Need to achieve global food security faster? Reach for new technologies, say scientists
Scientists from varied areas of crop research called for a mix of molecular techniques to accelerate genetic gains and meet the growing global demand for food.
“The world population is growing and by 2050 there will be 10 billion people. We need to speed up development of productive crops under climate change. Plant scientists discover new traits but the problem is it takes a long time to put those traits into varieties farmers can grow,” said Dr Lee Hickey of the University of Queensland.
Speaking during the keynote of the symposium ‘Advanced Genomics & Breeding Technologies for Accelerating Genetic Gains, at ICRISAT, Dr Hickey spoke about ‘Speed Breeding’, a set of techniques to hasten plant growth in controlled environments. Speed Breeding can help accomplish crossing and inbreeding in 1 to 2 years while it takes as long as 7 years to complete this phase with conventional practices.
Emphasizing the need for accelerated genetic gains, Dr Arvind Kumar, Director for the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) South Asia Regional Center, in his keynote address said, “We cannot now afford the time taken in the past to develop traits like drought tolerance and disease resistance.”
For solutions to key issues in agriculture technology and policy, two panel discussions were held during the symposium. Both panels comprised senior scientists and administrators from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), state agricultural universities, ICRISAT and other partner organizations.
Advocating demand-driven technologies, Dr V Praveen Rao, Vice Chancellor, Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University, and Dr K P Viswanatha, Vice Chancellor, Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, emphasized the need for a repository of technologies to lower research costs.
Dr C Tara Satyavathi, Project Coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet, recounted recent policy initiatives aimed at nutrition security. “In 2018, the government changed the nomenclature of millets to ‘nutri-cereals’. This is to convey to the public that they may increase their consumption,” she said, while adding that advanced genomics technologies would be required to enhance crop production and nutritional value of these nutri-cereals.
“In today’s world, the plant breeding community is privileged as they have access to new genomics tools and molecular breeding methods. It is important to see that these technologies are utilized in a way that translates genomic information into molecular breeding in the shortest time possible,” said Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology (CEGSB), ICRISAT.
The symposium was held during training courses that ICRISAT’s CEGSB organized between 10 and 21 December 2018. The courses were supported by CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, Excellence in Breeding Platform and the Government of Karnataka-funded Genomics Consortium. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Tropical Legumes III and HOPE II projects also supported the trainings.
Over 270 participants mainly researchers, policymakers and private sector representatives, from 13 countries participated in the symposium. The training courses were attended by 83 trainees from across the world.