Kenyan Banks on Boom Spree

Published on 29th April 2008

Two leading Kenyan banks, Equity and KCB bank are on a profit-making spree in the first quarter of this year although experts expected them to incur losses due to the post-election violence that paralyzed business in most parts of the country. The bank officials attribute the profits to new information technology systems, which have lowered operation costs. Equity bank posted an operating income of 89 percent while KCB posted 62 percent within the first quarter of 2008. The performance of these banks is a pointer to the growth in banking services within the East African region.

Ghanaians Advised to use Bamboo

Ghanaians have been called upon to promote the use of bamboo in place of timber in order to reduce the pressure on the nation's dwindling forest reserve. Bamboo, used in developed nations to aid in building skyscrapers, can be put to useful projects in the country. While speaking at a workshop for carpenters and furniture companies, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Land, Forestry and Mines, Mr. Andrew Adjei Yeboah said it was necessary to slow the process of deforestation and improve the bamboo industry as well.

Bio-fuel’s Hidden Hand in High Food Costs

“Apart from the rising world population, the emergence of the bio-fuels industry as a competitor for agricultural land could be blamed for the current hike in food prices,” says European Union’s ambassador to South Africa, Lodewijk Brië t. The quest for bio-fuel is driving regional economies around the world to seek new opportunities and partnerships to feed their populations. Although some countries are experiencing difficult weather conditions arising from climate change, the sudden demand for ethanol which comes from cereals has created a supply gap that has pushed food prices upwards.

First Transgenic Papaya Genome Draft

A collaboration of research institutions from the United States and China has produced the first draft of the papaya genome. The draft, which spelled more than 90 percent of the plant's gene coding sequence, is also the first for a genetically modified plant. The researchers studied 'SunUp', a transgenic variety resistant to the papaya ring spot virus. Papaya is now the fifth angiosperm to have its genome sequenced after Arabidopsis, rice, poplar and grape. The draft is expected to shed light on the evolution of flowering plants. The findings indicate that papaya took a different evolutionary path after its divergence from Arabidopsis 72 million years ago. Although the papaya genome is three times larger than that of Arabidopsis, it contains fewer genes especially those involved in disease resistance.

IFPRI Report on Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Programs in 4 Countries

The International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and national experts identified and analysed plant breeding and biotechnology programs in four developing countries: Cameroon, Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela. IFPRI examined the investments in human and financial resources and the distribution of resources among the different programs, as well as the capacity and policy development for agricultural research in the four selected countries.

The report by Jose Falck Zepeda and colleagues recommends ways to help sustain and increase the efficiency of public and private-funded plant breeding programs, while maximising the use of genetic resources. IFPRI says that policy makers, private sector breeders, and other stakeholders can use this information to prioritize investments, consider product advancement, and assess the relative magnitude of the potential risks and benefits of their investments.

FAO: Biofuel Production Could Increase Marginalisation of Women

A new study of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found that women in the rural areas may be marginalised because of limited access to the large-scale production of liquid biofuels like bioethanol and biodiesel in developing countries. The study entitled Gender and Equity Issues in Liquid Biofuels Production-Minimising the Risks to Maximize the Opportunities noted that though the biofuel plantations create employment for around 40 percent of female agricultural workers (in Latin America and the Caribbean), they are most likely to experience low wages, poor working conditions and exposure to safety hazards.

According to Yianna Lambrou, co-author of the study, women should be incorporated in bio-fuel production policies since the number of women headed households is growing, with around 40 percent of the total in Southern Africa and 35 percent in the Caribbean. Women's access to land, capital and technology must be increased since gender inequalities are likely to become more marked as women's vulnerability to hunger and poverty is further exacerbated.

Egypt Approves Bt Corn Cultivation

Egypt's Minister of Agriculture has approved the decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) and Seed Registration Committee allowing the commercialisation of a Bt corn variety. This marks the first genetically modified (GM) crop approved for domestic planting in the country. During last year's growing season, field trials were conducted and assessed. A local seed company, acting as an agent of a multi-national life science company, plans to import GM seeds for propagation and production from South Africa. The GM corn will be planted in 10 governates throughout Egypt.

Arcadia and AATF Collaborate to Develop Improved Rice Lines

Arcadia Biosciences, a Seattle based Biotechnology Company, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a non-profit organisation that aims to deliver new agricultural technologies for African farmers, have entered into a licensing agreement to use Arcadia's technologies to develop nitrogen use efficient and salt tolerant rice varieties. The rice varieties will be available royalty-free to small holder farmers. Eric Rey, CEO and President of Arcadia said that "the availability of new agricultural technologies to African farmers has historically been slow due to issues around development costs and intellectual property ownership. The partnership between Arcadia and AATF is designed to solve both of these issues."

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