Mars, Incorporated And Partners Confirm That Genome Data Of Africa's 'Orphan Crops' To Be Made Public

Announced during G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture

Apr 29, 2013, 11:00 ET from Mars, Incorporated

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Mars, Incorporated today confirmed that data being developed by the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) will be made publically available so that scientists, plant breeders and farmers can more rapidly improve the nutrition of Africa's children.

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Howard-Yana Shapiro, Mars Chief Agricultural Officer, made the statement during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in partnership with World Bank Group in Washington D.C.  Shapiro led a partnership that sequenced, assembled and annotated the cacao (cocoa) genome and made this data available on the Internet to all researchers in 2010.

The AOCC is an collaboration led by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), Life Technologies, the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations and companies, including Mars, Incorporated.

Officially launched at the Clinton Global Initiative meetings in 2011, the AOCC is an effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa's most important food crops. The consortium's goal is to help eliminate stunting in Africa's rural children and improve the livelihoods of 600 million African farmers. Stunting, short stature for age and incomplete neurological development, is rife among the children of rural Africa.  

Shapiro commented: "Getting opportunities to grow nutritious food into the hands of those who need it most has been the ambition of the African Orphan Crops Consortium since inception. It is hugely exciting to realize that through the pursuit of fundamental science the AOCC is playing its role in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition, and Mars is proud to be a part of this effort."

Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer, The White House, commented: "Big kudos to everyone attending the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference who has committed to making their troves of data open and available to the public," said US Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. "By liberating data from the vaults of government and the private sector, we can accelerate the use of open agriculture and nutrition data to advance global food security while also fueling the growth of new businesses and jobs."

AOCC's goal is to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops that would enable higher nutritional content for society over the decades to come. The resulting information will be put into the public domain with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the intellectual property organization, Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA).

'Orphan crops' including African eggplant and potato, cocoyam and Ethiopian mustard, refer to African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers because they are not economically important on the global market. Making more widely available the genome sequences will allow African and other scientists to breed varieties of these species that are more nutritious, productive and robust.

Information generated through the AOCC will be shared with African researchers through the establishment of the African Plant Breeding Academy, which will have facilities at the World Agroforestry Center in Kenya and in West Africa at a site to be established. The academy will train 250 plant breeding scientists and 500 technicians over a five-year period to educate African plant breeders in the application of genomic information and marker assisted selection for crop improvement. The work will be translated into the production of improved seeds that will be got into the hands of the small farmers throughout Africa.

Among over 90 speakers, Mars, Incorporated's Howard-Yana Shapiro addressed the G8 conference on the topic of 'Uncommon collaborations to improve rural nutrition in Africa', focusing on the importance of plant sciences, particularly understanding genomics and the role it can play in enabling higher nutrient content for society over the decades to come. 

G8 countries, African partners and relevant stakeholders joined at the conference to share important agricultural data that can be distributed over 2014-15 to farmers, researchers and policymakers globally in order to improve food security and sustainability. The conference marks the next phase of the shared commitment to achieving global food security as set out by President Obama in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition commitment. The commitment aims to help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years by supporting agricultural development.

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About Mars, Incorporated

In 1911, Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen and established Mars' first roots as a confectionery company.  In the 1920s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. joined his father in business and together they launched the MILKY WAY® bar. In 1932, Forrest, Sr. moved to the United Kingdom with a dream of  building a business based on the objective of creating a "mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders" – this objective serves as the foundation of Mars, Incorporated today. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has net sales of more than $33 billion, six business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, Wrigley, Food, Drinks, Symbioscience, and more than 72,000 Associates worldwide that are putting its Principles into action to make a difference for people and the planet through its performance.

Mars brands include: Petcare – PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, WHISKAS®, KITEKAT®, BANFIELD® Pet Hospital, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES® and CESAR®; Chocolate – M&M'S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, GALAXY®, MARS®, MILKY WAY® and TWIX®; Wrigley – DOUBLEMINT®, EXTRA®, ORBIT® and 5™ chewing gums, SKITTLES® and STARBURST® candies, and ALTOIDS® AND LIFESAVERS® mints.  Food –UNCLE BEN'S®, DOLMIO®, EBLY®, MASTERFOODS®, SEEDS OF CHANGE® and ROYCO®; Drinks – ALTERRA ® Coffee Roasters coffee,  THE BRIGHT TEA CO.® tea, DOVE®/GALAXY® Hot Chocolate, and FLAVIA® brewer; Symbioscience – COCOAVIA™, WISDOM PANEL™ and SERAMIS®. 

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