How African Indigenous Vegetables production in Uganda revealed empowered women but struggles in the private sector


African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals including micro-nutrients, supplementary protein, fibre, and calories. However, despite their nutritional value, these vegetables have not been a high priority in food programmes. As a result, adequate resources have historically not been allocated to promote their production and consumption. This compounds the issue of hidden hunger – a lack of vitamins and minerals that often has no visible signs – in Africa.

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The seed of its own destruction? Seedborne diseases and the seed trade

SeedsIn 1989, farmers in Florida, Indiana and South Carolina began noticing a disease that was rapidly spreading through their watermelon crops1. Large, dark lesions and bruises appeared on the fruit and leaves exhibited brown discolouration; all that remained of severely infected fruit was a pulpy, inedible mess. In damp conditions the disease proliferated quickly and in some areas 100% of crops were destroyed. Economic costs have been difficult to estimate, but the damage wrought to farmers across significant parts of the US was devastating. The disease – named bacterial fruit blotch – was caused by the seedborne bacterium Acidovorax citrulli.

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Biofuels: a public health hazard?

Jatropha curcas

Jatropha curcas, image courtesy of Biofuels Information Exchange

It has come to my attention that Jatropha curcas (physic nut or purging nut) is being pushed in India as a biofuel crop (for oil) and that there is now an emerging public health problem there due to accidental poisoning of children.

An Indian member of the listserv HIFA2015 to which I belong, Pankaj Oudhia, reported increased hospitalisations of children across the nation during the Jatropha fruiting season in 2010. The seeds are tasty but it only takes 3 or 4 seeds and you end up in hospital.  Five children died. Cultivated in fields as the biofuel crop, he also reported it was deliberately planted in schools. 

Here at CABI, our scientists, projects and information specialists have much to offer on the topic of biofuels and in 2008 we launched the Biofuels Information Exchange. So I went straight there to see if they had discussed Jatropha in their Forum, which they had (see “Is jatropha really the 'miracle' biofuel crop that some profess it to be?” from Carole Ellison).

AS a biofuel crop its in its infancy and has many downsides, not least on food security & the fact that you can’t use the husks for feed.  One of the reasons it was even considered was that as a weed (originating in South America) it was thought likely to be easy & cheap to cultivate. Turns out to make it productive you do have to go heavy on the fertiliser (expensive) and it also can harbour a mosaic virus. Only in passing was it pointed out that the seeds were poisonous and then only with reference to its use for animal feed.

One of the issues raised in this HIFA2015 communication was the lack of knowledge in the local communities about the poisonous nature of the seeds, so that parents could not forewarn their children.  And obviously the authorities had no idea otherwise they’d not have planted them in schools!

Definitely a lack of communication between botanists, agriculturalists, governments and medics when it comes to people’s health.

Let’s not get complacent here in Europe. WE all need reminding which plants are poisonous or irritating in gardens and in the hedgerows. Then we should tell children not to eat or touch them. Just because a bird is eating a juicy red berry does not make it edible for humans or even your pet dog.

Knowing a traditional name helps even us….deadly nightshade is a dead give-away isn’t it?

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Express Yourself Genetically: Say It With Flowers


Is it a plant or is it animal? Is it an artwork or is it a science project? Is it a profound statement or just messing about? These are just some of the questions unlikely to be answered by Edunia, a transgenic flower with artist Eduardo Kac's own DNA expressed in the red veins.  It is part of an exhibition "Natural History of the Enigma" at the  Weisman Art Museum, in Minneapolis.

The Edunia has red veins on light pink petals and a gene of the artist is expressed on every cell of its red veins, i.e., Kac's gene produces a protein in the veins only. The gene was isolated and sequenced from Kac's blood. Kac sees the petal pink background, against which the red veins are seen, as evocative of his own pinkish white skin tone. The result of this molecular manipulation is a bloom that creates the living image of human blood rushing through the veins of a flower. The gene Kac selected is responsible for the identification of foreign bodies. In this work, it is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that the artist integrates into the other, thus creating a new kind of self that is partially flower and partially human. Molecular biologist Neil Olszewski at the University of Minnesota collaborated with Kac on the project.

In 2002 Kac exhibited ‘Alba’, a transgenic albino rabbit: She contains a jellyfish gene that makes her glow green when illuminated with the correct light. Alba was created by French scientists who injected green fluorescent protein (GFP) of a Pacific Northwest jellyfish into the fertilized egg of an albino rabbit. This was not the first transgenic GFP animal, but probably the first to grace an art gallery.

Kac says "Natural History of the Enigma" is a reflection on the "contiguity of life between different species. It uses the redness of blood and the redness of the plant's veins as a marker of our shared heritage in the wider spectrum of life."

In anticipation of a future in which Edunias can be distributed socially and planted everywhere, Kac created a set of "Edunia Seed Packs", which are included in the exhibition. The "Edunia Seed Packs" contain actual Edunia seeds and are part of the permanent collection of the Weisman Art Museum.

George Gessert, another genetic artist, points out that this is the continuation of a trend, with Edward Steichen exhibiting hybrid delphiniums at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. More recently, Suzanne Ankers made sculptures of chromosomes and Dave Powell has bred  "artcats" specifically for exhibition in galleries.

Those negatively disposed to transgenic organisms are likely to see this as further evidence of scientists fiddling about with things that they shouldn't for no good reason. Others may see it as artists just finding another medium to work with - the DNA of living organisms. So expect to find pipettes and Petri dishes alongside the paintbrushes in your local art shop.

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