Tag Archives: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Working together to better manage CGIAR intellectual assets


The CGIAR is the curator of much of the world’s crop genetic biodiversity. However access by small seed and medium seed companies has been difficult in the past, having to source foundation seed from unreliable public  breeding and foundation seed sources, which ultimately source it from the CGIAR. Much of the seed remained unused in seed-banks and research labs. However newly approved CGIAR Intellectual Asset principles give new opportunities for improved flow of genetics,  and partnerships, including with African seed companies to solve some of the most challenging crop problems, while at the same time maintaining the international public good and preserving biodiversity.

Originally posted on CLIPnet:

Participants of the CGIAR Consortium Legal/IP Network meeting held at ICRISAT-Patancheru, India. (Photo credit: ICRISAT/PS Rao)

Throughout CGIAR, the management of Intellectual Assets requires a careful balancing act of sometimes seemingly opposite objectives.  How does one find the correct balance between say maximizing global accessibility v. minimizing risk of misappropriation/misuse? Or, maintaining commitment to International Public Goods v. leveraging strengths of private sector partners?

These complex issues are the kinds of challenges tackled by the CGIAR Consortium Legal & Intellectual Property Network (or CLIPnet for short); a multi-disciplinary group from the members of the CGIAR Consortium comprising of lawyers, grant managers, and senior managers from genetic resources, communications and corporate services.  Last month the group met for their Annual Meeting, this year hosted by ICRISAT.  Over the 3-day meeting members of the group swapped ideas, experiences and practical advice on a range of issues such as; challenges of…

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in General


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Major investment to persuade bacteria to help cereals self-fertilise | The John Innes Centre


English: John Innes Centre, Norwich

English: John Innes Centre, Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The John Innes Centre will lead a $9.8m research project to investigate whether it is possible to initiate a symbiosis between cereal crops and bacteria. The symbiosis could help cereals access nitrogen from the air to improve yields. The five-year research project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could have most immediate benefit for subsistence farmers.

As a result, yields are 15 to 20 per cent of their potential. Nitrogen fertilisers also come with an environmental cost. Making and applying them contributes half the carbon footprint of agriculture and causes environmental pollution.

“A new method of nitrogen fertilisation is needed for the African Green Revolution,” said Professor Oldroyd.

“Delivering new technology within the seed of crops has many benefits for farmers as well as the environment, such as self-reliance and equity,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The new research will investigate the possibility of engineering cereals to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and of delivering this technology through the seed. If it is found to work, farmers would be able to share the technology by sharing seed. And the research opens the door to the use of grasses as rotational crops to enhance soil nitrogen.

“We’re excited about the long-term potential of this research to transform the lives of small farmers who depend on agriculture for their food and livelihoods,” said Katherine Kahn, senior program officer of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We need innovation for farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  Improving access to nitrogen could dramatically boost the crop yields of farmers in Africa.”

The focus of the investigation will be maize, the most important staple crop for small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Parallel studies in the wild grass Setaria viridis, which has a smaller genome and shorter life cycle, will speed up the rate of discovery. Discoveries will be applicable to all cereal crops including wheat, barley and rice.

The research will start by attempting to engineer in maize the ability to sense nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. This may be enough to activate a symbiosis that provides some fixed nitrogen. Even slight increases could improve yields for farmers who do not have access to fertilisers.

“We have developed a pretty good understanding of how legumes such as peas and beans evolved the ability to recruit soil bacteria to access the nitrogen they need,” said Professor Oldroyd. ”Even the most primitive symbiotic relationship with bacteria benefited the plant, and this is where we hope to start in cereals.”

In the most basic symbiosis, bacteria are housed in simple swellings on the root of the plant, providing the low oxygen environment needed. In more highly evolved legumes, the plant produces a specialised organ, the nodule, to house bacteria.

Bacteria can infect the plant through cracks or through more complex tunnels built by the plant called infection threads. As the complexity of the interaction increases, so does the efficiency with which bacteria fix nitrogen for the plant.

“In the long term, we anticipate that the research will follow the evolutionary path, building up the level of complexity and improving the benefits to the plant,” said Professor Oldroyd.

The project will also help highlight where more research is needed. It will run in parallel to ongoing research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council into how nitrogen fixation works in legumes. It will also run in parallel to an existing Gates-funded project, N2Africa, to improve nitrogen management in African farming systems more immediately.

About the John Innes Centre:

The John Innes Centre,, is a world-leading research centre based on the Norwich Research Park The JIC’s mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy. JIC  is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in General


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Saving Africa’s maize and cowpea from the violet vampire | IITA

Striga plant, a parasitic weed

Striga plant, a parasitic weed (Photo credit: IITA Image Library)

Striga bilabiata, nahe Gaoua, Burkina Faso.

Striga bilabiata, nahe Gaoua, Burkina Faso. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Source IITA – Ibadan, Nigeria

Agricultural researchers in sub-Saharan Africa are making progress towards ridding the region of the deadly parasitic weed—Striga that infests cereals such as maize and cowpea farms—by developing sustainable, multi-pronged management options that smallholder farmers could effectively and profitably deploy in their farms.

Striga is a crop parasite that is considered to be one of the biggest constraints to agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Also known as the violet vampire because of the beautiful violet flowers it produces, the Striga weed mostly affects cereals such as maize and legumes such as cowpea grown in the region. Farmers regularly lose 40 to 100 percent of their crops, with total losses amounting to about US$1.2 billion every year and affecting the livelihoods of more than 25 million smallholder farmers.

Like a vampire, the pest sucks and drains its host of water and vital nutrients to the point that the infested plant withers and dies. What makes Striga much more deadly is that it does most of its damage underground, even before emerging and being visible to farmers above the soil surface. By the time the weed and its tell-tale violet flowers appear, it’s already too late― there is not much that farmers can do to save their crop.

Striga produces hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant, leading to massive build-up in the soil that can remain viable for many years. To control this parasitic weed, farmers commonly use cultural methods and post-emergence herbicides, which are largely ineffective in protecting the crop as most of the damage has already been done below the ground/underground. Although this may provide some relief against Striga, the herbicides are nonselective, and are too costly and unavailable for most farmers to use in the long run.

In June 2011, a private public partnership coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), launched a collaborative effort known as the Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) project, to develop a package of Striga control options for smallholder farmers in Kenya and Nigeria. The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being implemented in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), BASF Crop Protection, and national agricultural research and extension services and private sector players in Kenya and Nigeria. ISMA’s main goal is to promote proven Striga management technologies that can be deployed and work in smallholder farming conditions.

The four-year project focuses on improving access to Striga control solutions that include using Striga-resistant maize and cowpea varieties, deploying a “push-pull’ technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing forage legumes, using maize varieties resistant to Imazapyr—an herbicide used in coating the maize seeds (StrigAway®) and which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage— encouraging maize-legume intercropping and crop rotation; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies. A significant component of the ISMA project is the identification of best-bet combinations of the available Striga control options for specific socio-ecological targeting.

“The suite of integrated Striga control interventions being promoted by ISMA will generate an estimated US$8.6 million worth of maize and cowpea grain annually in project sites in Kenya and Nigeria,” Mel Oluoch, ISMA project manager said.

“We are also optimistic that the interventions will lead to 50 percent more yields in maize and more than double the cowpea harvest in Striga-infested areas. About 250,000 farmers will directly benefit from the project,” he added.

One year on, the initial outputs of the ISMA project have been encouraging. In Kenya, almost 6,000 farmers in the western region now have access to new Striga and the Imazapyr-resistant (IR) variety and maize-legume intercrop Striga control technologies. Partner seed companies have produced 66 tons of seeds that use Imazapyr herbicide-resistant maize coating technology, with over 35 tons disseminated to more than 23,000 smallholder farmers through participating agro-dealer networks. To enhance IR seed production and distribution in Kenya, the project supported the Kenya Seed Company with a dedicated seed ‘treater’ early this year. IR-maize coating technology, combined with the use of Striga-resistant maize varieties, reduce the emergence of the parasitic weed by up to 60 percent. To complement the approaches, over 75 agro-dealers in Kenya were trained on the IR maize seed technology to enhance its dissemination as they are the first point of contact with farmers purchasing seed.

As part of the push-pull Striga management technology being espoused by the project, community seed producers and partner seed companies have produced and disseminated some 2.1 tons of Desmodium seed to farmers. Desmodium is a forage legume that, when deployed in maize or cowpea farms as intercrop, can significantly reduce the incidence of Striga by up to 100 percent within two years. The project has also trained more than 8,000 farmers on the push-pull technology, with 6,800 of them using it in their farms. The project is also working with the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya to mainstream the use of Striga control technologies into the Ministry’s extension program so as to reach more farmers.

In Nigeria, the project worked with 100 communities in Striga hotspots in Kano and Bauchi States and established 500 on-farm demonstrations of improved cowpea, maize, and soybean varieties along with Striga management technologies.

About 500 tons of certified seed of Striga-resistant maize varieties were produced by participating seed companies and community-based seed producers and distributed to project beneficiaries. These open-pollinated varieties and hybrids are proven to produce 30 to 75 percent more grain, reduce Striga damage by 20 to 50 percent, and lessen Striga incidence by 22 to 88 percent compared to the commonly grown farmers’ varieties and commercial hybrids. On the other hand, these partner seed companies and community seed producers have also produced some 142 tons of certified seeds of Striga-resistant cowpea varieties, with almost 80 tons sold to farmers across 100 communities in the two states.

The project has trained some 3,500 farmers on group dynamics, participatory approaches, modern crop management, and Striga control practices in Northern Nigeria. In addition, the project has also disseminated Striga management technologies to about 38,000 Nigerian farmers through farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer, on-farm demonstrations, field days, and radio.

Researchers working under the ISMA project also conducted field evaluation of the effectiveness of biocontrol technology against Striga in maize farms of Northern Nigeria. Their findings show that the biocontrol agent and resistant maize combination reduced Striga incidence by 26 to 60 percent and also resulted in 68 percent more yield compared to farms that grew farmer-preferred varieties alone.

The successful models in the two countries will be scaled out to other sub-Saharan Africa countries with similar ecologies and where Striga is also a major concern to maize and cowpea production systems.


Posted by on July 12, 2012 in ECOWAS, General


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Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation loses patience with African Governments spending on Agriculture

At the launch of a $12.2 million Yam Improvement program, — a partnership with the CGIAR center IITA based in Ibadan, Nigeria; the UK’s Natural Resources Institute (NRI); Kenya based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); Catholic Relief Services (CRS); and with government agricultural research departments in Ghana and Nigeria– Global Development Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Regina Kapinga referring to African yam yields, said “there is no major concern being shown by the governments to checkmate its steady decline.”  She went on to indicate that private foundations and non-profit organisations are disillusioned by the lack of meaningful resource commitments and interest in agricultural development by some African governments.  This could result in these organisations slowing or refraining from providing grants to African agriculture.

For further information on the story and launch of the Yam improvement program read: Africa: Govts Apathys Threatening Agricultural Development Financing.


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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in ECOWAS


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Kenya: New Seeds Boost Yields for Drought-Hit Farmers |


By David Njagi, 24 January 2012.

Machakos — For a couple that has weathered the dual tests of early retirement and repeated crop failures, it might have seemed an impossible dream to former primary-school teacher Philip Ngolania and his farmer wife that their three quarters of an acre farm could one day yield enough staple food to last an entire season.

But a visit to the local office of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) early this year ushered in a fresh beginning for the 62-year-old father of four grown sons, whose land barely produced enough food for the family’s daily meals in this drought-parched area east of the capital, Nairobi. Since that visit, he says, the family’s prospects have improved dramatically.

In the seven years after leaving teaching, Ngolania has shared the burden of producing food for the family. “Now I’m assisting my wife,” he says. “We are working together.” But the indigenous seed varieties they were planting resulted in less than a single bag of grain each season.

At KARI, Ngolania learned about newly developed varieties that could resist drought and yield more produce. In fact, during this past season, he saw the small plot he and his wife cultivate yield five bags of maize for the first time.

For thousands of small-scale farmers like these, access to information about seed alternatives can mean the difference between struggling to survive and thriving.

“Before I made the switch to the improved seed varieties, I always knew that hunger would come visiting,” says Ngolania. “But since I started planting the new seed which I obtain at the Dryland Seed Company in Machakos town, famine has gone away.”

It is easy to understand the Ngolania family’s improved expectations. By KARI’s estimation, their farm sits within Kenya’s dry mid-altitude region, about 1,670 meters above sea level, and receives about 600 to 900 millimeters of rain annually.

According to James Gethi, a researcher with the KARI center in Machakos, this means that only maize varieties that flower within 60 days — and that mature within 110 and 120 days — are suitable for growing here.

It took a four-year research collaboration between KARI and the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa program, under the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to get two drought-resistant maize varieties to Ngolania’s farm. The seed’s names are prosaic — KDV1 and KDV4 — but for local farmers, they are transformative.

“These are open-pollinated maize varieties where the plants are allowed to cross together and tend to have a wide range of adaptation to a harsh environment,” explains Gethi. “A farmer can plant them at least three times before going back to a stockist for fresh seed.”

For 450 Kenyan shillings (about U.S.$5) farmers can purchase 250 kilogrammes worth of the KDV1 and KDV4 seeds. Joseph Masila, a marketing officer at the Dryland Seed Company, says growing awareness of the new varieties, along with greater access, is benefitting farmers and families across the arid areas of Kenya.

According to Masila, the KDV1 and KDV4 varieties can mature within a span of two and half months and also thrive where there has been little rainfall.

But the advantages don’t end with durability. As Ngolania may find out, there also is a commercial edge that researchers are hoping to introduce to farmers to help them grow crops for both domestic consumption and for income generation. Both strategies are seen as powerful engines to pull Africa from the cycle of food insecurity.

Successful trials in Asia and parts of North and South America have proven that improved seed technology has generated significant income for both farmers and for seed breeders and distributors. Experts hope that approach can also work in Africa.

Lloyd Le Page is the former chief executive officer at the Consortium of International Agriculture Research Centers (CGIAR), of which CIMMYT is affiliated. He says development of drought-tolerant plant varieties is meant to deliver solutions to farmers as well as to local small seed enterprises, through a sustainable revenue stream.

“This ensures that the technology is not just limited within research laboratories, but it is able to reach farmers,” says Le Page. “By so doing, small African seed enterprises can make an income. Farmers are able to produce enough food for themselves and the family and also sell to the ready markets.”

Struggling to Meet Farmer Demand

But while appetite for improved seed technologies is growing among drought-hit farmers, Kenya’s agriculture research institutions are struggling to meet demand, according to the KARI Katumani Research Center’s director, Charles Kariuki.

“We do not have enough capital, manpower, time and even capacity,” says Kariuki. “The seed we are producing is meant for field trials. Seed companies are expected to add value to these varieties so that they meet the set national standards.”

KARI’s Gethi describes a labor-intensive process where plants are tested under field conditions, which include drought. Once a “breeder seed” is developed and passes a regulatory process by Kenya’s plant-health inspection service, the seed is made available to partners. In the case of the Ngolania plot, the certified seed comes from the Dryland Seed Company which has developed and marketed it.

For now, the Ngolania family appreciates the change that using improved seed technology has brought to their farm — and also values another technological innovation. In a corner of the small living room sits a round metal silo, reaching almost to the ceiling.

Kenyan farmer Phillip Ngolania buying drought-resistant seeds at the Dryland Seed Company in Machakos.

Ngolania says grain borers used to grind his maize into powder — a common problem in developing countries. The African Post Harvest Losses Information System estimates that post-harvest crop loss in eastern and southern Africa amounts to some U.S.$1.6 billion per year, or about 13.5 percent of the total value of grain production. That loss is no longer a concern to Ngolania.

On a recent day, a neighboring couple have come to his house to marvel at how the vacuum-sealed container protects the maize harvest from both weather and pest infestation. Their enthusiasm suggests that the demand for metal silos may soon become as much of a challenge to meet as the demand for improved seeds.

See AllAfrica‘s interview with Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he links food scarcity to a number of development challenges


Posted by on January 26, 2012 in COMESA


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Bill Gates Outlines Stark Choice: Invest in Innovations for Poorest or Let Millions Starve

Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...

Bill Gates. Image via CrunchBase

Fourth annual letter highlights progress in developing countries, outlines new approaches to help poorest build self-sufficiency

LONDON — Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, challenged global leaders today in his fourth annual letter to invest in innovations that are accelerating progress against poverty, or risk a future in which millions needlessly starve.

The letter describes remarkable progress in the developing world and makes the case to continue investing in efforts that have made a difference for millions of the world’s poorest people. Over the past 50 years, for example, the percentage of the population living in poverty has fallen from 40 percent to 15 percent, or about 1 billion people. Gates believes it is possible to continue the progress, but only with innovative investments in areas like helping small farmers grow more food, which is the best way to fight hunger and poverty among the poor.

“The world faces a choice. By spending a relatively little amount of money on proven solutions, we can help poor farmers feed themselves and their families and continue writing the story of a steadily more equitable world,” Gates writes in the letter. “Or we can decide to tolerate a very different world in which one in seven people needlessly lives on the edge of starvation.”

Gates argues that whether it’s fighting plant disease, treating people with AIDS, or getting a polio vaccine to a child in a remote area, modest investments make a huge difference.

“Our guiding principles for those investments are the same as for agriculture: innovation is the means, and equity is the end goal,” said Gates drawing on a number of successes to illustrate progress.

Difficult economic times are causing leaders and publics around the world to question their aid commitments, but Gates believes it’s more important than ever that we stick to those commitments so we can help people build self-sufficiency and overcome the need for aid.

In line with his report delivered at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France last November, Gates underscores the importance of new resources and expertise that rapidly growing countries like Brazil, China, and India bring to development. He reflects on the expanding role of the private sector in improving the lives of the poor, and the importance of smart partnerships that can help poor countries move beyond aid.

The letter outlines other key priorities for the foundation in 2012, including helping to eradicate polio, supporting the fight against AIDS, improving education in the United States, and improving the health of mothers and children through family planning.

Gates also announced the first Gates Vaccine Innovation Award recipient in his letter, praising the innovative work of health official Dr. Asm Amjad Hossain, for his success in increasing immunization rates in two Bangladesh districts by registering pregnant women. “While it may seem like a small innovation, it shows how looking at old problems in new ways can make a profound difference,” says Gates.

He cited the success of India, which just this month marked one year without identifying a single case of wild poliovirus. It was only three years ago that India had more polio cases than any nation. This is a major milestone for global polio eradication and for children’s health worldwide.

Gates unveiled his letter in South London at a meeting with students at a high school, where he thanked its students and hundreds of others from around the globe for submitting their own letters. He went on to discuss its content with a gathering of international development students at the London School of Economics, hosted by the Global Poverty Project at the launch of their new UK global poverty ambassadors program.

To view the letter click here:

BMGF Press Release: Jan 24, 2012
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Posted by on January 26, 2012 in General


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