Maize Trade Disruption Could Have Global Ramifications

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Significant stresses in these areas could jeopardize food security

New research on the global maize (corn) trade suggests that any disruptions to U.S. exports could pose food security risks for many U.S. trade partners due to the lack of trade among other producing and importing nations. The study, while not primarily focused on plant disease, population growth, climate change or the diversion of corn to non-food uses such as ethanol, suggests that significant stresses in these areas could jeopardize food security. This is particularly true of nations like Mexico, Japan and the Republic of Korea that have yet to diversify their sources.

Maize is at the center of global food security as increasing demands for meat, fuel uses, and cereal crop demands increase the grain’s pivotal importance in diets worldwide. It is used as a basic raw material in producing starch, oil, protein, alcohol, food sweeteners and as a dietary staple. Disruptions in any one major exporter’s supplies could lead to price shocks. The centrality of maize means that it would become a critical food security risk if major exporters experience disruptions due to non-food diversions, plant diseases and climate impacts, according to the article.

The researchers studied trade patterns from 2000-2009 and determined that the U.S. is by far the largest exporter, exporting four times as much maize as Argentina, the next largest exporter. Drs. Felicia Wu of Michigan State University and Hasan Guclu of the University of Pittsburgh use network models — essentially, food trade maps — to track the movement of maize in their article “Global Maize Trade and Food Security: Implications from a Social Network Model.” The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the article was recently published electronically in the journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

The researchers based their work on United Nations Commodity Trade data and developed a social network model of maize exports and imports to study how “clustering” in trade patterns may affect food security. The clustering shows that nations generally do not trade broadly worldwide. Nations that import maize primarily from only one other nation may be vulnerable to any changes in their exporters’ ability to produce and ship maize. “These statistics show that the vast majority of nations are exporting to or importing from only one or a small number of nations,” they conclude. They also note that Japan is the largest importer by far, while other nations such as Taiwan and Egypt have more broadly diversified their sources of maize, thereby reducing their vulnerability to export disruptions.

The researchers are careful to point out that their work is descriptive and cannot predict what risks will actually be or if they might lead to disruptions.

Read more . . .

via Society for Risk Analysis & Newswise
 

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Cambridge-based scientists develop ‘superwheat’

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British scientists say they have developed a new type of wheat which could increase productivity by 30%.

The Cambridge-based National Institute of Agricultural Botany has combined an ancient ancestor of wheat with a modern variety to produce a new strain.

In early trials, the resulting crop seemed bigger and stronger than the current modern wheat varieties.

It will take at least five years of tests and regulatory approval before it is harvested by farmers.

Some farmers, however, are urging new initiatives between the food industry, scientists and government.

They believe the regulatory process needs to be speeded up to ensure that the global food security demands of the next few decades can be met, says the BBC’s Tom Heap.

Primitive grains

One in five of all the calories consumed round the world come from wheat.

But despite steady improvement in the late 20th century, the last 15 years have seen little growth in the average wheat harvest from each acre in Britain.

Just last month, cereal maker Weetabix announced that it would have to scale back production of some of its products due to a poor wheat harvest in the UK.

Read more . . .

via BBC
 

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Verifying that sorghum is a new safe grain for people with celiac disease

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Strong new biochemical evidence exists showing that the cereal grain sorghum is a safe food for people with celiac disease, who must avoid wheat and certain other grains, scientists are reporting.

Their study, which includes molecular evidence that sorghum lacks the proteins toxic to people with celiac disease, appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Paola Pontieri and colleagues explain that those gluten proteins, present in wheat and barley, trigger an immune reaction in people with celiac disease that can cause abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation, diarrhea and other symptoms. The only treatment is lifelong avoidance of gluten. Sorghum, they note, has emerged as an alternative grain for people with celiac disease. In Western countries, sorghum traditionally has been an animal feed. But in Africa and India, it long has been a food for people. Recently, U.S. farmers have begun producing sorghum hybrids that are a white grain, known as “food-grade” sorghum. The researchers set out to make a detailed molecular determination of whether sorghum contains those toxic gluten proteins.

They describe evidence from an analysis of the recently published sorghum genome, the complete set of genes in the plant, and other sources, that verify the absence of gluten proteins. The authors also report that sorghum has high nutritional value. “Food-grade sorghums should be considered as an important option for all people, especially celiac patients,” the report concluded.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Regione Campania, the Istituto Banco di Napoli – Fondazione and the Compagnia di San Paolo.

via American Chemical Society
 

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Breakthroughs in agriculture research on insect pest management

These breakthroughs hold a lot of significance for Nigerian agriculture

Insect pests have been a perennial concern in agriculture because of the devastating effects they have on crops: eating the leaves, making crops susceptible to diseases, destroying crops, reducing crop yield, etc. This has led to the proliferation of pesticides, especially chemical pesticides.

And then, as this status quo proliferated, a consort of scientists at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Lancaster University and the Tanzanian company, Eco Agri Consult, made a startling discovery: a particular species of insect pests, African armyworms, can be decimated by a bacterium called Wolbachia, which can thus serve as a biopesticide.

How? Before this discovery and the light bulb that lit it, these worms had been thriving on farms with impunity by feeding on cereal crops like rice, millet, wheat, and maize. When their population was high on the farm, the farm losses were correspondingly high and difficult to reduce through chemical pesticides.

However, intensive research into the armyworms revealed that some of them carry – or can be made to carry – in their system the Wolbachia bacterium which, while protecting other insects from harmful viruses, actually makes the armyworm susceptible to the virus. In fact, armyworms were 6-14 times more susceptible to the virus than other insects.

In thus infecting and subsequently killing the armyworm, one virus, the Spex NPV, is at once of great benefit to many cereal farms. The icing on the cake is the fact that other beneficial insects, farm crops, livestock and human beings are spared from its wrath. Furthermore, this virus is easy and inexpensive to produce or procure locally. This discovery is thus a global breakthrough for farmers who have been plagued by the menace of armyworms.

In related agri-tech news, two US-based companies, Spensa Technologies Inc. and Allegro Dynamics LLC, have just, respectively, designed and developed an online application – MyTraps.com. This application will enable farmers and other stakeholders to track the number of insect pests on their farmlands in order to effectively use insecticides and pesticides and therefore control crop damage. This is done through Excel spreadsheets into which the insect data (location, number, type, life cycle, effects) and corresponding pesticide records are keyed in, reviewed, and updated in order to give the farmers the most accurate piece of information. Because MyTraps.com can be used for any and all types of crop, it is especially important to all present and prospective subscribers. What’s more, because of the way the data is managed, farmers can also anticipate conditions for future seasons and thus tailor their pesticide treatment accordingly.

Spensa is also responsible for another emerging application on the US market –  the Z-trap – which collects data on certain insects and, through wireless messaging on the farmer’s phone or computer, reports directly to him/her on the number of target insects detected. The importance of insect management programmes was emphasised by Spensa Technologies president/CEO, who described them as fundamental for agribusiness and responsible for a substantial percentage of losses for US farmers. “Reducing insecticide use not only reduces the cost to the growers, it reduces the amount of chemicals that are released in the environment,” he added. Furthermore, through aerial photography, insect data are placed over images of the farmland (corresponding to their location on the land) to enable farmers get an accurate understanding of the situation on their farms.

Read more . . .

via BusinessDay
 

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