Author Topic: Decoding Orphan crop genomes could save millions of lives in Africa  (Read 2509 times)

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Interesting - Some good news?
Decoding 'orphan crop' genomes could save millions of lives in Africa

Howard-Yana Shapiro, a scientist with the Mars confectionery company, will make the information free to boost harvests

John Vidal and Mark Tran   

The Observer, Saturday 1 June 2013   

Howard-Yana Shapiro wants to make the genetic makeup of some crops freely available on the internet. Photograph: Gabriela Hasbun/Redux/eyevine

The future wellbeing of millions of Africans may rest in the unlikely hands of a vegan hippy scientist working for a sweet company who plans to map and then give away the genetic data of 100 traditional crops.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, the agriculture director of the $36bn US confectionery corporation Mars, led a partnership that sequenced and then published in 2010 the complete genome of the cacao tree from which chocolate is derived. He plans to work with American and Chinese scientists to sequence and make publicly available the genetic makeup of a host of crops such as yam, finger millet, tef, groundnut, cassava and sweet potato.

Dubbed "orphan crops" because they have been ignored by scientists, seed companies and governments, they are staples for up to 250 million smallholder African farmers who depend on them for food security, nutrition and income. However, they are considered of little economic interest to large seed and chemical companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, which concentrate on global crops such as maize, rice and soya.

According to Shapiro, there is huge potential to develop more resilient and higher-yielding varieties of most orphan crops by combining traditional plant breeding methods with new biotech tools such as "genetic marking". This does not involve the altering or insertion of genes that takes place with controversial genetic modification.

"The genetic information will be put on the web and offered free to plant breeders, seed companies and farmers on condition it is not patented. A new African plant-breeding academy will also be set up in Nairobi, Kenya," he said.

"It's not charity. It's a gift. Its an improvement of African agriculture. These crops will never be worked on by the big five [seed] companies.

Shapiro, a leading plant scientist who founded organic seed company Seeds of Change
but sold it to Mars in 1997, now cuts an idiosyncratic figure in the corporate food world, sporting a long beard and listing motorcycles as a favourite pastime. But he said that the culture of the family-owned corporation had advantages. "It took less than a nanosecond to decide not to patent. Ownership was not an issue," he said.

TEDxAmsterdam 2010 - Howard-Yana Shapiro - 11/30/10
Howard-Yana Shapiro is the Global Director of Plant Science and External Research, Mars Incorporated.

Howard has guided Mars toward the goal of 100% sustainably sourced cacao production since joining up with the company in the late 1990s. His more than 35 years working with sustainable agricultural and agroforestry systems, plant systems, plant genetics, and food production systems across the world have led to his being a party to functional ecological enhancements the world over.
Shapiro, an adjunct professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, is also chair of the external advisory board for the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute. He is a former Fulbright Scholar, a Ford Foundation Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities Award winner, and in 2007 was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Organic Trade Association.

In 2008 Shapiro was named a fellow of the World Agroforestry Centre. Also in 2008, he was lead author on the biotechnology and biodiversity chapter of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, a study initiated by the World Bank.

Shapiro is a founding member of the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and is on a National Research Council committee on “greening” and the future of the Florida citrus industry.

“I have had many fascinating discussions with Howard about the issues facing international agriculture, and the overwhelming sense one gets from him is a can-do optimism about our ability to solve the problems through openly addressing the issues and applying good science to them.” — Kent Bradford, plant sciences professor and director, Seed Biotechnology Center

Jacqueline Mars ($13.8 billion)
Jacqueline Mars made her money from M&Ms, Snickers, Dog Food and many of the other products we use every day. The Mars company currently has revenue of $30 billion annually and is the world's largest confectionary company. Jacqueline Mars is the third generation of the Mars family after her grandfather, Frank Mars, founded the company in 1911.
Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole ; He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. - Job 5