often proved prohibitively expensive. Expressing the proteins in rice could be a more cost-effective alternative, Antonio-Ordonez said. Extracts from such a rice plant could be used to produce a topical antimicrobial gel that can be applied before intercourse to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.

Evangelia Vamvaka, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the research team, laid the foundation for the project as a Ph.D. student when she proved a single anti-HIV protein could be produced in rice seeds.

“Plants offer an affordable and scalable alternative production platform,” Vamvaka said. “We have shown that we can now produce multiple components in a single plant.”

There are 1.8 million new HIV infections worldwide every year, most occurring in Africa. Antimicrobial gels might present a valuable tool in the developing world where people have difficulty accessing HIV treatments and barrier methods, such as condoms. Vamvaka said men in regions with high HIV infection rates sometimes are reluctant to use condoms, but the availability of an antimicrobial gel would empower women to protect themselves from infection.

Antonio-Ordonez analyzed the data and validated the research team’s results.

Imran Khan becomes 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan


PM-elect Imran Khan on Saturday took oath as the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan at a ceremony held at the President House.

Khan, who outvoted opposition and PML-N candidate Shahbaz Sharif in the PM’s election on Friday, was administered his oath by President Mamnoon Hussain.

After taking the oath as premier, Khan and First Lady Bushra Imran greeted various guests.

As the ceremony concluded, Khan proceeded to the Prime Minister’s Office, where he was presented a guard of honour.

The oath-taking ceremony, which was scheduled to begin at 9:30am, started a little after 10am.

Clad in a black sherwani, the prime minister-elect arrived at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President House) in Islamabad from his Banigala residence. His wife Bushra Imran had already arrived for the ceremony.

The ceremony commenced with the national anthem, followed by recitation of verses from the Holy Quran.

High-profile guests including caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and Naval Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi were present at the ceremony.

Other notable guests present at the Aiwan-e-Sadr included senior PTI leaders, former Indian cricket star Navjot Singh Sidhu, cricketer-turned-commentator Rameez Raja, legendary paceman Wasim Akram, newly elected Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, singers Salman Ahmed and Abrarul Haq, actor Javaid Sheikh and former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza.

The invited guests, which include politicians, cricketers and celebrities, were told to be at the venue at 9:15am. The event was scheduled to begin at 9:30am.

Khan, who famously captained the national cricket team to World Cup glory in 1992, has also invited some of his former teammates to witness his formal ascension to the top ministerial job in the country.

According to the programme outlined on the invitation cards, the ceremony will begin with the national anthem, following which the cabinet secretary will seek permission from the president to commence the ceremony.

Next up will be recitation (tilawat) of the Holy Quran, after which the oath will be administered and documents signed.

The guest have been asked to carry their NIC or accreditation cards but not to bring with them any handbags, purses, mobiles phones or any other electronic gadgetry.

The work begins
After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as the biggest parliamentary party in the wake of the July 25 polls, all 120 of the party’s parliamentary committee members rubber-stamped Khan’s candidacy for the post of the prime minister.

PTI vice-president Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks to a reporter after arriving for Imran Khan’s oath-taking. — DawnNewsTV
The party formed enough alliances and recruited enough independents to gain the numbers required to get Khan elected as the PM in Friday’s parliamentary vote.

Khan and his party campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.

 

“First of all, we will start strict accountability. I promise to my God that everyone who looted this country will be made accountable,” he said in his speech as PM-elect on Friday.

PTI candidates were also voted speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly this week, putting Khan in a strong position to carry forward his legislative agenda.

He will face myriad challenges including militant extremism, water shortages, and a booming population negating growth in the country, among others.

Most pressing is a looming economic crisis, with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Khan will also have to contend with the same issue as many predecessors: how to maintain a power balance in civil-military relations.

Source Dawn.com

U.N. Armyworm could threaten millions of farmers in Asia


LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A voracious crop-chomping pest which has wrought havoc in Africa could threaten millions of farmers in Asia, U.N. experts warned on Tuesday, as India battles the continent’s first reported infestation of fall armyworm.

The pest – a moth which devours crops in the caterpillar stage of its lifecycle – prefers maize but can feed on some 80 crops, including rice, vegetables, groundnuts and cotton.

“Fall armyworm could have a devastating impact on Asia’s maize and rice producers … This is a threat that we cannot ignore,” the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) regional representative Kundhavi Kadiresan said in a statement.

The moth can fly 100 km (60 miles) a night and the female can lay up to 1,000 eggs in her lifetime, the FAO said.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research sent out a pest alert on July 30 after fall armyworm was detected in the southwestern state of Karnataka. Indian media reported that the pest was spreading at an alarming rate in the region.

The FAO said fall armyworm could threaten millions of small-scale farmers who depend on their crops for food as well as income. Southern China and Southeast Asia are at greatest risk due to their climate, it added.

More than 200 million hectares of maize and rice are grown annually in Asia, which produces most of the world’s rice, the FAO said. China is the second largest maize-producing country in the world behind the United States.

Almost all sub-Saharan countries have reported infestations which have affected millions of hectares of crops and threatened the food security of more than 300 million people, according to the FAO.

The U.N. agency said it was offering guidance to Asian governments and farmers on how to identify and deal with fall armyworm.

In Africa, FAO field schools have trained thousands of farmers to recognise and report infestations.

Farmers have been taught how to crush the pest by hand and curb its spread with bio-pesticides made from plants like neem and tobacco or by using natural predators like ants.

Other remedies include applying ash, lime, sand or soil to infested plant parts.

Reporting by Emma Batha. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

Bacteria can be engineered to create their own fertilizer


Researchers have successfully engineered bacteria to use nitrogen at night to create chlorophyll for photosynthesis. This new development could reduce the need for human-made fertilizers on agricultural crops, thus reducing the cost and manpower required for fertilizer application.

Research undertaken at Washington University, led by Professor Himadri Pakrasi of the Department of Biology and director of the International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES), has shown that this may be possible. So far this technology has only been developed using bacteria, but in the future it is hoped that this will be developed using plants and eventually crops to revolutionize the agriculture industry.

Public Domain CC0

With the world’s population increasing exponentially, there are higher demands for food. Coupling this, due to increasing agricultural threats from pests, diseases and climate change, we are facing greater food security risks such as reduced crop yields and loss of soil fertility. Soil conditions are a big problem for agriculture, particularly throughout Sub-Saharan Africa where areas of land can experience prolonged periods of drought and uneven rainfall. This is why there is a global need for improved fertilizer use, to improve the ability of crops to withstand these fluctuating environmental conditions and produce the required yields. Fertilizers provide plants with the necessary nutrients for improved growth, such as potassium for improved stem vigor, nitrogen for increased growth and phosphorous for improved seed germination and root development. By applying fertilizers we are improving soil and plant health as well as the ability for plants to resist pest and diseases.

Aside from the use of fertilizers to provide nitrogen, there is also another major source that could be made available. The Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 78% nitrogen and was the target source for this study. Researchers working with Professor Pakrasi engineered bacteria that could use the atmospheric nitrogen in a process known as nitrogen fixing to produce the energy required for photosynthesis.

“Cyanobacteria are the only bacteria that have circadian rhythm,” said Pakrasi, “interestingly, Cyanothece photosynthesize during the day, converting sunlight to the chemical energy they need as fuel, and fix nitrogen at night after removing most of the oxygen created during photosynthesis through respiration.”

broken-farm-field-4200

The team identified 35 genes which were accountable for this process, 24 of which were transferred into another bacteria, Synechocystis, to determine the ability to transfer this nitrogen fixing process into another living organism. This was shown to be successful, with Synechocystis fixing nitrogen at a rate of 30% of Cyanothece.

The next steps for the team will be to study the finer details of this process, and identify the specific genes required for this nitrogenous process. With further development of this work with bacteria, it is hoped that with collaboration this study will be taken to the next level to develop nitrogen-fixing plants. If crops were able to use nitrogen in the atmosphere to increase their growth, this would benefit  not only global soil health, but also reduce the struggle for improving fertilizer application throughout the agriculture industry.

With the publication of this study, the issues have been raised behind global soil health and the management practices that need to be better implemented to improve soil fertility. Whilst innovations such as this are taking place in the lab, here is what CABI has been doing to reach smallholder farmers in terms of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM):

“To improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and farm productivity, we need to tackle the issue of poor soil fertility. The OFRA project was designed to help improve efficiency and profitability in fertilizer use in 13 sub-Saharan countries within the framework of ISFM practices. This has been a successful project, with over 70 fertilizer optimization tools (FOT) developed and over 3500 extension workers and agrodealers trained on how to use FOT to advise farmers,” stated George Odour, Project Manager of OFRA, CABI. “I am hopeful for the future of soil health with the development of exciting novel studies such as this and that ISFM practices are applied further to help combat this pressing challenge to global food security.”

If you would like to read further information on the subjects covered in this article, please see the links below:

Technology to fight Fall Armyworm


MUKONO – After using a temporary pesticide combination to fight against fall armyworm, Farmers in many parts of the country could start smiling after the Food and Agricultural Organisation developed a new technology that will help farmers to fight against the destructive fall armyworm.

The FAO has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries [MAAIF] to develop technologies to manage the pest through a community-based approach and has now developed a mobile phone application known as the FAMEWS for monitoring and early detection of the Fall Army Worm.

According to FAO, the new technology provides a lasting solution to the armyworm that has affected more than half of the country posing a significant threat to food security.

Described as FAMEWS mobile app, the technology will monitor and give an early warning system to the farmers regarding the Fall Armyworm which then will build knowledge on how and where the pest spreads, and make it less damaging,

Mr Keith Cressman, the senior agricultural officer who leads who FAO’s digital response to Fall Armyworm and other pests, while handing over the technology to farmers at Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MuZARDI) August 13 said the new tool will help farmers recognise the new enemy and take immediate measures to stop it.

“With the new application, farmers can hold the phone next to an infested plant, and they will be able to detect and immediately confirm the Fall Armyworm,” said Mr Cressman.

The equipment handed over to farmers included 126 mobile phones loaded with the FAMEWS app which will be used in 15 districts to pilot a community-based FAW monitoring and early warning system.

These districts include; Mukono, Iganga, Bulamburi, Nakapiripirit, Oyam, Adjumani, Kiryandong, Kibaale, Kasese, Lira, Kayunga, Soroti, Busia, Masindi and Luwero.

The other items handed over to MAAIF included 700 pheromone traps and 6000 lures facilitate detection of the presence and build-up of FAW and to capture adult moths.

Mr Cressman said the use of pheromone traps will be instrumental in detecting the presence and build-up of Fall Army Worm [FAW] in areas where the traps are deployed.

The Pheromones are natural compounds emitted by female FAW moths to attract male moths for mating and that synthetic compounds that mimic natural FAW pheromones, often referred to as lures are placed in traps to attract and trap male moths.

“The moths that are caught are then counted, the number will be recorded on the mobile app and submitted to FAO central platform with countries having rights to access and validate. And from the numbers caught, farmers can know if FAW is present in their fields or in their locality and determine the need for increased scouting,” said Mr Cressman.

The new technology comes at the time farmers are planning and preparing their gardens for the second planting season expected to start by the end of August 2018.

Dr Charles Owach, the Assistant FAO Representative in charge of Programmes underscored the importance of setting up a community-based system for monitoring, early detection and the management of the devastating pest.

He explained that early detection, collecting and analysing information, is essential for tracking and efficiently responding to the large-scale threat posed by FAW.

“The major action required for effective and sustainable management of FAW is at the community level. With the community monitoring system, farmers can make informed decisions for early action, that is, timely scouting of their fields and undertaking appropriate control actions,” Dr Owach said.

He explained that through the community monitoring system, extension workers at local, district and national level will be able to appropriately advise farmers on FAW control and that the system will also monitor the spread of FAW across geographical areas nationally and at a continental level.

The FAMEWS mobile app has been rolled out in a number of countries but more in Sub-Saharan countries in Africa with notable success in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and others. It will be expanded to North Africa, the Near East, India and other parts of Asia where FAW is spreading.

He revealed further that the monitoring system will benefit communities dependent on maize for food and income.

Mr Stephen Byantwale, the Commissioner for Crop Protection at MAAIF, who received the equipment on behalf of Government noted that whereas Uganda realised a bumper maize harvest during the first season of 2018 compared to 2017 where more than half of the maize crop was lost to the FAW), there is a need to continue monitoring because the residual populations of the FAW have the potential to cause more outbreaks.

“We are grateful to FAO for these items that we will be deploying in communities as a pilot project and based on the results, the government will explore opportunities to roll out this approach to other districts given that the data available so far indicates presence of FAW in all districts in Uganda,” said Mr Byantware.

He urged farmers to start scouting as they prepare to plant maize for the onset second season adding that the move is aimed at minimising the use of pesticides in the management of FAW.

“Now that we know what the pest is, there is need for sustainable control and management mechanisms which are safer for both humans and the environment such as the use of natural biological control agents, mechanical destruction of egg masses and larvae among others and let the Pesticides should come as a very last resort” Mr Byantware added.

He revealed that the use of biological mechanisms such wasps, nematodes, and some fungus that attack and destroy the caterpillars is being studied by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO)..

He stated that Uganda has a national strategy and action plan for control of FAW which has short, medium and long-term measures and commended FAO for supporting the Government of Uganda to implement national its FAW control and management strategy through the technical cooperation project and sub-regional project on FAW.

About Fall Army Worm [FAW]

Fall Armyworm (FAW) is an insect pest native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Since it was first reported in 2016, FAW has spread across sub-Saharan Africa, causing extensive and widespread damage, particularly to maize crops. By mid-2017, FAW was present in all of Uganda’s districts, causing between 15 and 75 percent yield loss. An estimated 450 000 metric tonnes of maize, equivalent to US$ 192 million was lost during the first cropping season of 2017, directly affecting 3.6 million people or 9% of the population.