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Daily Archives: December 1, 2018

Food Security in Africa, GMOs and NGOs – Ireti Adesida

Food Security in Africa, GMOs and NGOs – Ireti Adesida

106 – Food Security, Biotech, NGOs and Africa

In today’s podcast we speak with science journalist and author Mark Lynas.  Mark has been a central figure in the discussion of biotechnology, particularly in regard to its role in ensuring food security in the Developing World.  In the 1990’s and early 2000’s you could find Mark destroying test plots of genetically engineered crops.  Later he would reconsider his view, and support the technology, especially as it can be applied to help issues of food security.  Mark discusses the situation on the ground in Africa, the various threats to production, the innovations that can address them, and the resistance toward adoption of new technology. 

Follow Mark Lynas at @mark_lynas

3 Comments on 106 – Food Security, Biotech, NGOs and Africa

Back in 2011, Mark Lynas wrote and published an article in the UK Sunday Times titled and arguing that “to abolish hunger and malnutrition, Africa must embrace GM technology.”
I responded to the deceitful and idiotic claims made by Mark Lynas in a 28 page letter (link enclosed below). Unsurprisingly, Mark Lynas has failed to respond to my letter to this day. Meanwhile, Mark Lynas continues to publicly spew, promote and spread deceitful and fraudulent pro-GMO industry propaganda in Africa and in the media:

Arya, I can understand why not. I have not looked at the doc, but in the spirit of fairness I’ve approved it to be posted. I know from my FB page that you can be a hostile person incapable of listening or learning, and that you have ideas that don’t fit with science. We’ve been there.

If you are interested in an honest dialog perhaps that can be facilitated. However, if you posted this in 2011 my guess is that all points are well answered. I’m not interested in a Gish Gallop, but as always, am glad to answer questions.

OK, I read the first two pages. You accuse him of working for industry and the evidence you present is awful. You were rude and uninformed. I understand why he didn’t dignify it with a response.

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Food security: some food for thought | PRS – Ireti Adesida

Food security: some food for thought | PRS – Ireti Adesida

Freight traffic: Railways majorly transports bulk freight, and the freight basket has mostly been limited to include raw materials for certain industries such as power plants, and iron and steel plants. It generates most of its freight revenue from the transportation of coal (43%), followed by cement (8%), food-grains (7%), and iron and steel (7%). In 2018-19, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,21,950 crore from its freight traffic.

Passenger traffic:  Passenger traffic is broadly divided into two categories: suburban and non-suburban traffic.  Suburban trains are passenger trains that cover short distances of up to 150 km, and help move passengers within cities and suburbs.  Majority of the passenger revenue (94% in 2017-18) comes from the non-suburban traffic (or the long-distance trains).

Within non-suburban traffic, second class (includes sleeper class) contributes to 67% of the non-suburban revenue.  AC class (includes AC 3-tier, AC Chair Car and AC sleeper) contributes to 32% of the non-suburban revenue.  The remaining 1% comes from AC First Class (includes Executive class and First Class).

Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing

The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic.  Some of the reasons for such decline include:

Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items

Growth of freight traffic has been declining over the last few years.  It has declined from around 8% in the mid-2000s to a 4% negative growth in mid-2010s, before an estimated recovery to about 5% now.

The National Transport Development Policy Committee (2014) had noted various issues with freight transportation on railways.  For example, Indian Railways does not have an institutional arrangement to attract and aggregate traffic of smaller parcel size.  Further, freight services are run with a focus on efficiency instead of customer satisfaction.  Consequently, it has not been able to capture high potential markets such as FMCGs, hazardous materials, or automobiles and containerised cargo.  Most of such freight is transported by roads.

The freight basket is also limited to a few commodities, most of which are bulk in nature.  For example, coal contributes to about 43% of freight revenue and 25% of the total internal revenue.  Therefore, any shift in transport patterns of any of these bulk commodities could affect Railways’ finances significantly.

For example, if new coal based power plants are set up at pit heads (source of coal), then the need for transporting coal through Railways would decrease.  If India’s coal usage decreases due to a shift to more non-renewable sources of energy, it will reduce the amount of coal being transported.  Such situations could have a significant adverse impact on Railways’ revenue.

Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic

In 2014-15, while Railways’ freight business made a profit of about Rs 44,500 crore, its passenger business incurred a net loss of about Rs 33,000 crore.17  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 49,000 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 67% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2014-15, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.67.

These losses occur across both suburban and non-suburban operations, and are primarily caused due to: (i) passenger fares being lower than the costs, and (ii) concessions to various categories of passengers.  According to the NITI Aayog (2016), about 77% to 80% of these losses are contributed by non-suburban operations (long-distance trains).  Concessions to various categories of passengers contribute to about 4% of these losses, and the remaining (73-76%) is due to fares being lower than the system costs.

The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  The NTDPC (2014) had noted that, in several countries, passenger fares are either higher or almost equal as freight rates.  However, in India, the ratio of passenger fare to freight rate is about 0.3.

Impact of increasing freight rates

The recent freight rationalisation further increases the freight rates for certain key commodities by 8.75%, with an intention to improve passenger amenities.  Higher freight tariffs could be counter-productive towards growth of traffic in the segment.  The NTDPC report had noted that due to such high tariffs, freight traffic has been moving to other modes of transport.  Further, the higher cost of freight segment is eventually passed on to the common public in the form of increased costs of electricity, steel, etc.  Various experts have recommended that Railways should consider ways to rationalise freight and passenger tariff distortions in a way to reduce such cross-subsidisation.

For a detailed analysis of Railways revenue and infrastructure, refer to our report on ‘State of Indian Railways’.

In the press: Informal trade may hold the key to food security

In the press: Informal trade may hold the key to food security

Government’s lack of support for informal traders, combined with ongoing attacks on foreign food traders – lately also by prominent politicians – is creating a toxic mix that jeopardises not only the food security of the growing numbers of urban poor, but also divests them of important livelihood opportunities and throttles the economy.

About 40% of informal workers are involved in trading and, of those who trade, 67% trade in food.

Several research papers flowing from the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence: Food Security based at the University of the Western Cape poke holes in some of the conventional wisdom that seems to inform all three levels of government policy regarding food security and informal traders.

It is important, in this period of renewed tensions regarding informal food trade – always tinged with xenophobia – to reflect on some of the key findings of the Centre of Excellence papers.

Urban food insecurity – a critical problem

In a paper that focuses on the policy environment, Scott Drimie argues that despite the fact that more than 60% of South Africans are now urbanised, South Africa’s official approach to food security (as outlined in the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) pays little attention to urban food insecurity.

Instead, official policy focuses on developing rural livelihoods with the aim to promote increasing food production and distribution as well as supporting community-based and smallholder production.

When attention is given to urban food security, it is undermined by policy makers’ view that urban food production, e.g. urban food gardens, etc., is the answer to solve hunger.

In a recent survey of the City of Cape Town conducted by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) only 4% of respondents said they grew any food, and less than 0.1% made any income from urban agriculture.

That the urban poor can survive by managing their own urban food gardens therefore seems to be a pipedream.

Enough food vs. access to food

Caroline Skinner and Gareth Haysom from the University of Cape Town argue that the narrow conception of food security that flows from this rural orientation and the emphasis on the production of food jeopardises the urban poor’s food security. They point out that producing enough food is only one part of the food security equation; another part is ensuring South Africans’ access to food. Effective food distribution systems are therefore as critical to food security as the production of food, particularly for the majority of South Africans who now live in urban areas.

According to Skinner and Haysom, poor people’s access to food in urban areas is determined by a few key factors:  proximity to food shops; low prices; appropriate quantities; and access to credit.

Firstly, given that most of the urban poor live on the margins of South African cities, they generally live far from supermarkets.

Due to high transport costs, most can afford to visit a supermarket only once a month, which is when they buy non-perishable food, often in bulk.

Secondly, given that many poor people do not have regular access to electricity or fridges, they are forced to buy fresh food on a needs basis at shops that are more conveniently located for them: usually from spaza shops and informal street traders, either within walking distance from their customers’ houses or located near transport hubs (such as taxi ranks or trains stations) that people pass on their way to and from work.

Jane Battersby, of ACC, found that the practice of street traders “breaking up bulk” further facilitates access: food is sold in smaller quantities which makes it more affordable to the poor. Moreover, AFSUN found that spaza shops – especially those run by foreign migrants – often provide food on credit to cash-strapped customers.

Joining the informal and formal sectors

Research also found that informal traders do a lot of business with the formal sector, shattering the false divide of a “separate” formal and informal economy that operate in isolation from each other.

Informal traders source predominantly from big retailers such as Shoprite, Makro and Metro Cash and Carry. Many large food firms also deliver directly to traders in informal settlements. Fresh food traders daily frequent municipal fresh food markets and cart their wares to informal areas.

Hence, there is a strong and co-dependent relationship between street traders and the formal food system.

In fact, as Dr Stephen Greenberg points out, South Africa’s ‘modern’ food retailers (such as supermarkets, hypermarkets and discounters) constitute only between 44 and 54% of the total food wholesale and retail market.

The balance consists of smaller so-called ‘traditional’ grocery retailers and independent grocers and a large number of informal spaza shops.

Greenberg points out that currently the latter sub-sector is treated as secondary in policy and is often considered a backward system in need of modernisation.

“The idea that in aggregate the informal or small could be similar to, or even larger than, the formal in monetary terms is very significant because it suggests that while corporate wholesalers and retailers have concentrated market power…there is also a wide base of economic activity beyond corporations,” he writes.

Moreover, it is estimated that the five big retailers only employ about 25% of all retail workers – the vast majority of retail workers work in spaza shops or as street traders.

Informal traders are crucial

The implication of the research findings is that informal food trading plays a critical role in food security, facilitating access to food by poor people living in urban areas, but also in creating livelihoods.

This means that government policy, whether national, provincial or local, regarding the informal economy more broadly or informal food traders more specifically, has important implications for food security.

Skinner and Haysom therefore express surprise at government’s largely unsupportive policy environment for informal traders, which they describe as “at best benign and at worse actively destructive, with serious food security implications”.

The negative implications of poorly conceived policy are compounded by the perception by many South Africans and political leaders that foreign street traders are “stealing South Africans’ jobs”, with the result that they are chased from townships and their stores looted.

Skinner and Haysom warn that if policy approaches do not formally recognise the importance of the informal economy with regard to food security, whoever the traders are, the negative consequences will not only be shrinking employment and greater reliance on a resource-poor state, but growing food insecurity, which will place further burdens on the state and society.

Margareet Visser is a researcher at the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group, University of Cape Town.

This article was first published on Fin24, on 22 October 2018.

Southwest Youth Plant the Seeds of Food Security – Ireti Adesida

Southwest Youth Plant the Seeds of Food Security – Ireti Adesida

Young volunteers planting heirloom corn seedlings at Mission Garden, Tucson  (MABurgess photo)

It is so exciting and deeply inspiring to see how our Baja Arizona young people are taking to gardening!  From the looks of it, the future of our food will be in good hands!  Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo Arts here to let you know about just a few of the interesting projects several school programs have quietly begun.   Knowledge is growing out of the desert soil, along with delicious produce.

High school students at Youth Ag Day celebration at San Xavier Farm Coop learn how to de-spine and peel prickly pear fruit for making prickly pear lemonade.  It is not only delicious but also helps balance blood sugar and curb cholesterol! (MABurgess photo)

Our children are connecting with Nature, soil microorganisms, and living plants that can feed them–doing healthy activity that produces not only healthier bodies but also nutritional consciousness planted deep in the brain.  Funny how dirty garden fingers can make you smarter–What a neat link!

University of Arizona “Compost Cats” are on the go daily to “harvest” organic waste all over town. Here they are teaching students at Youth Ag Day how to turn kitchen and cafeteria waste into rich soil to feed the next crop. (MABurgess photo)

Who in the world would think a compost pile worthy of note?  Well this is a record-breaker.  The young Compost Cats have created a gift to the future of gardening and farming in Tucson by #1 changing peoples’ habits about recycling organic waste on a big scale. (There should be a better term than “waste” –perhaps “discards”–because….)   Then #2, these Cats have turned all that Tucson waste around to be a positive asset, a resource!

This mountain of compost is but a fraction of the “Sierra Madre of Super Soil” at San Xavier Coop Farm collected by the UA Compost Cats. They IMPROVE the soil with traditional composting, giving the crops a healthy nutrient boost. (MABurgess photo)

There’s nothing like being out there observing what happens in Nature! Here representatives from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA) show students at Youth Ag Day how ground covers and different plantings help infiltration of rainwater into the soil. With no plant cover, rain sluices away as floodwater. (MABurgess photo)

Our local southwest seed-conservation organization NativeSeedsSEARCH is providing a priceless resource to groups who can apply for their Community Seed Grants. (For details check out  Recently a number of Tucson schools are growing amazing vegetable gardens with the seeds donated by NativeSeedsSEARCH, including Ochoa Elementary, Nosotros Academy, Tully Elementary, Roskruge Bilingual K-8 Magnet School, and Pima Community College.  You can read about Seed Grant Superstars in the latest issue of Seedhead News available by calling 520-622-0380.  Become a member and support this program for the future!

Tohono O’odham Community College Agriculture interns clean mesquite beans they have harvested for milling into a sweet, nutritious flour. (MABurgess photo)

TOCC Agriculture Intern Joyce Miguel and Cooperative Extension Instructor Clifford Pablo prepare the mill for grinding dry mesquite pods into useful flour–a new method for an important traditional food! (MABurgess photo with permission)

Teachers, like Tohono O’odham Community College Professor Clifford Pablo in the Agriculture Program and through Cooperative Extension, have inspired a couple of generations of youth to learn modern ag methods along with a deep respect for traditional foods and foodways.  His interns have become teachers themselves, and their agricultural products–grown as crops and wild-harvested–are being used for celebration feasts, special ceremonies, and sometimes even appear in the TOCC cafeteria.

Let’s rejoice in the good work that these young people, in many schools and gardening programs throughout Baja Arizona, are doing!  In the words of Wendell Berry, one of the great voices of our time about the very sources of our food, “Slow Knowledge” is what we gain from gardening and farming.  For our youth, the connection of healthy soil, healthy work outside, the miracle of seeds sprouting into plants that eventually feed us–this slow knowledge cannot be learned any other way.  We now know that such “slow knowledge” gained from assisting Nature to grow our food actually grows healthy neurological pathways in young brains and makes them think more clearly, be less stressed, achieve better understanding in math and language, and develop better critical-thinking skills.  What better prep for being leaders than to play in the garden as a youth!!

Link to the latest UA Alumni Magazine (fall 2018) for a heartwarming article by our Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer about the University of Arizona’s partnerships with local school gardening programs.

Watch the Mission Garden’s website for many gardening activities, celebrations, and workshops coming up that are perfect for kids and elders alike.  You can contact me, Tia Marta, on my website www.flordemayoarts to learn of desert foods workshops where interested young people are welcome.

Young people know that food security will be in their hands.  Indigenous youth and some disadvantaged communities seem to realize that “the government” will probably not be there as a fall-back food provider.  Youth all across Arizona are learning the skills of growing food sustainably and may even begin re-teaching the elders–in time.

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Getting to the root of food security, water resources and climate change

Getting to the root of food security, water resources and climate change

What do food security, energy, biodiversity, water resources and climate change have in common? Rattan Lal is working to address each of those problems through soil management. For nearly four decades, Lal has been a leader in addressing soil as a key aspect of the biggest issues facing our planet today.

“I started work on this at Ohio State University in the early 1990s, but before that I was doing similar work in Africa for almost 20 years,” says Lal.

The work has put him in policy discussions in countries across the world trying to figure out how to encourage soil management to solve social and environmental problems.

Lal’s work

In Africa, Lal’s focus had been on how to keep carbon concentration at a level that helped people reliably grow high-quality crops on the same land without converting forest into new cropland. When climate change became an issue, though, it seemed that soil again played a key part. Two drastically different problems had a remarkably similar solution.

In both cases, increasing the carbon concentration of the soil to between 1.5 and 2 percent as far as about 20 centimeters underground made a significant difference. And those aren’t the only two areas which benefit from carbon sequestration – the process can improve water resources and help provide alternative fuel sources, too.

Lal says the future of this field must include discussion of how to actually implement the findings. Political and social scientists and policy makers must investigate how to incentivize soil modification and train people to do it. Understanding the individual soil needs of different places is also important.

Becoming highly cited

Lal says the key to being highly cited is being at the right place at the right time, and researching issues of global significance. He also emphasizes networking. For him, the right place is Ohio State. Not only does OSU provide the lab and research support he needs, but from there he has also received visiting scholars from around the world.

These researchers spend three months to a year learning about Lal’s research and how to conduct it in their own countries. They then return to their home universities with the skills to join a worldwide network of scientists and publishers working on these issues. Lal is one of the central figures in this network.

Lal encourages networking, not only because it increases the impact of research, but also because it helps lessen the burden of limited research resources. He also says it’s important to choose a topic you’re passionate enough about not to get discouraged when problems arise.

“You shouldn’t get discouraged,” Lal says. “The work must continue, and that means you believe in what you’re doing and that you’re going to make it regardless of what happens”

Web of Science connections

Lal uses Web of Science nearly every day, and often several times a day. It guides his research and reading, and tells him which of his articles have made the biggest impact. Through Web of Science, he can find out which topics are important to his research based on citation information. It steers his reading to unique and important topics that he might not have investigated otherwise.

“In my center, we publish two to three books a year,” he says. “You can’t write anything without reading, so Web of Science is very important.”

With XML – which he calls a “miracle” – he’s able to connect anything to the Web of Science from his desk computer, accessing research in ways never before possible.

Carefully selecting a research subject and continuing research despite hardships, while developing a group of like-minded scientists to grow from, is one of the most important aspects of becoming a successful researcher. For Lal, this means getting to the root, literally, of food security, energy, biodiversity, water resources and climate change.

“People should know that soil is part of the solution, and agriculture can be part of the solution,” he says. “That’s an important message.”

Download our white paper to learn more about the 2017 Highly Cited Researchers.

Food Security in India | PRS

Food Security in India | PRS

TPDS provides food security to people below the poverty line.  Over the years, the expenditure on food subsidy has increased, while the ratio of people below poverty line has reduced.  A similar trend can also be seen in the proportion of undernourished persons in India, which reduced from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2014 (see Table 1).  These trends may indicate that the share of people needing subsidised food has declined.

Nutritional balance:  The NFSA guarantees food grains i.e. wheat and rice to beneficiaries, to ensure nutritious food intake.3  Over the last two decades, the share of cereals or food grains as a percentage of food consumption has reduced from 13% to 8% in the country, whereas that of milk, eggs, fish and meat has increased (see Figure 1).  This indicates a reduced preference for wheat and rice, and a rise in preference towards other protein rich food items. Figure 1

Methods of providing food subsidy

Food subsidy is provided majorly using two methods.  We discuss these in detail below.

TPDS assures beneficiaries that they will receive food grains, and insulates them against price volatility. Food grains are delivered through fair price shops in villages, which are easy to access.[5],[6]

However, high leakages have been observed in the system, both during transportation and distribution.  These include pilferage and errors of inclusion and exclusion from the beneficiary list.  In addition, it has also been argued that the distribution of wheat and rice may cause an imbalance in the nutritional intake as discussed earlier.7  Beneficiaries have also reported receiving poor quality food grains as part of the system.

Cash Transfers seek to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and provide financial assistance. It has been argued that the costs of DBT may be lesser than TPDS, owing to lesser costs incurred on transport and storage.  These transfers may also be undertaken electronically.6,7

However, it has also been argued that cash received as part of DBT may be spent on non-food items.  Such a system may also expose beneficiaries to inflation.  In this regard, one may also consider the low penetration and access to banking in rural areas.[7]

In 2017-18, 52% of the centre’s total subsidy expenditure will be on providing food subsidy under TPDS (see Figure 2).  The NFSA states that the centre and states should introduce schemes for cash transfers to beneficiaries.  Other experts have also suggested replacing TPDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system.4,[8]

The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015.[9]  As of March 2016, this was being implemented on a pilot basis in a few union territories.  In 2015, a Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India had also recommended introducing Aadhaar to plug leakages in PDS, and indexing it to inflation.  The Committee estimated that a switch to DBT would reduce the food subsidy bill of the government by more than Rs 30,000 crore.[10]

Current challenges in PDS

Leakages in PDS:  Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries.  According to 2011 data, leakages in PDS were estimated to be 46.7%.10,[11]  Leakages may be of three types: (i) pilferage during transportation of food grains, (ii) diversion at fair price shops to non-beneficiaries, and (iii) exclusion of entitled beneficiaries from the list.6,[12]

In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that states had not completed the process of identifying beneficiaries, and 49% of the beneficiaries were yet to be identified.  It also noted that inclusion and exclusion errors had been reported in the beneficiary lists.[13]

In February 2017, the Ministry made it mandatory for beneficiaries under NFSA to use Aadhaar as proof of identification for receiving food grains.  Through this, the government aims to remove bogus ration cards, check leakages and ensure better delivery of food grains.10,[14]  As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14

Storage:  As of 2016-17, the total storage capacity in the country is 788 lakh tonnes, of which 354 lakh tonnes is with the Food Corporation of India and 424 lakh tonnes is with the state agencies.[15]

The CAG in its performance audit found that the available storage capacity in states was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.13  For example, as of October 2015, of the 233 godowns sanctioned for construction in Maharashtra, only 93 had been completed.  It also noted that in four of the last five years, the stock of food grains with the centre had been higher than the storage capacity available with Food Corporation of India.

Quality of food grains:  A survey conducted in 2011 had noted that people complained about receiving poor quality food grain which had to be mixed with other grains to be edible.6  There have also been complaints about people receiving food grains containing alien substances such as pebbles.  Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.[16]

The Ministry has stated that while regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of all food items is under-taken by State Food Safety Officers, separate data for food grains distributed under PDS is unavailable.[17]  In the absence of data with regard to quality testing results of food grains supplied under PDS, it may be difficult to ascertain whether these food items meet the prescribed quality and safety standards.

[1] About World Food Day,

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013,

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16,

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008,

[6] Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016,

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER,

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015,

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015,

[11] Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution,,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.

[12] Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005,

[13] Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013 for the year ended March, 2015, Report No. 54 of 2015, Comptroller and Auditor General of India,

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017,

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution,

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014,

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016,

Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items


Improved plants for greater food security in the future – REFAB

Improved plants for greater food security in the future – REFAB

2018-06-21, Cologne –Beyond classical genetic engineering, a number of new biotechnological processes is now available to improve plants. The goals are higher proportions of (micro) nutrients, longer shelf lives to reduce waste, resistance to drought and higher yields in crops and biotech trees.

Since planting the first genetically modified plants (maize, soybean and cotton) in 1996 in the US, worldwide cultivation area of biotech crops has increased 110-fold by 2016 and amounts to 185.1 million hectares.

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.
(Copyright: Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Despite improved insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, which are still responsible for the majority of approved and planted biotech crops, the emphasis is increasingly put on modifying and improving other plant traits as well. These improvements focus on the changing health awareness, the high amounts of food waste and malnutrition in developing countries.

The so-called golden rice with increased carotene content is currently tested in the Philippines and Bangladesh to improve the supply of vitamin A to the population. In response to the changing health awareness of the population, biotech wheat with an improved fatty acid spectrum is cultivated in Australia and camelina enriched with omega-3 fatty acids is  cultivated in the European Union. And to counteract the high amount of food waste non-bruising and non-browning apples and potatoes are developed.
These are just a few examples for the large number of ongoing developments in improving crops and crop varieties, but they illustrate the demand of these improvements to meet global challenges and population demands.
At the conference “Revolution in Food and Biomass Production (REFAB)”, October 1 and 2 in Cologne (Germany), the nova-Experts Niels de Beus and Pia Skoczinski will give an overview on current and future breeding targets for biotechnologically modified crops, their cultivation areas and related experiences of the last years regarding public acceptance, scientific reports and the political development.

The demand for the main staple crops will increase around 60% by 2050, mostly due to the growing world population (+35% by 2050). In addition to increasing efficiency in the food chain by reducing waste (today approx. 30% of the food is turned into waste) and meat consumption, yield increases in the mass crops of corn, wheat, rice and potatoes will be of central importance. Computational simulations predict a 50% increase in crop mass production when photosynthesis itself, which is the most significant process for crop life, growth and mass production, is enhanced. So why are no biotech crops out there with enhanced photosynthesis?
Photosynthesis is a highly complex process including hundreds of molecules linked to and exchanged within different pathways for light absorption, carbon assimilation and sugar generation. Advanced research and technology development in the last decades let to a better understanding and elucidation of photosynthesis. Together with high-performance computing and the technologies available for genetic engineering and genome editing, it is now possible to address photosynthesis for improving crop yield.

A project focused on improving crop yield via enhanced photosynthesis, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is Photosynthesis 2.0.
Jeremy Harbinson from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) will explain at the REFAB conference, how he, his colleagues from Wageningen and researchers from 15 other research centers will improve photosynthesis and simultaneously the nutrition value of key crops. They focus on fundamental research of photosynthesis to address the challenges in food demand/supply and aim to double the crop yields by 2050.

Compared to biotechnologically modified plants, modified trees have not been in the focus of attention until now. But tree or forest biotechnology is a crucial key area for maintenance of renewable resources. Magnus Hertzberg from SweTree Technologies will explain how they use modern biotechnologies to increase harvests and improve reforestation efficiency, while maintaining biodiversity.
Despite the focus on improving tree yield, SweTree Technology aims at increasing tree stress tolerance to withstand the climate change and at improving wood quality for further processing. This will allow to meet the demands of the pulp and paper industry and to increase the wood potential as a raw material for bioenergy.

Today there are a lot of biotechnological options and innovative methods like CRISPR/Cas9 for implementing improved plant varieties regarding food security that could meet the global staple crop demand in the future, reduce food waste and provide an increase in nutrient value. But the approval and planting of biotechnologically modified crops is still critically viewed in some countries.
The session “Improved plant varieties for the future” will not only give an overview of promising improved plant traits and their technologies but will also provide an insight into the political framework  specifically regarding genetic modifications for food crops. Which of the technologies available today and in the future are classified as “classical genetic engineering (GMO) with e.g. the incorporation of foreign genes” and which as Non-GMOs?

These and more projects and prominent companies will be presented at the conference “Revolution in Food and Biomass Production (REFAB)”, 1-2 October in Cologne, Germany. Altogether, 50 speakers and 30 exhibitors will show the future of food and biomass production ( The programme is available online:
Attractive early bird prices are available until the end of July.