Yes, Africa will feed itself within the next 15 years

Africa will be able to feed itself in the next 15 years. That’s one of the big “bets on the future” that Bill and Melinda Gates have made in their foundation’s latest annual letter. Helped by other breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education, they argue that the lives of people in poor countries “will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history”.

Their “bet” is good news for African agriculture: agronomy and its natural twin, agricultural extension, are back on the agenda. If Africa is to feed itself, the women and men who grow its crops need access to technical expertise on how to manage their variable natural resources and limited inputs and market intelligence on what to grow, what to sell and what to keep.

New tools in the hands of farmers

The Gates foundation report outlines that African countries spend $50 billion a year importing food. Nigeria alone imports $500m of rice from Vietnam each year.

But there is no quick fix that will transform African agriculture without skillful agronomy and intelligent extension. Whatever the promises brought by new, drought-tolerant varieties of crops such as maize, they cannot achieve their potential without the wise management of fertilisers, timing of cultivations and appropriate crop rotations.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

As the graph above shows, sub-Saharan Africa’s crop yields remain very low compared to the rest of the world. Sadly, in our rush for only genetic solutions to increasing agricultural yields, we have ignored the fields and landscapes in which crops are grown. The consequence has been a missing generation of scientifically trained agronomists and agricultural extension workers – who help teach farmers about new farming practices – with the skill sets required to manage resources and apply principles.

Meanwhile, powerful tools such as geospatial mapping, predictive modelling, remote-sensing (using aerial imaging to assess the state of vegetation) and mobile technologies have advanced to a stage where they are of practical use to the scientific agronomist, educated extensionist and literate farmer. We now have a real opportunity to link genetic advances and improved management with the social and economic drivers for African agriculture. This “research value chain” between grower and consumer requires that each research discipline plays an interconnected role with the end-user always in sharp focus.

Soils and sustainability

So, what are the priorities for African agriculture in the next 15 years? First, we must rehabilitate its soils. Since 2015 has been declared as the UN International Year of Soil, we need to recognise that Africa has some of the world’s frailest soils, which have suffered most from “cereal abuse” through the almost continuous cultivation of cereal crops. These monocultures have left Africa’s soils tired and impoverished. Applications of fertilisers will not, by themselves, be enough to save them.

For sustainable agricultural systems, we need to reconsider our addiction to major cereals grown as monocultures and move from “calorie security” to “nutritional security”. For this, nitrogen-fixing leguminous crops have to be part of any solution. In his Noble Peace Prize address in 1970, Norman Borlaug, the father of what became known as the “green revolution” in South Asia, recognised the imbalance between research advances on the major cereals and those on all other crops:

The only crops which have been appreciably affected up to the present time are wheat, rice, and maize… nor has there been any appreciable increase in yield or production of the pulse or legume crops, which are essential in the diets of cereal-consuming populations.

Approaching 50 years later, the situation remains similar. Clearly, improvements in leguminous crops (such as beans and lentils), both in their own right as nutritious sources of food and as rehabilitators of soil, are long overdue. Since 2016 has been declared as the UN International Year of Pulses, there is no better opportunity to redress the historical imbalance noted by Borlaug.

Crops for the future

We also need to recognise that most African family farmers are women. Often the species they cultivate are not the major cash crops grown by men as mechanised monocultures. Rather, they are local “underutilised” species, often legumes and vegetables, which families cultivate in complex landscapes for their own sustenance.

These crops, and the multiple cropping systems which support them, have few influential champions and rarely feature in the research strategies of national and international agencies. But it is crops and agricultural systems such as these that will help Africa feed itself sustainably.

In a very real sense, these “crops for the future” will help diversify Africa’s agriculture to meet the volatile physical and economic climates that lie ahead. Unlike the major crops which have received billions of dollars of support over generations, underutilised crops deserve a “big bet” over the next 15 years if they are to help achieve major breakthroughs for most people in most poor countries.

The Conversation

This article was written by Sayed Azam-Ali, CEO of the Crops for the Future Research Centre and Professor of Global Food Security at University of Nottingham, and originally published at The Conversation.

Read the original article.

B.B. Singh’s quest to make cowpea the food legume of the 21st century

4fig3In 1944, the year Bir Bahadur (B.B.) Singh was born in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, Indian agriculture was in shambles. During nearly 200 years of British rule, the country’s agricultural enterprise had been turned over to commodities such as cotton, indigo, and sugarcane for export; what little food was grown hinged on rainfall and the soil’s natural fertility—or lack of it. Crop yields were often abysmal as a result, and famine was common. So when India won independence from Britain in 1947, the Indian government enacted a sweeping program of nationwide, agricultural education.

That’s why when Singh graduated in 1956 from his village school with good grades and an interest in science, he found himself at one of India’s newly minted agricultural high schools. It was the only nearby school where he could study science, Singh says, as well as the closest high school to his home. Plus, his father wanted him to attend, saying, “Why don’t you study agriculture and see what help you can give to our people,” Singh recalls.

“So I was okay with going to an agricultural high school, and that later became my good luck,” he says. Turns out it also became the good luck of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers.

Today, Singh is among the most revered breeders of legume—or pulse—crops, credited with improving the diets, incomes, and lives of farming families across Africa, Asia, and South America. In the late 1960s and 1970s, for instance, the ASA and CSSA Fellow not only established the first systematic breeding program for soybean in India, but was also pivotal in bringing the novel food to millions of Indian people. Soybean production has since grown in India from just 5,000 tons in 1961 to about 12 million today. Yet this was only the start.

“Of course, B.B. is best known for his work with cowpea,” says Bill Payne, an ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Fellow who was at Texas A&M and CGIAR in Ethiopia before becoming dean of agriculture at the University of Nevada–Reno this winter. “Almost anywhere in the world, you cannot work on cowpea without running into him in some way, fashion, or form.”

imagesKnown also as black-eyed pea, cowpea is a staple crop in many tropical areas, and Singh’s signature achievement is a fast-maturing variety that fits into the rotational niches between wheat, maize, and rice. Due largely to this advance, worldwide cowpea production rose from 1.3 million to 7 million tons between 1981 and 2013—the only food legume to enjoy such an upswing. But the crop scientist, now in the 48th year of his career, isn’t content to stop there.

“I think there’s a very good possibility that we will have a surge in pulse production in the coming decades,” says Singh, who currently splits his time between Texas A&M University and India’s G.B. Pant University. The title of his new book, Cowpea—The Food Legume of the 21st Century asserts the same.

Those who know him don’t doubt it. “He’s just tenacious,” says CSSA President David Baltensperger, also an ASA and CSSA Fellow. He often compares Singh’s success with cowpea to Norman Borlaug’s accomplishments with wheat. “One of the secrets to B.B., like Dr. Borlaug, has been his ability to keep his eye on what he considers to be really powerful fundamentals. That leads to a lot of success over a long career.”

Good decisions… and a little luck

Focus is indeed crucial for a researcher, and other colleagues add that Singh is highly intelligent, full of energy, and a careful listener—as well as supremely dedicated to helping farmers.

“He is an excellent scientist—I mean, he publishes a lot,” says Ken Dashiell of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, from which Singh retired in 2006. “But he probably spends 98% of his energy on getting the best cowpea varieties for the farmers, and 2% of his energy on publishing.”

What Singh himself says is that he’s been lucky. “At every stage of my life, some good people have come, given me direction, and good things have happened,” he says. The first stroke of luck came when his father pushed him toward an agricultural high school because it helped gain him admission in 1960 to India’s first agricultural university: Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University (now Pant University).

4fig3Singh then earned a scholarship in 1963 to do graduate studies in plant breeding at the University of Illinois, where again he made a fateful choice. After learning how much research was already under way to improve cereals, Singh resolved to study legumes to help India’s vegetarian multitudes meet their need for protein. And at the University of Illinois, that meant one option: soybean.

“So, that’s how I decided to work on soybean,” he says, “and it was one of the best decisions that I took in my life.”

Soybean contains roughly twice the protein of other pulses, he explains, and by the time he earned his Ph.D., USAID and the University of Illinois were already trying to bring soybean to countries beset by malnutrition, including India. Meanwhile, the dean of agriculture at Pant University was monitoring Singh’s progress, and in 1968 sent him a “very personal and emotional letter,” Singh says. It offered him—now a postdoc at Cornell—an assistant professorship at Pant that included 50% more salary than what a new assistant professor in India typically earned.

Singh had two competing offers from U.S. universities for substantially higher pay, but he never gave the decision a second thought. Later that year, he returned to India to begin the work that would transform soybean from an agricultural novelty into one of the nation’s principal foods.

He might have stayed at Pant for the rest of his career. But in 1977, a change in university administration led to major campus unrest, including the shooting of several staff. Hoping to get away for a “breathing spell,” Singh began looking for other opportunities and was immediately offered soybean breeding positions by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Zambia and by IITA in Nigeria. Opting for IITA because of his interest in research, he intended to stay abroad for just two years, but “then based on my work, they kept me there forever, and I spent my life there,” he says.

They asked something else of him, as well: to work not on soybean, but cowpea.

Continue reading this story in the Oct. 2014 issue of CSA News magazine…

This blog was first published by the American Society of Agronomy

https://www.agronomy.org/science-news/bb-singhs-quest-make-cowpea-food-legume-21st-century

Cellulosic Ethanol from Sugarcane in Brazil

sugarcane fieldBrazil is a major producer of ethanol from sugarcane, and this leading global position is the fruit of scientific and technological advances resulting from a development program that was initiated in the 1970s. Driven by the oil crises of 1972-1973, Brazil transformed several sugar mills into ethanol producing units that became capable of co-production of ethanol and raw sugar (5). This was technically possible due to the high levels of sucrose in sugarcane and to the development of yeast strains capable of fermenting this sugar efficiently. At the same time, the first automobiles running exclusively on ethanol were introduced, which on the one hand helped Brazil face major world energy crises, and on the other implanted the basis for development of future technologies. Over the following 40 years, Brazilian sugar mills undertook a technological transformation that significantly increased the efficiency of sucrose and alcohol production. This method, now called first generation (1G), has reached a level of 90% conversion of sucrose into ethanol (5). At the same time, advances in sugarcane agricultural technology improved the sugarcane crop to a high level of productivity (averaging 80 tones per hectare). Using intensive breeding programs, a number of sugarcane varieties have been developed that are increasingly better adapted to the diverse climate and soils encountered in Brazil. The result is that Brazil is now the second largest producer of ethanol and the first placed producer of sugarcane in the world.

The necessity to produce second-generation ethanol

Until 2006, Brazil was the only country to produce and use ethanol on a large scale as a fuel alternative for cars. Since then, increased public awareness and governmental focus around the world on issues related to climate change and the excessive use of fossil fuels has led to increased interest in the use of renewable energy. It was at this moment that Brazil, with its highly efficient sugarcane bioethanol sector, became a leader worldwide in the production and use of renewable energy. Nevertheless, production of 1G bioethanol was already at the limit of efficiency both from industrial and agronomical viewpoints.

It was in this context that the Brazilian scientific community and the Federal and State of São Paulo governments took the initiative in the search for ways to increase production of sugarcane ethanol beyond current limits. An idea that was already being revived in several places in the world was the possibility to produce ethanol from sugar polymers, including cellulose, present in cell walls of plants. This search for ‘cellulosic ethanol’ is generally referred to as second-generation (2G) ethanol. Although establishment of 1G technology was highly successful, the potential for ethanol production from 2G is much higher because energy accumulated in sugarcane in the form of sucrose represents only 1/3 of the total. The other two-thirds are distributed equally between the bagasse (stems) and the leaves.

Cell wall recalcitrance

At first sight, the idea of producing ethanol from biomass seems straightforward: it would be enough to convert cellulose to free sugars that could be fermented by yeast. Although many advances have been made in this area, this problem is far from being solved, and developing 2G processes that are economically viable has proven to be a major challenge. The plant cell wall is composed mainly of carbohydrates in the form of polysaccharides that associate to form a supramolecular structure where polymers aggregate through non-covalent linkages. Some polysaccharides are branched with phenolic compounds (ferulic an p-coumaric acids). Ferulic acid can dimerize interlocking polysaccharide chains or these can still undergo polymerization with other phenylpropanoids, including p-hydrocinammic, sinapyl and coniferyl alcohols, forming lignin. Together, the supramolecular structure of cell-wall polymers constitute the main obstacle to enzymatic hydrolysis. Furthermore, known hydrolytic enzymes have molecular sizes that prevent their penetration into the polymer matrix. Therefore, when a mixture of enzymes is added to the surface of the cell wall, the catalytic attack is mainly on the surface of the composite. To perform more complete hydrolysis, enzymatic complexes would have to act in a synergetic fashion on the entire cell wall composite. At present this is not feasible as researchers cannot adequately control the process because very little is known about the synergism between the enzymes involved. One of the principal limitations to understand such mechanisms is that until recently our knowledge of the structure and architecture of the sugarcane cell wall was very limited.

Sugarcane buckAt the biological level, cell wall recalcitrance in plants is thought to be due to the wall’ ability to protect against herbivores and the penetration of pathogens. At the molecular level, the cell wall of sugarcane presents three domains of polysaccharides that interact through non-covalent linkages: the pectic domain, the hemicellulosic domain and the cellulosic domain. The cellulosic domain is embedded within the hemicellulosic domain and both are embedded in the pectin domain. Thus, the basic unit of the cell wall of sugarcane consists of a core with macrofibrils (agglomerated of microfibrils) of cellulose strongly linked to structurally complex hemicelluloses that display a glycomic code, the complex branching pattern of these compounds (2). In addition, this core of polysaccharides is surrounded by an agglomerate of polymers that interact with themselves. Phenolic compounds are also thought to interlock the three polysaccharide domains so that the covalent linkages are protected, effectively sealing the whole unit and creating a structure that is extremely resistant to mechanical, chemical and biochemical degradation.

Several publications produced by the research labs of the National Institute of Science and Technology of Bioethanol (INCT-Bioetanol – www.inctdobioetanol.com.br) have demonstrated that it is possible to disassemble the cell wall using chemical reagents (4). The procedure consists of initially attacking the phenolic compounds and eliminating them from the wall. This makes subsequent separation of the wall polysaccharides possible via treatment with a series of alkali solutions of increasing concentration (6).

A procedure called pretreatment (chemical and physical treatments with hot water, ammonia, acids and/alkali), eliminates the porosity barrier so that all polymers become accessible to attack by hydrolases. However, the branching nature of hemicelluloses still acts as a barrier and prevents further enzyme attack of the polymer chains. This highlights the necessity of using specific enzymatic complexes in order to produce free sugars that can be utilized for fermentation (1-7). As branched hemicelluloses alter the way polysaccharides are recognized by enzymes, their branching pattern (glycomic code) can alter the interaction between enzyme and substrate, affecting enzyme kinetics and cell wall degradation efficiency. The available data shows that the cell wall of sugarcane displays at least 18 glycosidic linkages, and suggests that approximately the same number of enzymes will be necessary to degrade the cell wall completely (5,6). Nevertheless, this chemical process is extremely complicated, laborious and expensive, and this is therefore not a viable strategy for industry.

The collection of enzymes characterized during the first phase of the INCT-Bioetanol contains practically all the catalytic capabilities needed for complete sugarcane cell wall hydrolysis. For this reason, the Institute has reached a point of prioritizing experiments focused on combining enzymes, forming consortia capable of dealing with each of the limiting factors related to recalcitrance. The possible combinations of enzymes have been proposed (1,6) and during the next phase of the project, these strategies will be put into practice by an integrated group of researchers in a series of experiments that will test this hypothesis.

At the same time, it will be necessary to understand the variability in the structure of the sugarcane cell wall in order to find Brazilian sugarcane varieties possessing structures and architectures that are more amenable to hydrolysis. Although the variation in cell wall composition is relatively limited among sugarcane tissues, one may expect to find considerable variation among the great number of extant varieties. This has been recently observed for Miscanthus and maize, two grass species that are genetically related to sugarcane and with very similar cell walls. Several research groups have concentrated efforts on understanding the role of lignin in recalcitrance and have concluded that this interference is somewhat limited. The reduction in lignin content leads in general to an increase in saccharification in a non-linear fashion depending on the pre-treatment, morphological distribution and the level of lignin aggregation (9), suggesting that other cell wall domains make equally important contributions to the recalcitrance of biomass. Research groups of the INCT-Bioetanol have already obtained transformed sugarcane in which the gene encoding one of the enzymes of lignin biosynthesis (COMT) has been silenced. These transgenic plants have cell walls that are modified, and saccharification tests are currently in progress. During the second phase of the INCT we intend to verify whether such genetic variability also exists in sugarcane and to use this information to obtain varieties in which differences among cell wall composition lead to lower recalcitrance to hydrolysis.

 

Marcos S. Buckeridge

msbuck@usp.br

Laboratory of Plant Physiological Ecology, Depatment of Botany, Institute of Biosciences, University of São Paulo (www.lafieco.com.br)

Director of the National Institute of Science and Technology of Bioethanol (www.inctdobioetanol.com.br)

 

REFEFENCES

  1. Buckeridge, M.S., Dos Santos,W.D., Tiné, M.A.S., De Souza, A.P. (2015) Compendium of Bioenergy Crops: Sugarcane edited by Eric Lam. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis (in press)
  2. Buckeridge, M.S. & De Souza, A.P. (2014) Breaking the “glycomic code” of cell wall polysaccharides may improve second generation bioenergy production from biomass. Bioenergy Research DOI 10.1007/s12155-014-9460-6
  3. Buckeridge, M.S.; Souza, A.P.; Arundale, R.A.; Anderson-Teixeira, K.J.; DeLucia, E. (2012) Ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil: a “midway” strategy for increasing ethanol production while maximizing environmental benefits. GCB Bioenergy, 4:119-126.
  4. Buckeridge, M. S. (Org.) ; Goldman, G. H. (Org.) . Routes to cellulosic ethanol. 1. ed. Nova Iorque: Springer, 2011. v. 1. 263p.
  5. De Souza, A. P. ; Grandis, A. ; Leite, D. C. C. ; Buckeridge, M.S. (2014) Sugarcane as a Bioenergy Source: History, Performance, and Perspectives for Second-Generation Bioethanol. Bioenerg Res, 7:24-35.
  6. De Souza, A. P., Leite, D. C. C., Pattathil, S. ; Hahn, M. G. ; Buckeridge, M. S. (2013) Composition and Structure of Sugarcane Cell Wall Polysaccharides: Implications for Second-Generation Bioethanol Production. Bioenergy Research, 6: 564-579.
  7. Mccann, M. ; Buckeridge, M. S. ; Carpita, N.C. . Plants and Bioenergy. 1. ed. New York: Springer, 2013. v. 1. 300p.
  8. Magrin, G.O., J.A. Marengo, J.-P. Boulanger, M.S. Buckeridge, E. Castellanos, G. Poveda, F.R. Scarano, and S. Vicuña, 2014: Central and South America. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part B: Regional Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Barros, V.R., C.B. Field, D.J. Dokken, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee,K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. XXX-YYY
  9. Rezende, C.A.; Lima, M.; Maziero, P.; Azevedo, E.; Garcia, W.; Polikarpov, I. (2011) Chemical and morphological characterization of sugarcane bagasse submitted to a delignification process for enhanced enzymatic digestibility. Biotechnology for Biofuels. 4: 54

Onwards and Upwards for the Global Plant Council

PrintThe 2014 Global Plant Council annual general meeting (AGM) was held 2-3 October and hosted by the Society of Experimental Biology in London. GPC Individuals representing 22 member organisations from 5 continents gathered at Charles Darwin House to share updates and plan for the future.

The Global Plant Council (GPC) is a coalition of plant and crop science societies from across the globe. It aims to provide a global voice for these societies which individually represent scientists from specific countries, continents or sub-sets of plant science. During the AGM it became clear that in reality the GPC is a central hub, acting to instigate change in plant science research and application worldwide. This is a critical role; coordinated global action and a unified voice are essential for plant scientists to be able to effectively play a part in meeting the world challenges of hunger, energy, climate change, health and well-being, sustainability and environmental protection, which affect all of us.

The first day of the AGM was dedicated to sharing news and updates. Two working groups, that deal with Advocacy and Finance issues, praised the progress made by Ruth Bastow, the GPC’s first dedicated member of staff, since May 2013. Council members were pleased to see GPC flyers and brochures designed, produced and distributed at conferences over the summer, resulted in over 140 people signing up to join the GPC mailing list (if you don’t receive the monthly bulletin then sign up here!). The GPC blog had a successful launch in April 2014, with a particular highlight being a post on the economics of agricultural biotechnology by David Zilberman.

At the 2013 AGM, member organisations identified four priority areas: Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability; Food and Human Health; Adaption to Climate Change; and the sharing of Knowledge, Data and Resources. The GPC will support and promote these themes through activities including network building, engaging with policy makers, fundraising and leading global collaborative projects.

Recent activities for the GPC have focussed on number of key initiatives: Diversity Seek, Digital Seed Bank, Biofortification and Stress Resilience.

The Diversity Seek Initiative is a community-driven initiative that has been established in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the CGIAR Consortium and the GPC. Approximately seven million crop accessions are being conserved worldwide, representing one of the greatest – largely untapped – opportunities for accelerating yield gains and overcoming emerging crop productivity bottlenecks. DivSeek acts a ‘magnet’ to bring together current and future projects working toward unlocking and characterizing the crop diversity that exists in genebanks around the world in a coordinated manner. The DivSeek Initiative was presented and discussed at the recent G20 meeting of Chief Agricultural Scientists in Brisbane, Australia and is noted in the final communiqué from the meeting.

The Digital Seed Bank is a foundational DivSeek project and will act as a ‘flagship’ to illustrate the power of mining the genetic potential of crop diversity. The Digital Seed Bank will store detailed information on the molecular and biochemical basis of genotype x environment interactions, and allelic diversity, and will utilize this data to discover the gene networks controlling quantitative traits for yield and quality performance. Combining genomic data with quantitative information about the expression of genes, proteins, and metabolites from crops growing in environmental conditions that reflect their diversity will give breeders unprecedented new and valuable insights that can be exploited for crop improvement programs. The Digital Seed Bank initiative leader Wilhelm Gruissem is currently seeking funding to make the Digital Seed Bank a reality.

In July, the GPC gathered 30 scientists from 11 countries (including representatives from Africa, Africa, Europe, Oceania and the Americas) for a Forum focussing on the Biofortification Initiative in Xiamen, China. Attendees at the Forum considered current projects, assessed current strategic investments into R&D, and initiated a gap analysis to begin the process of ensuring that major nutritional needs are met through an internationally coordinated approach. The outcomes of this workshop will be summarized in a white paper that will be made available via the GPC website.

The final initiative is improving Stress Resilence. The initiative leaders are planning holding their first forum at the 2015 International Plant Molecular Biology Congress at Iguazu Falls, Brazil in October 2015. We’ll keep you informed as more details get finalised.

New initiatives were discussed at the AGM, from a digital resource to international research projects to engaging with global policy bodies. The Global Plant Council has made vast progress in the past two years – and there is much more still to come!

 

GPCAGM2014v2

Attendees of the 2014 Global Plant Council AGM. Back row from left: Beat Boller, (EUCARPA); Antonio Costa de Oliveira (ICSS); Ellen Bergfeld (ASA/CSSA); Ariel Orellana (CNNP); Crispin Taylor (ASPB); Jim Beynon (UKPSF); Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston (SEB); Henry Nguyen (ASA/CSSA); Rodomiro Ortiz (SPPS); Zuhua He (CSPB); Gustavo Habermann (SBFV and SAFV); Shahrokh Khanizadeh (Plant Canada); Charis Cook (GARNet); Nelson Saibo (SPFV); Carl Douglas (CSPB). Front row from left: Paul Hutchinson (SEB); Ruth Bastow (GPC); Russell Jones (ASPB); Christine Foyer (FESPB); Wilhelm Gruissem (EPSO); Zhihong Xu (CSPB, BSC and GSC); Karin Metzlaff (EPSO); Mimi Tanimoto (UKPSF).

This blog was written by Charis Cook who was present at the meeting as an observer from GARNet who is a member of the UK Plant Sciences Federation, which represents the UK to the Global Plant Council.

Why nutrition-smart agriculture matters

Orange Sweet PotatoThe focus of agricultural policy should be to increase productivity, provide employment and reduce poverty.

How often have you read or heard statements like this?

I am an economist, and I understand this thinking. It has its place. But I will argue that the reason global food systems are failing is because they have neglected the most fundamental purpose of agricultural systems — to nourish people.

Today, more than 2 billion people are suffering from hidden hunger — most will get enough calories, which has been the metric for food systems thus far, but not enough vitamins and minerals. We know too well the global costs of this hidden hunger. We see it in women as they risk death during childbirth. We see it in a stunted child with a diminished IQ. And we see it in men and women too weakened by illness and poor immunity to be able to work at an optimal level.

We need to re-envision agriculture as the primary source of sound nutrition through the food people harvest and eat. This is a radical concept in the true sense of the word — returning to the root or fundamental purpose of agriculture.

To read the rest of this blog post that was originally posted on Devex as part of the Feeding Development campaign, please click here.

This blog was written by Howdy Bouis who holds a joint appointment at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia.

“Children in Uganda share a plate of orange sweet potato” Photo used in this blog is by: A. Ball / HarvestPlus / CC BY-NC

Great Things Sometimes Come in Small Packages

ArabidopsisI may not be totally unbiased here because of my past involvement in the various national and international Arabidopsis projects, but there is no denying that plant science would not be where it is today if it were not for Arabidopsis. Arabidopsis is the plant that has united the world of basic plant scientists and profoundly changed the way research is conducted in plant sciences. How did this come about? Several prominent scientists described the history of Arabidopsis research from the perspective of researchers (1, 2, and 3). My answer comes from a perspective of a research administrator responsible for the management of the Arabidopsis research programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1990 through 2007.

Philip H. Abelson spoke of “a genomics revolution” in his Science editorial published in 1998 (4). He predicted that “…the greatest ultimate global impact of genomics will result from manipulation of the DNA of plants. Ultimately, the world will obtain most of its food, fuel, fiber, chemical feedstocks, and some of its pharmaceuticals from genetically altered vegetation and trees.” His concluding sentence read, “Today, humans employ the capabilities of only a few plants. A major challenge is to explore the opportunities inherent in some of the hundreds of thousands of them.”

As the editorial was being written, a plant genomics revolution was well underway through the internationally coordinated effort to sequence the whole genome of Arabidopsis by the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative (AGI), a consortium of 6 laboratories from U.S., E.U., France, and Japan. The AGI’s work resulted in a paper published in Nature in December of 2000 (5), a first complete genome analysis for a plant and the second for a higher eukaryote. This project differed from traditional research projects in that the goal of the project was not to answer a specific scientific question, but rather to deliver a high quality whole genome sequence of Arabidopsis – a research resource/tool – for the use of the entire community. It was a highly sophisticated service project. AGI members were required to share credit equally not in proportion to individual members’ contributions. Although it took four years for the AGI to complete sequencing of the entire Arabidopsis genome, the sequence data were immediately made available to the public as they were produced. This was a total departure from the previous practice in which the data were not expected to be shared until they were thoroughly analyzed and the result published by the researcher who produced them. In a sense, the AGI researchers were pioneers in opening up a new type of scientific project. I witnessed disagreements and consternations that occurred throughout the project, but in the end the voice of reason always prevailed. I think the Arabidopsis community matured greatly through the whole genome sequencing project. This type of service project has since become an integral part of research portfolio in plant sciences. As a result, individual researchers regardless of their locations can access and mine the data for their own purposes, greatly leveling the playing field and accelerating the advancement of plant sciences as a whole.

AGIGroupRemarkable as the AGI’s success was, it did not just happen. In the background was the culture characterized by the spirit of cooperation through open communication and sharing of ideas and information. The culture was initially fostered by the small number of laboratories working on Arabidopsis and was quickly embraced by the Arabidopsis community. The Arabidopsis community established the Multinational Coordinated Arabidopsis Thaliana Genome Research Project, hereafter referred to as “the Project,” in 1990. The whole genome sequencing project was part of the Project’s long-range plan (6). We should also remember that the AGI received strong support and encouragement from a broad community of plant scientists. Prior to the start of the sequencing project in 1996, NSF heard from a number of individual plant scientists urging NSF to support an Arabidopsis whole genome sequencing project even though it could have meant less money available for their individual research grants. Furthermore, NSF received strong support from several agricultural commodity groups for using part of the plant genome research program’s fund, which was appropriated to support basic research in economically important plants, for the purpose of accelerating the Arabidopsis genome sequencing project. Not to take away the credit from the AGI researchers that they so richly deserve, I believe that the completion of Arabidopsis whole genome sequencing and subsequent scientific and technological advances in plant sciences were made possible by the global community of scientists who shared the same goal – to understand what makes a plant a plant from the molecular to the ecosystem levels.

Machi and DrOAs Arabidopsis united basic plant science researchers, it also brought together the funding agencies that supported plant science research. As researchers were organizing the Project, NSF was conducting discussions with its sister funding agencies in the U.S. and counterpart agencies in Europe. By the time the Project was launched at the 4th International Conference on Arabidopsis Research in Vienna in 1990, there was an agreement among NSF, NIH, DOE and USDA in the U.S., and an informal agreement among NSF, EC, BBSRC, and DFG to collaborate and coordinate support of an international Arabidopsis research project. These agencies also agreed to keep it simple and nimble by not establishing an official joint funding program and by not pooling any funds. They further agreed that all the funding agencies would share credit of the Project equally, not in proportion to their individual contributions. In essence, the funding agencies had a sense of joint ownership of the Project. There was also close communication between the funding agency representatives and the Arabidopsis research community, which contributed to the success of the Arabidopsis research project.

The 25th International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR) will take place July 28 – August 1, 2014, in Vancouver, Canada. ICAR was a component of the original Project’s plan as a means to promote exchange of ideas and sharing of information. A majority of the 25th ICAR participants have likely entered the field after the Project started, and at least half of them do not know the time when there were no freely available research resources and tools. To me, that is the most precious outcome of the Project, namely new generations of plant scientists to whom international collaboration and sharing of ideas and research resources are an ingrained part of their research culture.

Today, the challenge Abelson spoke of in his editorial is being addressed by the world’s plant scientists through the Global Plant Council. Certainly, plant science research is still woefully underfunded in relation to the enormous contributions it can make to solving the world food and energy problems. However, I am very optimistic about the future because I have total confidence in the extraordinary ability of the plant science research community to put the higher goals ahead of individual needs and wants, and to complement their individual strengths through international collaboration and coordination.

Machi F. Dilworth

U.S. National Science Foundation (Retired)

 

Reference:

  1. David W. Meinke, J. Michael Cherry, Caroline Dean, Steven D. Rounsley, and Maarten Koornneef. “Arabidopsis thaliana: A Model Plant for Genome Analysis” 1998: Science 282, 662-682
  2. Elliot M. Meyerowitz. “Prehistory and History of Arabidopsis Research”. 2001: Plant Physiology 125, 15-19 ( http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/125/1/15.short)
  3. Chris Somerville and Maarten Koornneef “A fortunate choice: the history of Arabidopsis as a model plant”. 2002: Nature Reviews Genetics 3, 883-889
  4. Phillip H. Abelson. “A third Technological Revolution”, 1998: Science 279, 2019.
  5. The Arabidopsis Genome Initiative. “Analysis of the genome sequence of the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana”. 2000: Nature 408, 796-815. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v408/n6814/full/408796a0.html)   
  6. “Long range plan for the Multinational Coordinated Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Research Project”. 1990. (https://www.arabidopsis.org/portals/masc/Long_range_plan_1990.pdf)

“It’s the Economy, Stupid”: Understanding Agricultural Biotechnology

Plant scientists develop knowledge that may lead to new cultivars or products that have great potential to benefit agriculture, society, and research. Although these technologies often show immense promise in the lab or during experimental field trials they are not always adopted in the field. James Carville’s famed explanation of what determines the result of the US presidential election, “It’s the economy, stupid,” also applies to agricultural biotechnology. Research in agricultural economics is investigating what happens to these innovations beyond the experimental phase. Why are some of them succeeding while others are not? What is the social value of a given technology and what is its potential? Why are individuals and groups objecting to their introduction?

I have been working on agricultural biotechnology over the last decade, and there is quite a large body of literature on this topic. Two excellent surveys of the literature can be found in Qaim (2009) and Bennett et al. (2013). This blog focus on how technology affects agricultural productivity and profitability at the farm level, which helps to explain adoption choices, amount of food available, and food prices.

The first large-scale, commercially available agricultural biotechnologies to utilize genetic modification incorporated either pest-control traits, such as insect resistance through plant-producing Bt toxin, virus and oomycete resistance, or herbicide tolerance (to glyphosate). Such cultivars had the potential to increase output/edible yield by reducing damage and competition.

Agricultural economists have found that reasons and rates of adoption of such genetically modified (GM) cultivars vary among locations. In some cases, GM cultivars increase profits by increasing yields (mostly in developing countries where they address problems that have not been addressed before). In other cases, it increases profits because it leads to the reduction of alternative pest controls (mostly in developed countries). There is also significant evidence that many farmers have adopted GM cultivars not only because they have reduced pest infestation but also because the have reduced exposure to chemicals known to be toxic. For example studies of Bt-cotton in China have found that its adoption has actually saved lives in China (Huang, Pray, and Rozelle, 2002) There were several fatalities from the application of toxic chemicals agrichemicals, and these types of fatalities have significantly declined since the adoption of Bt-cotton.

cottonIn the case of Bt-cotton in China and Bt-maize in South Africa, adoption rates are considerably high and have also increased farmers’ profits significantly (greater than 50% in India (Subramanian and Qaim, 2009)). It is often thought (incorrectly) that the profits from GM-cultivars end up in the pockets of the large multinational corporations, instead our evidence indicates that they are shared among the providers of the technology (both the multinational corporations and local companies that sell it), the farmers, and the consumers. Consumer benefits also increase the greater the adoption rate, and the larger the price effect. In fact it is possible to distinguish between adopters who simply switch from traditional to GM-cultivars and those who expand production capacity because it becomes more profitable when growing GM cultivars. For example, in India, most cotton production has switched to Bt-cultivars and the share of global cotton production from India subsequently increased. In the case of soybeans global acreage has increased by more than 40% over the last 20 years, and most of this new acreage is growing GM-soybean. It should be noted that a large proportion of this expansion in soybean occurred through double-cropping in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, so the actual footprint of agriculture did not increase. Our studies estimate that the over supply of maize increased by about 10%, of cotton by 20%, and of soybeans by 30%. Without GM-soybeans, the price of soybeans is estimated to have been 33% higher on average, the price of maize 13% higher, and the price of cotton about 30% higher (Barrows, Sexton, and Zilberman, 2013).

800px-Soybean_fields_at_Applethorpe_FarmThe fact that GM-cultivars have already reduced the price of soybeans is very significant. While increases in commodity prices have little effect on consumers in the USA or EU, they affect consumers in developing countries quite substantially. Likewise, when supply decreases, consumers in the poorest countries around the world suffer most. We all remember the food price crisis of 2008. Without GM-crops, we would have experienced a much worse food situation. The increase in the supply of food provided by GM-crops is of the same order of magnitude as the amount of maize that is allocated to biofuel. If Europe and Africa adopted Bt-maize and soybeans, prices would decrease significantly and we would not face the food supply and access challenges that we face today. If we introduce existing traits to rice and wheat, the global food situation will improve, which will benefit poor producers and consumers the most. Moreover, since existing traits improve edible yields, they allow farmers to produce more on a given unit of land. Without GM-cultivars, we would need to employ more land in production, which translates to greater deforestation and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from more water and fertilizer use. The use of Roundup Ready soybeans enables the adoption of low-tillage farming practices, which leads to carbon sequestration (Lal, 2005). A conservative assessment suggests that the adoption of GM-crops reduced future GHG emissions by an amount equivalent to 1/8 of the level produced in a year by cars in the United States.

Agricultural biotechnology is in its infancy. The process to breed a new cultivar begins with researchers in companies and universities making new discoveries and seeking intellectual property such as patents or plant variety rights. Then, startups and companies invest in their development and commercialization. In the 1990s, the biotechnology industry was growing very fast. However, complex regulatory systems, particularly in the EU, have placed a heavy burdened on this process, drastically slowing the innovation process and in some cases even stalling the industry. As a result the technology is far from reaching its potential. In the pipeline alone, there are many innovations that can improve food quality, digestibility, nutritional intake, and shelf life. These technologies can be beneficial to consumers and, through increased efficiency of inputs such as land and water- They can also reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture. Heavy and uncertain regulation denies us from obtaining the benefits from these technologies. In many crops (e.g. fruits and vegetables), there has been minimal adoption of agricultural biotechnology, which reduces our ability to address disease and pest problems as well as achieving improved product quality. More importantly, we need as many tools as possible to adapt to climate change, drought, flood, extreme temperatures, unstable weather, and new pests. But, with stricter regulation and resistance to GM-crops, there will be limited investment in these technologies and our capacity to adapt to and mitigate climate change will be compromised. Economic research aims to assist governments in developing policies that will make consumers, producers, and the environment better off. The existing heavy regulation of agricultural biotechnology is very costly and thus suboptimal from an economic perspective.

This blog was provided by David Zilberman – Professor and Robinson Chair in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

 

References

Barrows G., S. Sexton and D. Zilberman. 2013. “The impact of agricultural biotechnology on supply and land-use.” CUDARE Working Paper 1133, University of California, Berkeley.

Bennett, A.B., C. Chi-Ham, G. Barrows, S. Sexton and D. Zilberman. 2013. “Agricultural biotechnology: Economics, environment, ethics, and the future.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 38: 249-279.

Huang, J., C. Pray and S. Rozelle. 2002. “Enhancing the Crops to Feed the Poor.” Nature 418:678– 684.

Lal, R. 2005. Soil erosion and carbon dynamics. Soil Tillage Research 81:137–142.

Qaim, M. 2009. “The economics of genetically modified crops.” Annual Review of Resource Economics 1: 665-694.

Subramanian, A. and M. Qaim. 2009. “Village-wide effects of agricultural biotechnology: the case of Bt cotton in India.” World Development 37:256–267.

Musings of a Well-Travelled Plant Biologist

As someone who’s been “all over the map” as a plant scientist, I have a special appreciation for the goals of the Global Plant Council (GPC).  

My Dad was a country doctor, and my best friends as a child were the sons and daughters of farmers who raised pigs, corn and soybeans in rural Indiana. It was an interesting time in which small farms were gradually being consolidated and the percentage of our population engaged in farming was gradually decreasing—a phenomenon I’ll come back to later in this blog.

If you count my time as an undeDelmer LAb MSU-DOErgraduate and graduate student, then a post-doc, and later as a faculty member in the plant sciences, I’ve been associated with 5 major American Universities. Having been married to an Israeli, I also spent 10 years as a faculty member at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem where I was challenged in my middle age to learn to lecture in Hebrew. I spent two sabbaticals in the private sector—at The ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute and at Calgene, Inc. My research on plant cell walls was supported at various stages by grants from The US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, from the US-Israel bi-national Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD), by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), by Cotton Incorporated that is funded by cotton growers in the U.S., and from funds that supported a few collaborations with scientists from Pioneer HiBred and Monsanto.

I have chaired the Section of Plant Biology at UC Davis and served as President of the American Society of Plant Biology and was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2004.

At age 60, I turned my life upside down with a decision to leave Academia and work as a program officer doing grant making in support of developing world agriculture for the Rockefeller Foundation. Although based in New York City, this work took me to China, Thailand, the Philippines, India, and a number of countries in Africa where I was exposed to the complex challenges facing developing world agriculture. I also interacted with scientists from many National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) and as well as those from the international centers of the CGIAR. I am now officially retired but continue to serve on scientific boards and consult for foundations that support research related to international agriculture.

So, yes, I suppose you could say I’m a bona fide member of the global plant science community. And so, for the rest of this blog, I thought I would try to do two things: first, to outline from my perspective some of the great strengths and weaknesses of these various research systems; and second, to outline some thoughts on how the GPC might best interact with these systems in ways that take advantage of their great strengths and offer help to address some of their weaknesses.

I’ll begin with the Universities and Advanced Research Institutes (ARIs). On the plus side, Universities and ARIs provide the venue for truly cutting edge research in the plant sciences; they possess a diverse array of scientists who are well funded and motivated to satisfy their curiosity about how the world works and to seek new knowledge of fundamental plant processes. Such activities thus lay a foundation for applied research that benefits the environment, agriculture, and consumers of food. In this best-case scenario, their scientists have the time and enjoy educating a new generation of students who are challenged to think for themselves and express their ideas freely.  In the worst-case scenario, scientists at these institutions are under-funded, over-worked, forced to choose between doing good teaching and good research, and also feel isolated from the larger global agricultural community.

By contrast, scientists in the NARIs of the world represent the public sector’s system for translation of scientific advances into new products and practices that can be passed on to farmers. In the best of all worlds, their staffs enjoy good government support and excellent relationships with a strong team of local extension agents and with the farming community. They see first-hand the true issues facing farmers, and their feedback to the research community is vital for setting global research priorities. Their counterpart in the private sector includes all those companies that also supply farmers with agricultural inputs but with the aim of generating a profit. The size and strength of NARIs can vary tremendously, ranging from large, well-funded organizations such as Embrapa in Brazil or the USDA to very small operations in the poorest countries of the world that may lack even one PhD scientist and suffer from very modest government support and pathetic facilities. A similar range of sizes holds true for private sector companies that can range from the large multi-national companies with very deep well-funded and innovative research programs and large global sales down to the smallest seed company in the poorest country in the world that does its best to get access to quality seed at prices their clients can afford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving functioned on behalf of a private donor (The Rockefeller Foundation) and later as a member of one center Governing Board, I am most intrigued by the complex role played by the 15 international research centers that represent the CGIAR. Each center has a specific mandate to work on certain crops, fish or livestock or to address policy issues related to international agriculture. They also operate within a larger global framework that has goals to reduce rural poverty, enhance food security, to promote better nutrition and health and sustainably managed natural resources. In the best of all possible worlds, these centers should serve as the obvious natural bridge between the upstream work of the Universities and ARIs and the downstream applied efforts of the NARIs; they should also find ways to have productive interactions with the private sector that involve win-win scenarios for all. At their worst, the centers suffer from some uncertainties as to who their clients really are, to a lack of infusion of more new blood into the system, to relatively rigid management structures, and to new uncertainties about organizational issues and stability of funding as a result of recent attempts at CGIAR reform.

But when I began to think about some of the larger weaknesses of these various systems, I was surprised to discover that they all share many key challenges. Although one can argue there is a huge difference between what the University of California and a NARI of a small African country requires in the way of research budgets, both engage in a constant struggle to obtain sufficient funding froChickpea Field trials at ICRISATm local and national budgets. The private sector and the CGIAR centers worry no less about financial matters. All these systems are blessed by the power of the Internet and the increasing ease with which we can communicate with others around the globe. But all are challenged by the overwhelming increase in data to be managed and shared in a fair way. All are affected by the divisive global debate over GM crops, by the disparate and uncoordinated systems for regulation of such crops, for rules regarding quarantine and global exchange of germplasm, and for the lack of harmonization for processes of approval and release of new crop varieties. All are affected by local, state and international policies that affect the advancement of agriculture at all levels. And all are struggling with ways to best contribute to solving the profound issues of food security, malnutrition, and the effects of global climate change.

There are two other issues that concern me a great deal. One relates to an issue I alluded to in the beginning of this blog—the way in which farm communities grow and change as they progress and adapt to an ever-changing world. Progress in agriculture has often (but not always) involved consolidation of farms into larger more efficient operations.   Yet the development community often continues to look for solutions that could bring prosperity to a woman farmer growing maize on one hectare of land while running a household and raising 5 children. At the other end of the spectrum, while there is growing concern about the rising level of large “land grabs” that involve the leasing or selling of land to create vast for-profit farms in the developing world, there is, in my opinion, room for much more discussion about ways to promote “pro-poor” land consolidation in combination with creation of more off-farm job opportunities. This is an issue that increasingly affects the future of agriculture for rural communities across the planet.  

The second issue that concerns me relates to how we interact with each other within this vast global community. In my opinion, there is a serious gap in the way these various research systems talk to each other, understand each others’ respective roles, and in the ability to forge productive international partnerships.  I have to also say that I have seen huge differences in management styles that certainly differ across, but also within, cultures. Having grown up in the American academic system, I believe that one of the strongest reasons it stands out internationally as one that fosters a high level of innovation is the way that this system (at its best) fosters in its younger students, post-docs and faculty a freedom to engage in independent thinking and offers the freedom to challenge those in power. One thing that has continually distressed me in all my global wanderings is a recognition that many research organizations across the globe are much too hierarchical with a top-down style of management that discourages free discourse, stifles the voice of the young, and discourages innovation.

I recognize that all may not agree with my opinions on the many issues discussed above but this is a blog, and I was encouraged to speak my mind! And that is one of the great things about having the Global Plant Council as a venue to discuss difficult issues. And the real reason I agreed to write this blog is my belief that the Global Plant Council can provide one very powerful venue to help address the many challenges I have outlined above. One can already see the GPC forging initiatives to create a more powerful international dialog on issues such as the creation of a Digital Seed Bank, dealing with malnutrition through support for biofortification efforts, and coping with climate change through an emphasis on building more stress resilience into our agricultural systems. There are many more issues that could be addressed such as harmonization of seed systems, quarantine laws, and some sort of harmonization of regulatory processes for the safe approval and monitoring of GM crops. Such harmonization is particularly critical for small countries that share boundaries and markets but cannot afford to develop such regulations on their own. The GPC could also provide a forum for the sharing of advanced educational materials, for promoting international collaborations and arranging imaginative internships and sabbatical exchanges, and for promoting a broader and more inclusive discussion of policies relating to issues such as farm consolidation and the interactions of agriculture with the environment. Maybe it could also create learning modules and foster dialog that helps leaders of research institutions function most productively to foster innovation in the 21st Century. All this and much more–but only if the GPC has strong support from all of us as individuals, from our scientific societies, from private donors, and from governments of both rich and poor countries.

 

Deborah Delmer

Professor Emeritus, University of California Davis

Program Officer, The Rockefeller Foundation (retired)

A New Venture in Agriculture and Food Science: The World Food Center at UC Davis

WFCblogIn mid-2013 the University of California Davis announced establishment of the World Food Center (WFC) following extensive planning with input from a broad spectrum of university faculty and external advisors. There was broad agreement that the University could, and indeed should, strive to bring its leadership in food and agriculture research together to address specific global challenges in this arena. In doing so it would take a broad and trans-disciplinary approach to developing solutions to questions that the University is qualified to lead.

The Mission of the World Food Center is not simple:

The World Food Center will connect visionary research and teaching with innovators, philanthropists, industry, and public and social leaders to drive economic, health, social, and environmental value in the world’s food system.

tomsmallUC Davis is well known for outstanding research and teaching in disciplines that span food and agriculture, nutrition and health. Furthermore, work at the University has played a large role in the success of agriculture inside and outside the state. California’s agriculture is a vibrant industry based on production of more than 400 different crops as well as dairy and animal agriculture. The industry contributes more than $46 billion to the state economy. Since these crops contribute heavily to dietary diversity of consumers and provide essential nutrients, the University has developed outstanding research and education programs that span from molecular biology of crop and animal genomes and molecular breeding, seed biology, food sciences, enology and wine and other brewing sciences, sustainable agriculture, water management, post-harvest sciences, food safety, food sciences and food safety, nutrition (including the role of gut microbiome), health and wellness. It also includes substantial strengths in economics, social sciences and policy studies related to food and agriculture. Bringing this diversity of knowledge and technical skill to bear on grand challenges in food and agriculture (writ large) presents faculty and students with opportunities to have broader impacts on society than if single or even several disciplines are engaged. This is a goal of the WFC.

maizesmall2The World Food Center is not alone in striving to address grand challenges in food and agriculture, and other universities and research institutions around the globe have taken on similar goals, with variations. We suggest that during the next year a concerted effort be made to identify institutional initiatives with similar goals in developing ‘systems approaches’ to addressing challenges in food and agriculture. This exercise should lead to a more coordinated global effort that will minimize duplication of efforts while encouraging collaboration in research and training. And, it will increase the impacts of our efforts to address the grand challenges in food and agriculture.

If you are aware of other centers with goals similar to those of the World Food Center please contact us at www.worldfoodcenter.org.

Roger N. Beachy, Executive Director, World Food Center, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616. rnbeachy@ucdavis.edu