36 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM INTERNATIONAL NEWS GLOBAL SEED WATCH FAO TEAMING UP WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF CHILE, FARMERS & SCIENTISTS IN GHANA CONDUCTING RICE FIELD TRIALS, & SCOTTISH SCIENTISTS WORKING ON BARLEY. STATUS CHILE The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the University of Chile will join efforts in the areas of research, training, and technol- ogy transfer. The agreement was signed by FAO´s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, and the University of Chile´s Rector, Ennio Vivaldi. “The world of academic research has a fundamental role to play in achieving FAO´s goals in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture and eradicating rural pov- erty,” said Graziano da Silva during the ceremony. “Thanks to this alliance we can count on the support of outstanding researchers, mobilize knowledge and strengthen capacities.” The partnership will promote public health policies to help reduce overweight and obesity, encouraging the consump- tion of healthy foods as well as fostering participation in local markets. Another area of work will be terri- torial rural development through family farming, the conservation of biodiversity and the recovery of Chile´s varied culi- nary traditions. In addition, the agree- ment will address the sustainable use of natural resources, adaptation to climate change and disaster risk management. “For us signing this agreement is a source of great satisfaction since sustain- able food production is a crucial topic for the whole world, and especially for Latin America,” said Vivaldi, the university rector. STATUS GHANA Both farmers and the Ghanaian sci- entists now conducting field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice believe the improved variety will better the lives of smallholder rice farmers once it’s released onto the market. The nitrogen- and water-use efficient and salt tolerant (NEWEST) rice has been engineered to require less nitrogen ferti- lizer, tolerate drought conditions and grow in salty soils — and still give good yield. Confined field trials conducted on a GM variety with just the nitrogen use-ef- ficiency trait showed it increased yields by between 14 and 25 per cent over tra- ditional varieties. “This new variety will help us boost productivity and ensure farmers get better yield from each hectare of farm- land,” Dr. Maxwell Darko Asante, plant breeder and principal investigator in charge of the NEWEST rice project in Ghana, told the Alliance for Science in an interview. Rice is a major staple food in Ghana and the second most consumed cereal crop after maize. But the Ministry of Food and Agriculture estimates productivity on Ghanaian rice farms currently is only about 46 per cent of potential yield because of environmental and other challenges. Soils in most parts of Africa have high levels of nitrogen deficiency and this has been identified as one of the major factors limiting yield on rice farms in Ghana. Farmers thus have to apply vast quantities of fertilizer to their fields every planting season in order to grow rice suc- cessfully. Additionally, poor rainfall pat- terns as a result of climate change limit productivity because more than 90 per cent of Ghana’s farm fields are not irri- gated. And it’s difficult to grow rice in coastal regions due to high levels of salt in the soils. The challenge associated with nitro- gen deficiency and its impact on rice pro- duction in Africa is worrying, said Francis Onyekachi Nwankwo, programs officer at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Scientists conducted field trials that showed the NERICA rice with the nitro- gen use-efficiency trait produced yields 14 and 25 percent higher than traditional varieties. The next phase of the project will see the backcrossing of the desired traits from the GM NERICA varieties into popular local rice varieties in Ghana, Asante said. A recent economic study in Ghana has predicted the adoption of the new GMO variety could add up to US$75.7 million (GH¢334m) to the rice produc- tion economy over the next six years if released this year. The study predicts that if regulatory processes delay the introduction of the new rice by five years, the rice sector will lose US$45.3 million (GH¢200m). STATUS SCOTLAND Scientists based at the International Barley Hub in Dundee have developed a genotyping array that allows the detailed genetic characterisation of any individual barley variety. The array reveals diagnos- tic variation at almost 50,000 unique posi- tions across the barley genome in a single test, almost 10 times more than current technology. The array is already offering opportu- nities for plant breeders to more efficiently identify and select for traits such as yield, quality and environmental resilience, assisting the development of barley varie- ties better suited to the needs of the brew- ing, distilling, food and feed industries. Professor Robbie Waugh, a research leader at the James Hutton Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences, and Professor in the University of Dundee, said: “Barley is ranked fourth grain crop in the world by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in terms of production volume, and second only to wheat in the UK. Its major uses are as animal feed, for brewing and distilling, and to a minor extent, human nutrition.” “Molecular diagnostics are now widely used in the development of new varieties of crop plants, ranging in scale from many thousands to characterise parental lines, to small numbers tagging specific traits and allowing them to be easily followed in crop breeding popula- tions. “Our newly-developed 50K Illumina Infinium iSelect genotyping array includes all of the diagnostics that were on the previous platform, allowing easy integration of existing and ‘to be col- lected’ data. We believe it will underpin global barley breeding for several years to come”.