1.GM peanut is enriched with vitamins
2.The unhyped non-GM "Golden Millet" from ICRISAT
3.Women farmers call on ICRISAT to shut down
EXTRACTS: Speeding up of commercialization of GMOs to him is important. "Stricter government regulation is hindering commercialization of GMOs. Of course we'd like to be bio-safety conscious, but not to the point of (delaying it and allow) food shortage." - Dr. William D. Dar, ICRISAT's director general (item 1)
"Do you have a Human Face? Why has it been kept so invisible from us, ICRISAT?" (item 3)
1.GM peanut is enriched with vitamins
By MELODY M. AGUIBA
The Manila Bulletin, October 23 2006
ANDHRA PRADESH, India - A genetically-modified (GM) peanut will no longer merely be protein-rich but also pro-Vitamin A-rich with betacarotene genes from corn now being embedded into it by a Filipino-headed international research agency.
Since 2003, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been developing peanut with Vitamin A enhancement in answer to extensive Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) specially among children in developing countries.
Dr. Kiran K. Shirma, ICRISAT principal scientist genetic transformation and agribusiness incubator head, said peanut holds a high potential of Vitamin A enhancement more than other crops.
"Vitamin A is oil-soluble. If it's put in peanut, you can aim for higher levels," he said.
Peanut may have advantage over rice in this nutrient enrichment since the pro-Vitamin A betacarotene-rich Golden Rice being developed by scientists has only 22 micrograms up to 37 (MCG) per gram betacarotene content. But the GM peanut's potential betacarotene level is a significantly more.
"We don't know how much we can get, but we aim for 500 to 600 micrograms per gram. It's achievable because there is a similar study in mustard which has 30 to 40 percent oil (where nutrient level was raised substantially using the same strategy)," he said.
ICRISAT has been pushing for acceleration of crops' GM development considering its tremendous role in enhancing food security and nutrition in the poor.
"We have discussions with the US and India on how we can have GMO (genetically modified organisms) much faster from laboratory to farm," said Dr. William D. Dar, (a former Philippine agriculture secretary who is on top of ICRISAT's worldwide operation as director general) in an interview.
Speeding up of commercialization of GMOs to him is important.
"Stricter government regulation is hindering commercialization of GMOs. Of course we'd like to be bio-safety conscious, but not to the point of (delaying it and allow) food shortage," he said.
The 500 MCG per gram level is already satisfactory since this is just the Vitamin A normal recommended daily intake.
"When you eat bio-fortified peanut even in small quantity, you can get the daily requirement. If it exceeds, this oil-soluble substance is not harmful. And peanut oil is neutral oil. It’s not bad for the heart," said Shirma.
Field testing of the variety will be in about three years. ICRISAT will first conduct field testing in India and then in other collaborating countries.
"This material is relevant to anyone. Once we’re satisfied with the requirement, we can help any country and they can put it in their background," he said.
Rice breeders could only possibly enhance peanut’s Vitamin A content through genetic modification since there is no other peanut variety found to be rich in Vitamin A.
"This is a good example where a gene is brought from corn to peanut. By conventional breeding you can’t do that."
The other factor ICRISAT has to test is bioavailability or the human body’s capacity to absorb Vitamin A from betacarotene. Betacarotene molecule conversion to Vitamin A varies from 1:2 to 1:32 depending on how betacarotene is consumed together with other foods.
The research agency may begin animal testing simultaneous with field testing in two years.
"We need to see how it performs in field condition," he said.
Bio-availability will be tested on an animal called gerbil, a small mammal, which has shown to have the same bio-availability rate as human.
ICRISAT is also working on a drought-resistant peanut which will use drought-resistant genes from a crucifer called "avabidopsis italiana." This it started three years ago in partnership with the Japanese International Research Center Agricultural System (JIRCAS) as Japan is interested in basic GM research even if the country itself does not consume GM goods.
The Vitamin A enrichment project is financed by the Harvest Plus which gets funding from the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) and the William and Melinda Gates Foundation.
VAD is reportedly inflicting 100 to 200 million children worldwide and is causing one to 2.5 million deaths in preschool children. In the Philippines, VAD is inflicting two in very 10 pregnant and lactating women and four in every 10 children aged six months to five year.
2.Non-GE "Golden Millet"
Dear GENET-news subscribers,
below another example of non-GE approaches to tackle malnutrition. Interestingly, this news was publicised by ICRISAT already in April 2002 but ignored by the major pro-GE mailing list. They only reported about ICRISAT's GE activities (eg development of GE peanuts).
NOTE ICRISAT stands for International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics
Natural 'golden millet' rivals 'golden rice'
[Hyderabad] Scientists in India have used conventional breeding techniques to develop a new variety of pearl millet containing high levels of beta-carotene, a nutrient that is vital for healthy vision.
The team of scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has called their discovery 'golden millet'.
This is both a reference to its yellow grains, and an apparent allusion to the 'golden rice' that has been genetically modified to produce beta-carotene.
"Golden millet that has beta-carotene is a product of natural genetic variation; no genetic engineering is involved," says Tom Hash, principal breeder at ICRISAT. He points out that although it may not be eaten as widely as rice, pearl millet forms the staple diet for millions of poor people in Africa and India.
Beta-carotene (also known as provitamin A) is a precursor of vitamin A, a lack of which is a major cause of blindness in developing countries. 'Golden rice' has been hailed by some as a miracle crop to tackle vitamin A deficiency. But others have criticised the involvement of multinational biotechnology companies in its development.
"To have a staple food with a naturally high content of beta-carotene would be the easiest way to alleviate vitamin A deficiency," says Juergen Erhardt, a researcher at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, who collaborated on the ICRISAT project.
Hash and his co-workers say they stumbled across 'golden millet' during routine viability testing of the seed collections in ICRISAT's germplasm bank. Two samples from Burkina Faso in West Africa were found to produce yellow-coloured grains that contained unusually high amounts of beta-carotene.
Starting with a handful of these yellow grains, the ICRISAT scientists have developed a line of pearl millet high in beta-carotene using conventional breeding techniques. Hash says that by using genetic marker techniques he could probably create golden millet of even higher beta-carotene content.
The ICRISAT team is now planning to transfer the beta-carotene trait into other pearl millet crops, especially hybrid crops, which grow in different parts of the world. But with recent budget cuts (see 'Funding cuts hit Indian agricultural centre', 22 February 2002), external funding will have to be sought.
"The golden millet is an exciting new alternative [to golden rice] that deserves further development," says William Dar, director-general of ICRISAT. "But one should keep in mind that it would reduce - but not eliminate - the need for other sources of provitamin A."
Golden Millet, Naturally!
An exciting finding has revealed that some of ICRISAT's pearl millet genotypes with yellow endosperm (left) appear to have beta-carotene levels comparable to those of "Golden Rice".
Beta-carotene, also known as provitamin A, is a substance found in food that we must take into our bodies to make vitamin A. There are several such substances, called precursors, but the best is beta-carotene, because our bodies can make two molecules of vitamin A (retinol) from each molecule of beta-carotene.
"To have a staple food with a natural high content of beta-carotene would be the easiest way to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, which is one of the most important nutritional problems in developing countries," stated Juergen Erhardt, a researcher from the University of Hohenheim, who helped analyze the beta-carotene content of some of ICRISAT's millet genotypes.
Vitamin A deficiency causes hundreds of thousands of cases of irreversible blindness every year, especially among children in developing countries. There have been many studies examining the possibility of using foods naturally rich in vitamin A or provitamin A to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
The results of Dr Erhardt's analysis are quite close to what ICRISAT scientists had earlier found using different extraction methods. Although excited about the finding, Dr CT Hash, ICRISAT Millet Breeder, said, "Dr Erhardt and I feel that some more time is needed to optimize the extraction procedure and analyze the isomers to more accurately calculate the potential intake of retinolequivalents from pearl millet grain."
Dr Hash also added that millet grains containing a substantial amount of pro-vitamin A would be acceptable to farmers "if this higher nutritional value can be delivered in locally-adapted, pest- and disease-resistant cultivars that have reasonable yield potential."
The "golden millet" is thus an exciting new alternative that deserves further development, keeping in mind that it would reduce but not eliminate the need for vegetables and other sources of pro-vitamin A.
3.Women farmers call on ICRISAT to shut down
A. Press Release
DECCAN DEVELOPMENT SOCIETY
VILLAGE PASTAPUR, ZAHEERABAD MANDAL
April 15, 2005
About 500 women farmers today held a demonstration outside the famous International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics, demanding farmers seeds back from the ICRISAT Gene Banks. They also demanded that if ICRISAT might as well close down if it does not put farmer demanded, farmer designed and farmer led research on their agenda.
Worshipping seeds, singing songs in praise of the farmers varieties of seeds, the women from the Sanghams of the Deccan Development Society, left behind five symbolic pots of seeds, containing Jowar, Bajra, Red Gram, Bengal Gram and Groundnut the five mandate crops of ICRISAT in front of the ICRISAT gate with a placard saying ICRISAT REMEMBER YOUR MANDATE.
The women, who made this demonstration as a part of the Global Week of Action, were reminding ICRISAT of its original mandate which had bound it to the well being of small and marginal farmers in the semi arid tropics.
"An institution, where scientists toiled hard on farmers fields, worked along with them, built up constant dialogues with them, is now turning over its Board Rooms to transnational corporations like Syngenta whose mandate is to replace farmers from agriculture and turn it into a Corporate stock exchange! Is this just, ICRISAT? Is this why you were born?" says a letter addressed by the women farmers to the Director General of ICRISAT and calls upon the Institute to immediately dissociate itself from the Biotech Park, stop opening up its facilities to the private business.
This trend of ICRISAT to turn its facilities over to private business and to invite transnational corporations onto its Board, has made it to lose their trust, the women say "Once upon a time, in trust, we handed over to you, a large number of germplasms. The seeds we had nourished like our own children. Seeds which were a product of generations of our own knowledge". Therefore the women have demanded that ICRISAT hand back the collection of germplasms in its gene bank to farmers. "Please hand us back our germplasm. Close down your gene banks. They have already turned into Gene Morgues. Now they will be turned by you into seeds for predatory corporate profits. THIS IS OUR HERITAGE, GIVE IT BACK TO US".
Finally challenging ICRISAT to show its Human Face, the women have asked "Do you have a Human Face? Why has it been kept so invisible from us, ICRISAT?"
[Begari Sammamma] [Moligeri Chandramma] [Dandu Swaroopa] [Begari Laxmamma]
B.Letter to ICRISAT
DECCAN DEVELOPMENT SOCIETY
VILLAGE PASTAPUR, ZAHEERABAD MANDAL
April 15, 2005
The Director General
International Crop Research Institute for Semi arid Tropics Patancheru Medak District Anhdra Pradesh, India
Dear Director General
We the farmers of Medak District in Andhra Pradesh have seen ICRISAT from its inception and have watched it grow with pride.
We were delighted that the CGIAR had chosen our district to set up a Centre to research on the crops that we have been growing in this region since millennia.
We were excited that ICRISAT will bring experts from all over the world to look at the knowledge accumulated in our part of the world for thousands of years on these crops, our soils and our farming systems. We thought these experts will build a new agriculture on the foundations of our knowledge.
This did happen for some years. We fondly remember those scientists who came to us and did long participatory research on pigeonpea, on chickpea and tried to build watersheds on the foundation of our knowledge.
But now it seems all this is the story from a very distant past. Over the last few years we, farmers from these resource poor regions seem to be completely out of your agenda. You seem to be blinded by big business, biotechnology and the agenda they have brought in. We clearly understand that this will totally eliminate small farmers like us from your work. We understand by being in this new league you have firmly shut the ICRISAT doors on we women who have been the backbone of millet farming by saving seeds, by keeping alive biodiversity on our farms.
Incidentally, BIODIVERSITY. dear ICRISAT, do your remember this word at all? Or has it fallen completely out of your dictionary? We do remember that several years ago, you used to have an entire division devoted to it. But we hardly read it about it in your reports and pronouncements these days. We understand that Biotechnology is the new mantra with you and you have been so totally seduced by it that you have probably started mistaking it for Biodiversity?
We also understand that you are talking the language that Life[destroying] Industry talks. You are talking about biofortification of crops.
You came to build life in all its integrity. Not to split it into small atoms, disintegrate it, and like a cheap mechanic, start techno-fixes.
What a fall, ICRISAT!
And what do we hear from you these days? An institution, where scientists toiled hard on farmers fields, worked along with them, built up constant dialogues with them, is now turning over its Board Rooms to transnational corporations like Syngenta whose mandate is to replace farmers from agriculture and turn it into a Corporate stock exchange! Is this just, ICRISAT? Is this why you were born?
And incidentally, what is your current mandate, ICRISAT?
We understand you have set up a biotech park, you are gleefully opening up your facilities to private industry for a small fee? Is this what they call Sell Out?
Who did you ask before you did it ICRISAT? You were built with public money contributed with the taxes of billions of us, farmers, from all over the world. Did we ask you to turn out into a cheap function hall, which willingly hires out its facility to anyone who gives it some money?
Having done this, are you not brokering our resources to private business?
And let us come to the new threat. You and your sister institutions in CGIAR, we believe, are also planning to peddle our bioresources to private business. Will that not be counted as a crime against humanity ICRISAT and CGIAR?
Incidentally, we see a large board in front of your palatial complex declaring: ICRISAT: SCIENCE WITH A HUMAN FACE.
Is this true? Do you have a Human Face? Why has it been kept so invisible from us, ICRISAT?
We have started being terrified of you ICRISAT. You have lost our trust.
Once upon a time, in trust, we handed over to you, a large number of germplasms. The seeds we had nourished like our own children. Seeds which were a product of generations of our own knowledge.
Now we are afraid that you will sell that out to the biggest bidder. Because you claim to be cash starved.
We will not let that happen, ICRISAT.
Please hand us back our germplasm. Close down your gene banks. They have already turned into Gene Morgues. Now they will be turned by you into seeds for predatory corporate profits. THIS IS OUR HERITAGE, GIVE IT BACK TO US.
If you are cash starved, let us fight together. We don’t want you to sell the family silver, the heritage of humanity for your own survival. We don’t want you to sell your soul to the industry. Let us ask all our governments to put more money in you. And build ICRISAT into an independent scientific institution working with dignity and being proud of its independence.
This so that you will start a new era of research will be farmer demanded, farmer designed and farmer led,
If you are incapable of it, please admit it openly.
If you are incapable of it, isn’t it better that you close down, ICRISAT.
We will be very sad for it. You are like a grown up daughter of ours. Your fading out from our midst will be very sad for us.
But if with your closure we can prevent a far greater tragedy to farming communities all over the world, we might even accept it as inevitable.
Think if you can.
And do let us know what you think.
With best wishes for your survival with dignity, pride and Human face.
If that is possible.
[Village Bidakanne, Jharasangam Mandal, Medak District] Begari Laxmamma [Village Humnapur, Nyalkal Mandal, Medak District] Dandu Swaroopamma [Village Edakulapalle, Jharasangam Mandal, Medak District] Moligeri Chandramma [Village Bidakanne, Jharasangam Mandal, Medak District]
ON BEHALF OF THOUSANDS OF WOMEN FARMERS FROM MEDAK DISTRICT, WHO HAVE SIGNED THIS LETTER ON BEHALF OF BILLIONS OF OUR SISTERS ALL OVER THE WORLD.