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A global vision with an African focus to fight poor nutrition with nutrient-rich crops

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project Mid-Term Report December 2007

w w w. a h b f i . o rg




Cover photos: Top: Nduta Mathenge and her daughter among sorghum plants growing in their garden. Bottom: Andile Grootboom examining sorghum seeds at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa.


A global vision with an African focus to fight poor nutrition with nutrient-rich crops

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project Mid-Term Report December 2007

Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) Nairobi • Johannesburg • Washington DC


Citation: Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI). A global vision with an African focus to fight poor nutrition with nutrient-rich crops. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project: Mid-Term Report, December 2007. Nairobi, Kenya; Johannesburg, South Africa; Washington DC, USA. 40 pp. All information in this booklet may be quoted or reproduced, provided the source is properly acknowledged, as cited above. © 2008 Africa Harvest ISBN 978-0-620-41024-3

For further information about Africa Harvest or additional copies of this publication, contact Africa Harvest at: NAIROBI (HQ) 3rd Floor, Whitefield Place, School Lane, Westlands PO Box 642 Village Market 00621 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: + 254 20 444 1113 Fax: + 254 20 444 1121 Email: kenya@ahbfi.org

JOHANNESBURG Fernridge Office Park 5 Hunter Street, Randburg PO Box 3655 Pinegowrie 2123 Gauteng, South Africa Tel: + 27 11 781 4447 Fax: + 27 11 886 0152 Email: southafrica@ahbfi.org

Or visit the Africa Harvest website: www.ahbfi.org

Editing and design: BluePencil Infodesign, Hyderabad, India • www.bluepencil.in Printing: Pragati Offset Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, India • www.pragati.com

WASHINGTON DC Blake Building Farragut Square 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 1012 Washington DC 20036, USA Tel: +1 202 828 1215 Fax: +1 202 857 9799 E-mail: usa@ahbfi.org


Contents

Foreword: Africa Harvest Chairman Dr. Kanayo Nwanze

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Forward thinking: ABS Project Principal Investigator 4 Dr. Paul Anderson Executive summary: PAC Project Coordinator Dr. Florence Wambugu

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1. Introduction: The challenge of nutrition- deficiency in Africa

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2. Project mission: Sorghum as a vehicle for the delivery of health and nutrition

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3. Project consortium: Why an African scientific consortium?

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4. Project highlights and accomplishments • Technology and research • Product development • Regulatory and biosafety initiatives • Public acceptance and communication • Intellectual property management • Management and coordination

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5. Challenges and lessons learnt

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Acronyms and abbreviations

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Foreword Africa Harvest Chairman, Dr. Kanayo Nwanze

On 26 January 2003, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates announced a major research initiative—the Grand Challenges in Global Health—based on a century-old model formulated by the mathematician David Hilbert. Just as Hilbert’s list of important unsolved problems in mathematics spurred major research innovations in the field, the GC initiative is a major effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world’s poorest countries. Only a small portion of today’s research focuses on the health problems that disproportionately affect the earth’s two billion poorest people. “It’s shocking how little research is directed toward the diseases of the world’s poorest countries,” said Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). “By harnessing the world’s capacity for scientific innovation, I believe we can transform health in the developing world and save millions of lives.” The initiative is supported by a US$450 million commitment from the BMGF as well as two funding commitments: US$27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust and US$4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). These resulted in 43 projects that seek to tackle one of 14 major scientific challenges which—if solved—could lead to important advances in preventing, treating, and curing diseases of the developing world. As the Chairman of the Africa Harvest Board of Directors, we are proud that Africa Harvest’s proposal—the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project—was one of 43 projects selected for funding from more than 1000 competitive projects. We believe that the ABS Project will contribute to the GC overall goal of creating “deliverable technologies” and health tools that are effective, inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries. The Board is particularly proud of the manner in which Africa Harvest established a credible science consortium that is contributing to the advancement of science on the continent. The Project has played a pivotal role in establishing scientific infrastructure in South Africa; in particular, laboratories at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have been equipped and a greenhouse built at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). The Project has also helped build scientific capacity by training African scientists at Pioneer in Des Moines, Iowa, in USA. It has also contributed to the building and strengthening of African scientific networks. Apart from the infrastructural and scientific capacity, the ABS project—through the Public Acceptance and Communication (PAC) program—has contributed to a better



The ABS Project mid-term report


The Board is particularly proud of the manner in which Africa Harvest established a credible science consortium which is contributing to of the advancement of science on the continent .

understanding of biotechnology issues in Africa. The Project is assisting in strengthening the existing consensus on controversial ethical, environmental, legal and political issues pertaining to genetically modified (GM) crops. It provides a tangible opportunity to put into action commitments made to biotechnology through pan-African forums such as the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The regional nature of the project allows it to help countries engage in dialogue and strengthen national and regional biotechnology strategies. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I wish to thank the BMGF for funding the ABS Project, the ABS Consortium for excellent progress in the last two-and-a-half-years and Africa Harvest management and staff for their excellent stewardship of this important project.

Africa Harvest Board Chairman Dr Kanayo Nwanze and Africa Harvest CEO Dr Florence Wambugu at the launch of the ABS Project in 2005.

Foreword




Forward thinking ABS Project Principal Investigator, Dr. Paul Anderson

The ABS Project started in July 2005 and the five-year, Phase 1 is scheduled for completion in June 2010. This report marks the halfway point of the Project, and largely reflects the successes and challenges of the past two-and-a-half years; however, we have looked back to gain courage to move forward into the future. Through the many lessons that have been learnt, the Project has grown and matured to have its own unique sense of identity and purpose. When we faced gigantic problems along the way, we reminded ourselves that “after all, this is a Grand Challenge!” For example, while the expected outcomes were somewhat clear in the first few months of the Project, the pathway to those outcomes was not clearly defined. The technology had been successfully tested on corn and other cereals, but we did not know how it would perform on sorghum. The set of technologies and approaches were experimental with sorghum and we have had to develop them by trial and error. As with projects of this magnitude, there are differences between our early definitions of success versus the success we have actually achieved. Try as we did, we could not anticipate the challenges that lay ahead. Nonetheless, we could also not anticipate the technological ‘breakthroughs’ that we have had. We had the advantage of leveraging on grain improvement technology from Pioneer, a company of DuPont. This early work sharpened our focus on improving protein quality and digestibility, increasing the availability of iron and zinc, and increasing levels of Vitamins A and E. Generally, product development cycles for biotechnology crops average from 7 to 12 years. We are confident that in 5 years, we will have developed a product prototype with the target nutritional qualities. Looking back over the last two-and-a-half years (see illustration), the ABS Project has made tremendous progress. The focus of the Project has been on biotech research targeting crop traits that are expected to be relevant for nutrition. The real nutrition research is only expected to advance into full gear over the next half of the Project. The ‘proof of concept’ involves translating into a prototype or a variety the zinc, iron, lysine, and Vitamins A and E. It also involves integrating the research output with African partners and engagement of other strategic partners. Finally, the ‘proof of concept’ involves the development of a viable product profiling, which includes ex ante socio-economic impact, nutrition and bio-availability data to drive product acceptance. Although achieved after the period under review, we are encouraged that the second generation transgenic sorghum plant—ABS 2—is now being grown at Puerto Rico, USA,



The ABS Project mid-term report


and crosses with the selected popular African sorghum varieties such as Macia and KARI Mtama 1 have started. This variety has leveraged technology for grain improvement and all its approaches are tested in corn or other cereals. Similarly, efficacy demonstrated that there is improved protein quality and digestibility, increase in iron and zinc availability and also increased levels of Vitamin A and E. Also achieved outside the period under review is securing the participation and support of leading African national agricultural research institutions. They will be more involved in public acceptance and communication, product development in greenhouse and field studies. The institutions include the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (also referred to as CORAF/WECARD), the Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA in Burkina Faso), the Kenya Agricul­ tural Research Institute (KARI), the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) in Egypt and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in Nigeria. The African strategic partnerships and the technology progress made so far makes us confident that the target of achieving the proof-of-concept in the next two-and-ahalf years will be achieved. This will pave the way for future product development for a nutrition-enhanced sorghum with the potential to improve the health of millions of people in Africa. Field trials of nutritionally enhanced and digestibility improved ABS#2 in Puerto Rico.

The African strategic partnerships and the technology progress made so far make us confident that the target of achieving the proofof-concept in the next two-and-a-half years will be achieved.

Forward thinking




Executive summary ABS Project Coordinator, Dr. Florence Wambugu

The ABS Project has been running for the last two-and-half years and this constitutes half of the life of the Phase 1, five-year project period. During this time, the Project has produced two annual, and one half-year reports that captured progress on the technical and non-technical aspects of the Project in great detail. During the period under review, the project has had a sterling performance, which included timely recruitment of staff, establishment of governance structures and delivery of agreed milestones in the technology, product development, regulatory and biosafety, public acceptance and communication, and management and coordination programs. The rather rough regulatory and biosafety terrain in Africa remains the most significant challenge for the Project. With its focus on nutrition and health, the ABS Project recognizes that malnutrition remains a leading direct and indirect cause of the rise in the many non-communicable diseases, especially in Africa. Scientific evidence also shows that deficiencies in essential micronutrients can cause impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight, impaired neuropsychological development and stunting. Against the above backdrop, the Project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc. The Project success could improve the health of a target 300 million people who depend on sorghum as staple food in Africa. The Project is encouraged by the fact that African nations are recognizing the need to have comprehensive national nutrition programs. There is better appreciation of the need to coordinate multiple disciplines to provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions to malnutrition. This will not only benefit treatment of communicable diseases but alleviate the prevalence of several non-communicable, deficiency-based diseases such as anaemia, rubella and kwashiorkor. The ABS Project is aware of the challenge that similar nutrition projects face: in particular, rewards are not immediate nor are they easily measurable. The project however acknowledges the fact that nutrition must be a critical component of any nation and deserves to be top priority in government agendas, especially in Africa. The Project notes that industrial biofortification has been successful; but new developments in biotechnology provide exciting opportunities in the fight against malnutrition. Conventional fortification, for example, through iodization of salt, was successful in reducing the prevalence of goitre and contributed to improved mental health of children



The ABS Project mid-term report


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The project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc.

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in Africa. However, conventional fortification faces limitations such as the limited shelflife of processed foods and the inability to industrially fortify certain vitamins and mineral complexes. Conversely, through biotechnology, plants can create and store their own vitamins and nutrients, thus easily providing nutrition to the rural poor and improving their quality of life and economic potential. It is therefore imperative that biofortification and fortification approaches work closely to win the battle against malnutrition. African governments have a role in encouraging the use of every tool in the arsenal to help their people; in particular, governments must prioritize nutrition alongside health issues, adopt new technologies and techniques and enact integrated strategies to give nutrition the attention it truly deserves. This is the only way to draw maximum value from nutriton and health initiatives such as the ABS Project.

Field trials of nutritionally enhanced and digestibility improved ABS#2 in Puerto Rico.

Executive summary




1. Introduction The challenge of nutrition deficiency in Africa

Africa’s development agenda—as defined by the African Union (AU) in a 10year strategy document— incorporates nutrition as a “must-have” component of every poverty alleviation strategy.

A cup of sorghum porridge is the source of nourishment for this child.

Africa has become a key player in the global, political and economic agenda: its development agenda—as defined by the African Union (AU) in a 10-year strategy document—that incorporates nutrition as a “must-have” component of every poverty alleviation strategy. The AU strategy document underlines the importance of nutrition in the management of the disease burden and in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the recent past, national governments and the international community focused public attention and investment on the three major challenges to Africa’s public health: malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS. Currently, organizations such as the Global Fund are directing US$7 billion towards combating these diseases across 136 countries, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all international funding for anti-malaria efforts. Although these, and other programs, often recognize nutrition as an integral part of managing health, in practice, they mostly incorporate it as a complementary part of the disease management process or as a minor component in social programs. They fail to emphasize the significant difference that nutrition plays in assisting the recovery of TB and malaria patients as well as extending the expected life of HIV/AIDS patients, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nutrition is a more critical factor in the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa. The extent of the challenge posed by NCDs is much larger than most people expect it to be. It is estimated that almost all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa report . African Regional Nutrition Strategy, 2005–2015, Africa Union: www.africa-union.org . The Global Fund: http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/media_center/press/pr_061212.asp



The ABS Project mid-term report


Photo courtesy Prof. John Taylor, University of Pretoria

Nokthula Vilakati, a Msc student from University of Pretoria (carrying folder) interviewing a food focus group during an ABS nutritional survey in Western Kenya.

that over 50% of their children less than 5 years of age suffer from Iron Deficiency Anaemia. Sadly, an estimated 32,000 women die from maternityrelated complications due to severe anaemia. Also, an estimated 570,000 children die annually due to complications from Vitamin A deficiency. A global burden of disease study estimated that age-specific death rates from NCDs in adults are much higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in western countries. It is estimated that there are between one-in-six to one-in-four deaths in adults aged 15–59. The major NCDs in Africa are protein and vitamin deficiency diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory conditions. These diseases have steadily been on the increase from the 1940s in most African countries due to the prevalence of risk factors such as increased smoking, consumption of alcohol, lack of exercise and most notably, poor and inadequate diet. . Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa, Micronutrient Initiative. . Murray C, Lopez A (eds). The global burden of disease. Geneva: World Health Organisation, 1996.

Project Coordinator, Dr Florence Wambugu, examining different sorghum varieties.

Introduction




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African nations need to engage in comprehensive national nutrition programs that coordinate multiple disciplines to provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions to malnutrition.

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African nations need to engage in comprehensive national nutrition programs that coordinate multiple disciplines to provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions to malnutrition. This will not only benefit management of communicable diseases, but alleviate the prevalence of several non-communicable, nutrient deficiency-based diseases such as various forms of anaemia, rubella and kwashiorkor. Given that nutrition is the cornerstone that needs to be set right for sustainable economic development in Africa, governments need to have a new mindset and prepare themselves to adopt new technologies and techniques that will maximize the emerging opportunities for better nutrition. On their part, the international community needs to direct more investment and support efforts to establish nutrition as integral part of economic development in Africa. Sorghum grain traders at Embu Market, Kenya.

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2. Project mission

Photo courtesy Prof. John Taylor, University of Pretoria.

Sorghum as a vehicle for the delivery of health and nutrition

Prof. John Taylor exchanges opinions on sorghum preparation techniques with members of the local community in Homa Bay, Kenya.

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project is a nutrition project contributing to global health. The Project is funded under the Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH) Initiative funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) that was created to help researchers investigate challenges whose scientific breakthroughs could impact diseases of the developing world. The Project aims to use sorghum as a vehicle to deliver the nutritional objective to improve the health of the 300 million Africans who consume sorghum as a staple food. The Project is still in its early research and development stages where it has to prove that the concept works. In this stage, the Project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc. Why Sorghum? This research work raises pertinent questions about the suitability of sorghum for such a project. Sorghum is an excellent choice of crop because it is familiar to rural African farmers, especially those living in marginal arid and semi-arid tropics. It is an indigenous African crop with the primary source of origin believed to be around the Ethiopian Highlands and Southern Sudan.

Pattern of domestication and spread of the genus Sorghum. (Ejeta & Grenier, 2005).

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Studies suggest that domestication of grain sorghum may have occurred before 2000 BC in Ethiopia but a more acceptable estimate is 1000 BC.

Sorghum is an essential staple food in Africa that is poor in digestibility and lacks sufficient nutrition.

Sorghum is a subsistence and staple crop for many people living across Africa and at times, the only meal available on any given day. By utilising the latest technology, the ABS product can deliver increased nutrition and improved digestibility through the seed. Seed is the best vehicle to deliver nutrients in farming communities who produce their own food, avoiding distribution costs and ensuring benefits to families and whole communities. Sorghum is a drought-tolerant crop that is increasingly attractive in a water-scarce continent of Africa. The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, noted that over the next 100 years, the average temperature in Africa will rise by 3o C to 4o C, resulting in the continent generally becoming drier than it is now. In particular, the panel predicted drying in much of the subtropics and a small increase in precipitation in the tropics. This means that the Mediterranean, Sahel and Southern African regions will be more drought prone. Therefore, more than a third of Africa’s population—over 250 million people—are at risk. The IPCC also noted that the few flood-prone areas in southern Africa and along the tropical belt are bound to get wetter. However, rainfall patterns will shift and become more erratic, resulting in more frequent flooding and drought spells. As Africa’s agriculture is still heavily dependent on rainfall, this prediction does not bode well for food security in the flood-prone regions either. Therefore, Africa cannot confidently rely on the wetter regions to feed the drier regions, which makes sorghum even more important as a target crop. Some sorghum varieties are naturally resistant to damage by birds and insects. They produce chemicals inside the grain, making it especially bitter for birds to ingest and it is also difficult to digest. This makes it a favourite with farmers, especially those in bushland areas with high density of birds. A hard exterior shell also prevents many insects from boring into the grain, thus making it easy to store in traditional granaries for long periods of time and reduce postharvest loss. Through traditional knowledge systems, many rural farmers know how to preserve seed, plant, nurture, harvest and store the grain. Studies suggest that domestication of grain sorghum may have occurred before 2000 BC in Ethiopia but a more acceptable estimate is 1000 BC. Further, sorghum is an integral part of African culture and often consumed as beer or prepared into bread during traditional ceremonies. Often, it is prepared as sour

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porridge to be given to a young mother who is weaning an infant. It also has uses as stover for construction of traditional huts, fodder for livestock and fuel for cooking. As sorghum is a staple for hundreds of millions of people, the scope to make a huge impact by utilizing sorghum as a vehicle to deliver nutrition solutions is quite high. Sorghum is an integral part of the African agricultural landscape. Many national agricultural research institutes in several African countries have dedicated extensive research into improving its qualities and uses. However, the allocated budgets and technologies are relatively low in comparison to those dedicated to other grains like maize, wheat and rice. The ABS Project is bringing high-level technology and research that will create new knowledge, research capacity and opportunities that will help spur the importance of sorghum in the continent. Dr Nemera Shargie examining research trials on traditional sorghum plants at the ARC, South Africa.

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The ABS Project is bringing highlevel technology and research that will create new knowledge, research capacity and opportunities that will help spur the importance of sorghum in the continent.

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A traditional Kenyan granary that stores sorghum grain.

Project mission

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3. Project consortium Why an African scientific consortium?

Project consortium members attending the 4th ABS Planning Meeting.

The challenges—of poverty, war and disease—confronting Africa are enormous, and must be addressed before meaningful development can take place. When it comes to science, Africa has the daunting challenge of archaic scientific infrastructure, outdated government policies and limited scientific capacity. These challenges discourage talented scientists from carrying out research in their native countries, forcing them to go overseas to search for better-paying positions in better-equipped laboratories and research centers. It is no wonder then that Sub-Saharan Africa contributes less than 0.3% of the world’s scientists. This is partly caused by poor career orientation and the lack of postgraduate training programs that attract people into scientific careers. The other challenge facing science in Africa today is the absence of a scientific culture and the subsequent lack of commitment to science by political leaders. The need for African scientific capacity is critical; even a country such as South Africa— considered an African powerhouse in science and technology—has only seven researchers for every 10,000 people in the work force, compared with 59 for every 10,000 in the United States. The ABS Project consortium addresses some of these issues, through the strategic alliance of eight member organizations that leverage the best of private, public and academic sectors to deliver technology to fight malnutrition in Africa and the developing world. Africa Harvest is partnering with scientific teams from DuPont, through its business Pioneer Hi-Bred, and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Other consortium members include the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the University of Pretoria (UP), the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC).

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The consortium recognizes that no single African organization has the infrastructure and capacity to successfully undertake the scientific endeavour required for the ABS Project. In building the consortium, partners noted that many North-South scientific partnerships did not work because the relationship was based on a top-down-approach; the ABS Project consortium therefore sought to build a very strong African network of scientific institutions before identifying the partnerships from the North. Besides the crop nutritional improvement objective, the ABS Project consortium is designed to improve African infrastructural and human capacity to create institutional and policy arrangements that enable countries to mobilize and share their scarce resources, to conduct science research and generate technological innovations. In the last two and a half years, the consortium has strengthened the scientific skills base and forged genuine partnerships and collaborations among key stakeholders in several African countries. Diversity in the ABS Project has helped ensure that the technologies are ‘domesticated’ and that research results are applied to African settings. By selecting partners from research and industry, the ABS Project has helped bridge the gap between cultures and paved the way for smooth transition from research to commercialization.

The need for African scientific capacity is

critical; even a country such as South Africa— considered an African powerhouse in science and technology—has only seven researchers for every 10,000 people in the work force, compared with 59 for every 10,000 in the United States.

Photo courtesy Dr Paul Anderson, Pioneer Hi-Bred

Delegates attending the ABS Open Day during the 4th ABS Planning Meeting.

ABS Team from Pioneer Hi-Bred,a business of DuPont, standing [L to R]: Getu Beyenne, Kimberley Glassman, Rudolf Jung, Heather Christensen and Tracy Asmus, seated [L toR]: Paul Anderson, Zuo-Yu Zhao and Kenneth Githinji

Project consortium

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Photo courtesy Dr Peggy Lemaux, UC Berkeley

ABS Team from University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Front row sitting [L to R]: Joshua Wong, Ekrem Gurel, Rajvinder Kaur, Cindy Lee (undergraduate). Back row [L to R]: Pierre Blossee (undergraduate), Peggy Lemaux (ABS Team Leader), Songul Gurel, Tamara Miller (undergraduate), Eric Trieu (undergraduate), Han-Qi Tan (undergraduate).

The ABS Project has a policy manual and guidelines on how decisions should be made. The factors that define the ABS Project consortium include process-organisation, clear leadership, well-defined roles and responsibilities, regular communication and coordination, well-designed processes, teamwork and speedy decision-making.

Photo courtesy Dr Nemera Shargie, ARC

The ABS Project has a three-member, Project Steering Committee (PSC), which is the main decision-making organ of the consortium. The Project also has functional groups and team leaders from partner organizations who ensure that teams meet their targets. Regular site visits by the Project Manager and the PSC helps partner organizations remain focused and meet agreed milestones.

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ABS team from Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. [L to R] Nemera Shargie (ABS Team Leader), Hannelie Terblanche, Kingstone Mashingaidze, Ria De Reuck, Charlotte Mienie. Photo Courtesy: Nemera Shargie, ARC

The ABS Project mid-term report


4. Project highlights and accomplishments

South African Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Hon Lulama Xingwana (right) and ABS Project Coordinator, Dr Florence Wambugu share a moment during the ABS Open Day in Tshwane, South Africa.

Constance Chiremba displaying the incinerator next to the contained greenhouse facility at ARC, South Africa.

[L to R]: Prof Babatunde Obilana, a sorghum expert from Nigeria, Dr Paul Anderson, the ABS Project Investigator and Rod Townsend, ABS External Advisory Board member.

Below: ABS consortium members visit an ABS-funded greenhouse facility at the ARC, South Africa.

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Project highlights and accomplishments

Photo courtesy Dr Nemera Shargie, ARC

Photo courtesy Dr Rachel Chikwamba, CSIR

4A: Technology and research

Charlotte Mienie conducts her work in a DNA Sequencer Lab at the Grain Crops Institute of the Agricultural Research Council, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Dr Maretha O’Kennedy (left) and Dr Rachel Chikwamba analyse ABS experimental results at the CSIR, South Africa.

The Technology and Research component of the ABS Project brings together three of the eight consortium members: • Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont • South Africa’s CSIR • University of California Berkeley Their goal is to develop a transgenic sorghum that contains increased levels of essential nutrients, especially lysine, Vitamin A, and iron and zinc that are more available than in ordinary sorghum varieties. This product will be used by the product development team for introgression of the nutritional traits into the high-yielding and adapted sorghum varieties preferred by the African farmer. To achieve their goal, the three institutions have, in the period under review, focused on specific aspects where each institution has a comparative advantage. They also allowed the flexibility of parallel approaches for the benefit of high throughput, in order to increase chances of success. The accomplishments of the three institutions are outstanding. Some of the highlights include: Capacity building: One of the deliverables of the Technology and Research team was enhancement of African scientists’ capacity. In the first batch of post-doctoral fellows to go to Pioneer Hi_Bred for a year were Dr. Luke Mehlo and Dr Andile Grootboom, both from CSIR. The two scientists are back in their laboratories and currently working on transgenic Vitamin A sorghum lines. During the period under review, the scientists successfully worked on improving the efficiency of transformation. The next group included Dr. Joel Mutisya of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Dr Getu Beyene of CSIR. Dr. Mutisya has since returned to KARI and is in charge of the Project activities there. The most recent post-doc to Pioneer is Dr. Kenneth Njuguna Mburu from Kenyatta University.

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Molecular targets: The Technology & Research team now has transgenic events that have both selectable marker and target genes. During the period under review, work to segregate marker genes and to generate plants with only the target traits started at Pioneer. Lysine, an essential amino acid and a key target in protein quality improvement was enhanced successfully by more than 100 %, compared with the control starting materials. Progress has also been made in the reduction of phytic acid in grain sorghum. This approach is aimed at enhancing the bio-availability of both iron and zinc, micronutrients that have been targeted for improvement by the Project. Further experimentation with the low phytate grain will ascertain whether the two micronutrients are now more bioavailable in small animal trials. The improvement in sorghum transformation efficiency work by one of the African post-doctoral scientists has been submitted for Intellectual Property (IP) protection to ensure that the improved technology will always be available to address the needs of the Project and similar humanitarian initiatives. All this is a clear testimony that the Project is delivering both in three key areas: a) scientific capacity building in Africa, b) adding to scientific knowledge and c) laying the foundation to contribute to the Project objective of enhancing the nutrition of sorghum. The trait introduction work at Pioneer and CSIR is progressing well, laying strong foundations for the non-laboratory activities planned for the next two and half years. The sorghum digestibility objective is also on target, using an approach that modifies the seed content of kafirins, the major sorghum storage proteins that are largely responsible for the low digestibility of grain sorghum. This is all the more significant because the most common method of cooking sorghum makes it difficult to digest, and meeting this objective would greatly benefit consumers of sorghum and sorghum products. [L to R] Kenneth Mburu and Getu Beyenne with Dr Paul Anderson, ABS Project Investigator during their training at Pioneer facilities, Iowa, USA.

Photo courtesy Dr Paul Anderson, Pioneer Hi-Bred

Photo courtesy Dr Paul Anderson, Pioneer Hi-Bred

Dr Luke Mehlo (foreground) and Andile Grootboom analyse sorghum under a microscope during their training at Pioneer facilities, Iowa, USA

Project highlights: Technology and research

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Project highlights and accomplishments

Photo courtesy Prof. John Taylor, University of Pretoria

4B: Product development

Sample of sorghum bread flour, porridge mixes and alcoholic drinks.

The Product Development Component of the ABS Project involves putting the nutritional traits in farmer-preferred and adaptable African sorghum varieties. This will enable the expression of the traits to deliver the nutrients at levels that are biologically beneficial to the consumer, taking into consideration the volume of sorghum consumed every day. This will be achieved through a backcrossing program of transgenic sorghum with the popular and adaptable sorghums to the different African geographies or agro-ecological zones. This strategy anticipates achieving some of the positive agronomic traits in these background varieties. The primary products will be packaged in open-pollinated varieties and hybrids in a form that farmers can access and grow. The secondary products will entail processing, giving rise to a variety of products such as breakfast cereals, flour for porridges, bread and cakes. To deliver the varieties as highlighted above, the University of Pretoria is conducting grassroot studies on how sorghum is consumed, development work on sorghum menus using non-transgenic sorghum in anticipation of the varieties with the nutritional traits. Achievements in this program have been in the area of prerequisite work in anticipation of completion of the ABS 2 transgenic sorghum for the breeding work. Some of the prerequisite work is being done with non-transgenic sorghum, especially in identifying the adaptable sorghum varieties and hybrid parental lines that will be eventually used in introgressing the ABS 2 traits. The initial crossing work has actually started at Puerto Rico, USA, using some of the selected African Sorghum germplasm. African scientists are also being trained on relevant skills techniques which include: Capacity building: Dr. Nemera Shargie, one of the ABS Project breeders based at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in South Africa, went for training in Pioneer HiBred, USA under the mentorship of Dr. Kay Porter and Dr. Yilma Kebede in August 2007. The training was on practical aspects of molecular markers-assisted sorghum breeding. The emphasis of the training was on planning, facilities and equipment necessary for

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high throughput breeding for hybrids and open-pollinated varieties. The Pioneer expert breeders have also visited ARC, South Africa and KARI in Kenya to evaluate the relevant capacities and to help develop relevant breeding strategies for Africa.

A survey of indigenous sorghum products

Construction of greenhouse for GM sorghum trials and molecular analytical laboratory: A greenhouse for bio-containment level 3 was constructed at the ARC facility, which has been registered, and necessary approvals given by the South African government. The greenhouse is now fully functional with operational standard operating procedures (SOPs) and greenhouse manual as per the requirements. The molecular analytical laboratory has been appraised by the Pioneer team led by Drs. Kay Porter and Yilma Kebede, and found to be adequate in instrumentation and calibre of expertise to support the breeding work.

and processing

Survey of value-added sorghum products: A literature review of sorghum products and processing methods has been concluded. The review indicated that the use of ABS sorghum in these products could significantly improve their nutritional value. To optimise the nutritional benefits, it would be important to ensure that processing per se does not erode the nutritional gains. For example, wet cooking of sorghum substantially reduces protein digestibility, whereas malting, fermentation and extrusion cooking improves it. The same is true of starch digestibility. A survey of indigenous sorghum products and processing methods has also been done and documented. This work prepares the critical pathway that determines how the ABS products will be used for the benefit of farmers and consumers, because it is these product outlets that will enhance the sustainability and impact of the ABS products.

how the ABS

Chemical composition and food quality of sorghum: The objective of this work was to establish a nutritional baseline from different sorghums. The data from 11 sorghum varieties agreed with literature values, indicating that the analytical methods were robust. The data confirmed that protein content in sorghum is lower than in other cereals. The same was the case with lysine. The pro-vitamin A is essentially absent in white endosperm sorghums and vitamin E, iron and zinc are similar to other sorghums. These results further justify the need for enhancing nutrients in sorghum.

ABS products.

methods has been done and documented. This work prepares the critical pathway that determines products will be used for the benefit of farmers and consumers, because it is these product outlets that will enhance the sustainability and impact of the

Food consumption in Limpopo Province of South Africa: A survey was done in a sorghum-consuming area with the objective of determining the level of bio-fortification required to meaningfully improve the nutrient content of sorghum. The study revealed that with the exception of protein, all the target nutrients of ABS were deficient in the children’s diet. These results will help determine the nutrient targets for the ABS Project.

Sorghum “pap” that is wet cooked from flour is a delicacy for many African people.

Dr Peggy Lemaux, Team Leader, University of California Berkeley, tries out sorghum cookies made from traditional sorghum varieties.

Project highlights: Product development

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Project highlights and accomplishments

4C: Regulatory and biosafety initiatives

ABS delegates attend the ABS Regulatory Conference at CSIR, Tshwane, South Africa.

Many African countries are aware of the potential benefits of modern biotechnology and have started engagement in modern biotechnological research to identify useful applications that they can integrate in their national development programs. Countries like Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, Libya, Namibia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe are in the process of carrying out modern biotechnological research or are in the process of establishing or building up human capacity and strengthening scientific infrastructure. Initiatives vary from country to country, both in levels of development as well as target research areas. Some are funded from national budgets while others are a mix of national budgets and external funds. Some biotech initiatives are national, while others have a regional approach. So far, only South Africa has commercial GM products in the market. Several other countries—notably Egypt, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Zimbabwe—have carried out or are in the process of carrying out GM field trials. Many other countries support the technology and it is encouraging that several are involved in research at laboratory or greenhouse stages. South Africa has had a GMO Act since 1997, which however, is currently undergoing review, to bring it in line with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, following the country’s ratification of the treaty. Other countries are still drafting their national legislation, or are just through the drafting process, awaiting enactment by their national parliaments. The largest initiative for biosafety capacity building in Africa is the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Facility (UNEP/GEF), which has been operational since 1997. The program is also involved in helping African countries prepare and operationalize national bio-safety frameworks (NBFs). It has recently focused on facilitating developing countries’ access and post data to the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). The AU has also developed the Biosafety Project based on the analysis of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety adopted in January 2000; the AU’s main focus is capacity building in African countries. The AU has also been helping member countries draft their national legislation and is in the process of developing a strategic framework to guide member states and the region in the development, handling and use of modern biotechnology.

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The ABS Project mid-term report


Cognizant of the existing challenges, the ABS Project put together a full-fledged Regulatory and Biosafety initiative to ensure that the regulated Project activities conform to the national and international regulations, protocols or laws governing GM crops and their products. This initiative is responsible for the development of safety guidelines and core-related activities that include: gene flow studies, toxicity tests, allergenicity tests, non-target studies (ecotoxicology), bio-availability analysis, digestibility assays and compositional analysis for promising transgenic events generated by the technology development group. The Regulatory and Biosafety initiative also provides leadership for permit application dossiers for those elite events for import, contained greenhouse, confined field and largescale field experimentations as well as other uses by the product development group. The Regulatory and Biosafety team is responsible for gathering regulatory data requirements, training Project personnel in regulatory and biosafety issues and providing oversight to the other ABS programs thereby contributing directly to the Public Acceptance and Communication (PAC) strategy. Capacity Building: In the early phase of the Project, the Regulatory and Biosafety team focused on internal capacity building with an emphasis on the development of a comprehensive work plan for the biosafety activities of the entire ABS Project. The second phase of training at Pioneer focused on the development of ABS regulatory data packages.

(i) Indications about gene flow with ABS A gene is the fundamental unit of heredity that carries genetic information particular to an organism. Gene flow can be defined as the movement and incorporation of genes from the gene pool of one population to the gene pool of another population. In agriculture, it can occur through transfer of pollen between plants, transfer of seeds from one location to another or through certain microbes and bacteria. Gene flow is a critical issue in biotechnology that is often misunderstood. It is not the movement of genes that is of concern. It is the effect of merging of the transferred genes into the new gene pool that merits attention as it can lead to profound effects on the genetic structure of populations.

[L to R] Francis Nangayo, Regulatory expert from AATF, Sivramiah Shantharum, Biosafety consultant and Dr James Okeno, Regulatory Affairs Manager from Africa Harvest in consultation over biosafety and biotech regulation issues.

“

Cognizant of the existing challenges, the ABS Project put together a full-fledged Regulatory and Biosafety initiative to ensure that the regulated Project activities conform to the national and international regulations, protocols or laws governing GM crops and their products.

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Project highlights: Regulatory and biosafety initiatives

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“

The effect of both movement and incorporation of genes is of significance in understanding gene flow. In Mexico, Teosinte, the original form of maize, still exists in the wild. It has adopted other genes from newer varieties of maize and other grasses that have enabled it to survive to these modern times. However, the adopted genes have not changed most of the unique characteristics that make it Teosinte.

Gene flow is a

critical issue in biotechnology that is often

misunderstood.

The effect of geneflow can be advantageous or disadvantageous to other crops and related species or human beings, animals or the environment. It is of greater significance in biotechnology as the artificial handling of genes can be detrimental if not managed appropriately. This is an important issue within the ABS Project, whose goal is to develop a transgenic sorghum for Africa using biotechnology as conventional technologies are unable to develop the product that is required.

It is not the movement of genes that is of concern. It is the effect of merging of the transferred genes into the new gene pool that merits attention

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The ABS Project is committed to comply with biosafety regulations and legislation of the African countries where it operates. The Project is committed to work with national and regional biosafety institutions and structures, to align with agricultural and biotechnology policies. These policies determine how countries will engage in biotech research, and expected achievements using the technology, avoiding adverse effects to human beings and the environment. Gene flow from cultivated to wild and feral sorghums through pollen is well documented in the United States of America and South Africa. Several studies have shown that pollenmediated gene flow between sorghum plants occurs in around 15% of cultivated sorghum and up to 30% of wild sorghum species. Although the majority of pollen falls within a few metres of its origin, a small proportion can become airborne and an even smaller proportions could be carried for long distances by wind. However, the potential of airborne pollen to cross-pollinate another plant over long distances is remote as the pollen is only viable for a short period of time. Gene flow in sorghum has not been extensively studied; before the development of transgenic sorghum, the ABS Project has been carrying out studies with non GMsorghum. The project’s assumption is that gene-flow; the greater interest is what impact The Mathenge family value sorghum as a food security crop against frequent droughts and dry weather.

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The ABS Project mid-term report


the gene-flow will have on progeny or recipient plants. Since all, but one, of the genes being used by the ABS Project are from plant sources, well studied and proven to be safe, the assumption is that ABS sorghum will also be safe to human beings, animals and the environment. Also, since plant sources are part of the ecosystem and food system, the expression and interactions of their genes in the ABS product are likely to be familiar and predictable. The non-plant gene is from a common bacterium and has been successfully used in other approved transgenic crops.

The genes used by the ABS Project are for the improvement of nutritional—not agronomic— traits. This is important because in the likely event of gene flow, the likely scenario would be for the wild and feral sorghum populations to have increased vitamins and mineral levels without affecting the relative competitive advantages of the populations. The Project is confident that it is unlikely that the improved nutrition genes would harm or negatively affect the environment or human beings.

The ABS Project preliminary field survey in Kenya shows that farmers are aware of gene flow issues and that the ABS Project can adapt and learn from their strategies to mitigate negative impact of gene flow.

The ABS Project preliminary field survey (M Mgonja, et al, 2007) in Kenya was undertaken to understand the biophysical, socio-economic and cultural factors influencing seed and pollen-mediated gene flow in sorghum. The survey sampled farmers and households in villages in five districts in Eastern and Western Kenya. It revealed that local farmers had observed wild and weed-like sorghums within their locality with as high as 96% of farmers in one district. Also, most farmers understood that the appearance of wild sorghum (hence gene flow) is caused by poor selection of seeds and cross pollination with neighbouring sorghum plant varieties. The survey also revealed that nearly all the farmers select seed before planting as a method to maintain the purity of preferred sorghum varieties. However, they used a variety of other methods such as farmers planting at different times, separation of sorghum fields and removal of panicle or whole weeds and feral plants before maturity . The survey shows that farmers are aware of gene flow issues and that the ABS Project can adapt and learn from their strategies to mitigate negative impact of gene flow.

Photo courtesy Mary Mgonja, ICRISAT

Nico Mailula, a sorghum researcher, examines a wild weedy sorghum at the Limpopo University Farm, Polokwane, South Africa.

Project highlights: Regulatory and biosafety initiatives

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Project highlights and accomplishments

4D: Public Acceptance and Communication

Dr Florence Wambugu, ABS Project Coordinator attends training workshop of media journalists from SADC countries.

Knowledge and information are essential for development for people to respond appropriately to the opportunities and challenges of social, economic and technological changes. No one can benefit from what they do not know; to improve agricultural productivity, food security and rural livelihoods, development partners face, not only the challenge of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, but the underlying challenge of ignorance. The PAC team’s goal is to create an enabling environment for all the partners for timely project implementation and product development success. The PAC achieves this goal through communicating sound science, transparency and dialogue with different stakeholders, ensuring message consistency, PAC also supports biosafety efforts communicating consistently demonstrated safety and communicating effectively to and with the intended beneficiaries, policy makers, traders, farmers and consumers. The ABS Project is a high-profile enterprise that tries to achieve several unprecedented goals in biotechnology and in technology deployment in the developing Africa. It tries to develop a complex technological solution to a high-priority public health and food security need in the African and the developing world. The Project is working mainly with public research and development institutions, mostly from Africa, in a field that is highly regulated, and using a technology that is subject to constant attack by opponents of biotechnology. ABS is a landmark project unprecedented in Africa and face several pioneering challenges and opportunities. The Project has to look for innovative solutions to all the issues that arise and will continue to emerge. The PAC strives to satisfy the diverse needs and constraints of the different collaborating institutions, while still creating a coherent, consistent and effective basis for communicating around the project. The PAC strategy recognizes that the ABS is a pioneering project; as such, the strategy is designed to help shape the enabling environment in which the Project will be positioned. The early issues

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The ABS Project mid-term report


“

The PAC strategy recognizes that the ABS is a pioneering project; as such, the strategy is designed to help shape the enabling environment in which the Project will be positioned. The early issues faced by the Project have demonstrated how its mere presence can generate policy debate across many countries...

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faced by the Project have demonstrated how its mere presence can generate policy debate across many countries and bring about changes that will affect biotechnology well beyond the outcomes of this Project. Policy does not develop in a vacuum, and therefore PAC is facilitating policy debate and influencing the overall biotechnology industrial development in Africa. At the same time, this situation creates an opportunity for the ABS Project to help define the rules by which GM projects in the region will be assessed and managed. It is intended and expected that active participation in the policy and acceptance debate will create a positive environment for the development and deployment, not only of ABS products but of GM crops in general. Among other things, the PAC team has accomplished the following: The PAC White Paper: This a strategic document that attempts to highlight the strategic thrusts that will facilitate the positioning of the Project for maximum acceptance, creating an enabling environment for the Project, building inter-consortium communication capacity, identifying the different audiences that have a stake in the Project and designing messages appropriate to them, pegging communication language to the type of audience, influencing the policy environment, identifying potential allies, and creating coherence and consistency, all for the benefit of the Project. This document is a blueprint on how to identify drivers of ABS acceptance and the mode of designing, packaging and transmitting the messages to target audiences with maximum positive project impact. Survey on the public perceptions of biotechnology and GM crops: During the period under review, a Kenya Biotech Public Perceptions Survey was undertaken. This was a quantitative survey consisting of a sample size of 2,500 adult (aged 18+) respondents, making it one of the most comprehensive Surveys on public perceptions on biotechnology

Some publications produced by the Public Acceptance and Communication team.

Interview and video recording of ABS Leadership.

Project highlights: Public Acceptance and Communication

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Press briefing at the ABS Open Day. [L to R] Dr James Onsando, ABS Project Manager; Dr Florence Wambugu, ABS Project Coordinator; Dr Shadrack Moepuli, ARC President; Dr Paul Anderson, ABS Project Investigator; Dr Gatsha Mazithulela, Executive Advisory Board member; Dr Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju, Group Executive, ARC.

in Kenya. A qualitative survey undertaken simultaneously consisted of interviews with 40 Kenyan opinion leaders in the areas of science, media, religion and policy. The goal of the survey was to help the ABS Project align project implementation to the actual imperatives on the ground. Some highlights of the survey included: • Credible third-party institutions: The Kenyan public regard KARI and national universities as the most credible voices on scientific issues. Working with KARI is therefore a positive move for the ABS Project; • Most effective media: If the objective is to reach policy makers and scientists, the print media and television are effective tools of communication. The radio is the most effective medium to reach farmers and other grassroot communities; • Perceptions on GM food: Majority of Kenyans do not place a high value on whether the food served on their tables is GM or not. For them it is more important that the food is there and delivers nutrients. This clearly shows that the ABS Project could easily gain public acceptance if the product benefits are well articulated. Issues management: The PAC strategy has identified sensitive and critical areas for proactive communication and education of the relevant audiences so that they can make informed and balanced decisions. ABS Project publicity material: The Project publicity material, in the form of brochures, have been written in English and in French, for the consumption of French-speaking project partners. Identification of key communication messages: Key communication messages meant to help the Project to remain focused on the strategic thrusts have been identified. Dr James Onsando, ABS Project Manager at the ABS exhibition stand during the Bio2Biz Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

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The ABS Project mid-term report


Project highlights and accomplishments

4E: Intellectual property management

Richard Boadi (left), Legal Council, and Jacob Mignouna (right), Technical Operations Manager at AATF lead the Intellectual Property Management Group for the Project.

The Intellectual Property Management initiative is under the leadership of the AATF. This program has the mandate to manage and audit the intellectual properties of the ABS Project with the objective to determine whether they have Freedom to Operate (FTO), and hence meet the Global Access Strategy (GAS) objective. The program is also responsible for updating the technologies and where applicable, assessing the suitability for patenting some of the new ones developed by the Project for public good. Among the key accomplishments of the IP Management team are the auditing of all the Project’s IP and the conclusion that there are no compliance issues. An updated list of IP and technologies being used in the Project was prepared and furnished to Africa Harvest. The FTO assessment for the Project was completed, and a draft report submitted to the Project Steering Committee during 2007, the period under review. The FTO report confirms that there are no major obstacles to the freedom to develop and use transgenic sorghum in Africa and that the ABS Project may be executed and the resulting transgenic sorghum used in the 16 countries of African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) (Botswana, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), the 16 countries of the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo), and Nigeria without infringing the IP rights of third parties.

The FTO report confirms that there are no major obstacles to the freedom to develop and use transgenic sorghum in Africa and that the ABS Project may be executed and the resulting transgenic sorghum used in the ARIPO and the OAPI countries, and Nigeria, without infringing the IP rights of third parties

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Project highlights and accomplishments

4F: Project management and coordination

Some members fo the Product Development group in the ABS Project. [L to R] Dr Yilma Kebede, DuPont; Charlotte Mienie, ARC; Clement Karari, KARI; Dr Kingstone Mashingaidze, ARC; Dr Mary Mgonja, ICRISAT; Dr Stephen Githiri, ICRISAT; Nemera Shargie, ARC.

Africa Harvest is the ABS primary grantee and is held accountable for the general leadership and management of the Project, including disbursement of funds and monitoring of activities over the rest of the consortium members. Overall leadership and accountability

The project leadership is provided by the Project Steering Committee (PSC), whose responsibility it is to provide vision, general oversight and direction to the Project. It is composed of the Project Coordinator, Principal Investigator and a Committee Member. The Project Coordinator is the Chairperson of the PSC. The Principal Investigator (PI) is also a member of the PSC and has the responsibility over the entire Project implementation with a focus on technology development. The Committee Member, who is a member of the PSC, comes from CSIR. The CSIR plays the role of technology recipients with a focus on product development and enabling environment parts of the Project. The PSC is the project clearing house and has the mandate to oversee operations but even more importantly, to develop and execute the ABS strategic thrusts. It sets the agenda for technology development, product development and enabling environment; monitors project stewardship, approves project milestone delivery, milestone re-negotiations, budget disbursements, training needs, patent filing as well as enforcement of all the grant conditions and the project policy. The PSC holds two face-to-face meetings a year, and several tele-conferences.

“

The project leadership is provided by the Project Steering Committee (PSC), whose responsibility it is to provide vision, general oversight and direction to the Project.

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The ABS Project mid-term report

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Project implementation is achieved through several task-oriented committees which address various functional aspects of the Project. These include the PSC , the External Advisory Board (EAB), the Intellectual Property Management Group (IPMG) and the Team Leaders Management Group (TLMG). Operational aspects of the Project

A full time Project Manager is positioned at Africa Harvest. This position is responsible for the day-to-day project operations, management, monitoring and evaluation, facilitation of meetings, writing of reports and archiving the documentation for audits and posterity, and general enhancement of the inter-consortium synergies for the benefit of project delivery. Financial management

By virtue of being the primary grantee, the responsibility of the project finance management is vested with Africa Harvest. The Director, Finance and Business Development at Africa Harvest has the functional responsibility for finances of the Project. This position has the responsibility to ensure that all consortium members comply with the terms and conditions of the grant, monitor expenditure and ensure that expenditure is according to the budget and manage the project financial audit process. Project inter-institutional agreements

As the primary grantee, AHBFI manages all the agreements related to the Project with the consortium members and contractual partners. This is to ensure that all institutional players comply with the stipulated terms and conditions of the grant. Among the principle conditions is the adherence by all institutions to the Global Access Strategy and Charitable Objectives. The External Advisory Board

The EAB consists of independent world-class experts from relevant disciplines represented in the project agenda and appointed by the PSC after consultation with key consortium members. The Board holds one meeting a year after attending the end of the year project planning workshop, which gives them an opportunity to review progress made and enables them to be in a position to give their advice accordingly. Their advice is given verbally at the workshop and a written report is sent by the chairman of the EAB to the PSC, which then evaluates the report and provides feedback to the EAB. The functional areas of expertise represented by the EAB include agri-biotechnology, biodiversity, nutrition, bio-safety, plant breeding, agricultural economics and public acceptance and communication. ABS Leadership. [L to R] James Onsando, Project Manager, Rachel Chikwamba, Steering Committee Member, Florence Wambugu, Project Coordinator, Paul Anderson, Project Investigator.

Project highlights: Project management and coordination

31


ABS Project Gains from External Advisory Board Inputs The External Advisory Board (EAB) of the ABS Project is an independent advisory body of world class experts in a variety of disciplines including agricultural economics, sorghum breeding, human nutrition, agricultural research, product deployment, biosafety and regulatory affairs. This Board attends project planning meetings once a year to listen to and critique progress reports and presentations. In accordance with the ABS governance structure, the feedback is reported to the Project Steering Committee who review it, respond and act on the stipulated provisions. The Board provides valuable feedback upon review of the project. This feedback is vital in ensuring that the project adheres to its vision, mission and goals. The feedback also helps the project stay on track to deliver its stated objectives, govern in a responsible and effective manner, remain relevant in the dynamic environment in which it operates and be adaptable to external factors that impact it. The EAB convened during the 5th ABS Planning Meeting in August 2007. In its report, the Board was impressed with the progress made with the transformation work on the four intended nutritional traits: protein quality, protein digestibility, mineral availability and vitamin content.

Concerning protein quality, lysine had increased by over 100% compared with the control sorghum. Other proteins such as threonine and tryptophan had significantly increased. Also, new approaches had been developed to address protein digestibility. They are being combined with nutritional enhancement to optimize nutrient absorption by the body. Improved bioavailability of iron and zinc had been achieved through significant reduction of phytic acid in the seed. Work is progressing on increasing levels of vitamin content and indications are promising. The Board noted that coordination between organizations leading technology development (CSIR, Pioneer, UC Berkeley) had improved significantly, thereby harnessing comparative advantages. Also, interdisciplinary communication among consortium members had improved and Public Acceptance and Communications were being handled more efficiently. The use of various media platforms—such as the internet, intranets and newsletters—had helped standardize messages across the consortium and improved the volume and flow of information. With external audiences, information channels have been developed and messages customized to communicate effectively with smaller groups of audiences rather than mass communication.

Lysine has increased by over 100% compared with the control sorghum

” ABS Leadership and External Advisory Board. [L to R] Gebisa Ejeta, former Board member, Purdue University, Matin Qaim, University of Goettingen, Ephraim Mukisira, KARI, Harold Roy-Macauley, CORAF, Florence Wambugu, Africa Harvest, Steve Daugherty, DuPont, Rod Townsend, DuPont, Rachel Chikwamba, CSIR, Gatsha Mazithulela, CSIR, Paul Anderson, Pioneer.

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The ABS Project mid-term report


The Board said group cohesion and dynamics have improved as individuals have met and worked together at group and team meetings and ABS functions. Also, increased use of teleconferencing has enabled groups to work effectively and efficiently over great distances. Consultants’ training to build biosafety regulatory capacity had increased experience in the regulatory affairs team. Both the Board and the Project Steering Committee had identified the need to improve the knowledge of regulatory processes. The Board expressed satisfaction that regulatory teams had improved their output and there were now better regulatory procedures relating to laboratory practices, containment, transportation of materials and permit applications. Also, through coordination with other supporting teams like Intellectual Property Management Group and PAC, the regulatory function had become more versatile and adept at handling regulatory politics. The EAB also praised the Project’s efforts in reaching out to various stakeholders. It commended the involvement of representatives from national agricultural research centers and regional and international research networks in ABS Project meetings. The ABS Project is funded alongside three other projects focusing on nutritionally enhancing banana, cassava and rice as part of Grand Challenge #9 (GC#9). The EAB noted that ABS has intensified its interactions with these projects, thus augmenting learning and exploiting synergies concerning cross-cutting issues. In particular, the project is sharing its experience, expertise and networks in building local networks and developing pathways for deployment with other GC#9 groups. Intellectual Property Management Group

The IPMG has the responsibility to audit and manage all IP rights in force in the Project to ensure that they have freedom to operate and hence meet the Global Access Strategy for charitable objectives (GAS). The committee membership is selected by the Project Steering Committee. Group leadership and management is provided by the AATF, one of the consortium members with functional expertise in this area. The group reports inventions, identification and audit of background technologies to guarantee freedom to operate, secures and allocates IP. This committee meets twice a year. Team Leaders Management Group

The TLMG is composed of consortium institutional Team Leaders. They are responsible for the project implementation and delivery on behalf of their institutions. During the project planning workshops, they are responsible for presentations on work progress for the programs they are in charge of, bottlenecks, risks and mitigation strategies. They are accountable for their programs delivery to the Steering Committee through the project manager. The group holds two meetings a year with possibilities of need-driven teleconferences. Some highlights of the achievements of the Project Management and Coordination are as below. Project coordination and management: Ensuring that all project operations and strategic thrusts move on smoothly and as planned. At the formative stage of the Project, the coordination and management programme developed the project policy manual, which clearly stipulates the dos and don’ts on all aspects of the project from genetic transformation to product deployment and stewardship. Development of policy manual: The ABS being a multi- institutional project, each institution had the tendency to operate the Project as per their own policy. It was necessary, therefore, to harmonize all these policies into a composite policy document to ensure that all concerned, operate from one page and defend the modus operandi.

Project highlights: Project management and coordination

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The policy manual attempts to document the Project dos and don’ts right from technology development, product development, regulatory affairs and biosafety, public acceptance and communication, IP management, project coordination and management including finance management and public acceptance and communication. The technology policy is centered on the safety of people and environment, management of data, best laboratory and greenhouse practices and general housekeeping issues. It therefore documents the emergency preparedness plans, biosafety containment for the green houses, policy on regulated field and greenhouse operations, reproductive containment, seed storage and movement and phytosanitory certification The regulatory/biosafety policy has been developed in such a way that it does not conflict with the national, regional and international negotiated instruments of biosafety and safe deployment transgenic products. In particular, the policy commits as far as possible, not to use the antibiotic resistance gene as a selection marker and the deployment of Genetic User Restriction Technology (GURT). The policy also commits to conducting comprehensive biosafety and food safety assessment of all its transgenic sorghum products before release to farmers and consumers. The intellectual property policy sets the agenda regarding acquisition, protection and use of IPR. In particular, the policy commits to abiding to all international laws and treaties as well as national laws in the countries of operation. The charitable objective is the major principle on which all the policies are founded, so that the IP issues can be managed with integrity, equity, responsibility and accountability. The management and coordination policies define specifically the operationalization of the governance while the finance policy clearly stipulates the rules governing expenditure of Project money. Reports: The Program developed all the negotiated reports that are sent to the project funder to highlight project progress during the period under review, as also quarterly reports for internal use. Committees: All project committees such as the PSC, TLMG, IPMG and the External Advisory Committee have functioned as planned with very encouraging results. Other progress includes: • The coordination between organizations doing transformation work (CSIR, Pioneer and U C Berkeley) has improved significantly and the comparative advantages are now better harnessed. • Representation of the national agricultural research institutes in the Project has improved, and this is viewed positively.

[L to R]: Willy De Greef, President, EuropaBio, Anton Nebe, Manufacturing Executive at Tiger Brands and Maretha O’Kennedy, Research Scientist at CSIR sharing a moment at the ABS Open Day in Tshwane, South Africa.

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The ABS Project mid-term report


The regulatory/biosafety policy also commits to conducting comprehensive biosafety and food safety assessment of all its transgenic sorghum products before release to farmers and consumers.

• Discussions with regional and international sorghum networks such as International Sorghum and Millet Collaborative Research Support Program (INTSORMIL) have deepened and the ABS is encouraged to involve the networks even more. • Inter-disciplinary communication among consortium members has further improved, owing to the regular meetings and teleconferences. • Communication matters are handled very professionally. • The biosafety/regulatory capacity of the ABS Project has improved through more experience, specific training efforts and involvement of external consultants. • The PSC has held 18 meetings, six of which were face-to-face and the rest telephonically. Important strategic decisions have been taken that have assisted to drive the Project forward. Outreach activities

In an effort to prepare for the project domestication and anchorage in several African countries, the management and coordination team embarked on a series of outreach activities to these countries. The visits were undertaken by Dr Florence Wambugu, Project Coordinator; Dr. James Onsando, Project Manager; Mr. Daniel Kamanga, Director, Public Acceptance and Communication; and Dr. James Okeno, Regulatory Manager. In each of the countries, contacts were established with government officials in the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, national biosafety committees, national agricultural research stations and biotechnology institutes. Planning workshops

For the last two and half years, a total of six planning workshops have been held in Iowa, USA; Pretoria South Africa; and Nairobi, Kenya. These meetings are held mainly to project review progress, but the focus is increasingly moving towards break-away sessions by functional teams to plan, strategize, identify risks and come up with mitigation actions. During the second planning meeting of the year, members of the External Advisory Board review progress made and gave their feedback on areas where the Project is doing well and areas that require different approaches to enhance progress. The meetings are also used to foster team building, to understand the ABS Project dynamics, to understand the dynamics of project monitoring, evaluation and feedback, networking and forward planning.

Melinda Gates receiving a gift from Dr Florence Wambugu during the Grand Challenge in Global Health meeting in Seattle, USA

Project highlights: Project management and coordination

35


5. Challenges and lessons learnt

A mother prepares a sorghum meal for her children, Nyanza, Kenya.

Like all projects of the scale and complexity of the ABS, there are always challenges. Most of the challenges were anticipated, and therefore, through the robust ABS issues management strategy, most of these did not run their full course, i.e., they were forestalled. Those that went full course, impacting negatively on the Project are given below. • The permit for bio-containment greenhouse work with transgenic sorghum ABS 1, was conditionally denied by the South African Bio-safety/Regulatory authorities. This has slowed down the product development at the ARC and CSIR. Particularly affected is opportunity to increase GM-sorghum seeds in ARC for food technology studies and the backcrossing program at the ARC. CSIR has re-applied for the permit and a decision is yet to be made. • The project monitoring and evaluation had to include a new dimension of project audit and ‘ground truthing’. This approach has changed the whole concept of project delivery, whereby every accomplishment is supported by a report, a signed approval by the PSC, a set of minutes supporting the delivery and Terms of reference (TOR) document for collaborative or outsourced initiatives. • Developing a comprehensive sorghum biology document that covers all the aspects of regulatory information, physiology and agronomy, cytogenetics, seed biology and seed systems have been a challenge as we could not find one consultant with all the expertise. A biodiversity consultant put together the regulatory information document, meeting the relevant milestones, but the need to find experts for the remaining parts still remains.

Lessons Learnt • Need for early negotiations to avoid delays in securing required technologies. • Need to engage more than one national institution and diversifying countries of interest for green house and field studies. • The need to dialogue with biosafety communities in advance before permit application because regulatory and biosafety assessment involved both technical and other social political issues that are not included in the permit application that needed to be explained. • Need for issues management strategy to stay prepared for on all key issues, especially on biosafety and regulatory issues.

36

The ABS Project mid-term report


Acronyms and abbreviations AATF

African Agricultural Technology Foundation

ABS

Africa Biofortified Sorghum

AGRA

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

AHBFI

Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International

ARC

Agricultural Research Council of South Africa

ARIPO

African Regional Intellectual Property Organization

AU

African Union

BCH

Biosafety Clearing House

BMGF

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

CSIR

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

EAB

External Advisory Board

FTO

freedom to operate

GAS

Global Access Strategy for charitable objectives

GEF

Global Environment Facility

GURT

Genetic User Restriction

ICRISAT

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

INTSORMIL

International Sorghum and Millet Collaborative Research Support Program

IP

Intellectual Property

IPCC

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPMG

Intellectual Property Management Group

KARI

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute

MDGs

Millennium Development Goals

NBFs

national bio-safety frameworks

NCDs

non-communicable diseases

OAPI

Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle

PAC

Public Acceptance and Communication

PI

Principal Investigator

PSC

Project Steering Committee

SOPs

standard operating procedures

TB

tuberculosis

TLMG

Team Leaders Management Group

UC Berkeley

University of California Berkeley

UP

University of Pretoria

UNEP

United Nations Environment Programme/

37


38

The ABS Project mid-term report


w w w. a h b f i . o r g

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Agricultural Research Council of South Africa

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

University of California, Berkeley

Only a small portion of medical research today focuses on the health problems that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people. The Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH) initiative is an effort to address this imbalance by identifying the most critical scientific challenges in global health and directing funds to solve them. Funded under the GCGH, the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc.

For more details: www.supersorghum.org

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project  

A global vision with an African focus to fight poor nutrition with nutrient-rich crops

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