Week 3 (Unit 6) International Crop Improvement Strategies
Modern Cultivar Development - Role of Public and Private Agencies
Prior to the biotechnology revolution, private breeding efforts were generally targeted on crops such as maize that had well-developed hybrid seed industries, or crops with a very high cash value. Responsibility for improvement of self-pollinating crops such as wheat was generally in the public domain. International research centers conducted large-scale crop improvement programs to develop germplasm suitable for agricultural production systems in the developing world.
This model is rapidly changing. The following information is taken from an article by Steven C. Price of the University of Wisconsin:
Along with the shift in emphasis from public sector breeding to private breeding efforts, it has become increasingly difficult for public breeders and the international centers to obtain funding for crop improvement efforts.
Nonetheless, public breeding programs still have an important role to play. Tripp and Byerlee (2000) made the following recommendations concerning the role of the public sector in breeding programs, particularly in developing countries:
International Agriculture Research Centers
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
Established in 1971 to coordinate goals and activities of 16 International Agricultural Research Centers (IARC’s), now known as Future Harvest Centers, that work in more than 100 countries.
Mission of CGIAR:
To contribute to food security and poverty eradication in developing countries through research, partnerships, capacity building, and policy support, promoting sustainable agricultural development based on the environmentally sound management of natural resources.
The CGIAR partnership includes 24 developing and 22 industrialized countries, 4 private foundations, and 12 regional and international organizations that provide financing, technical support, and strategic direction. In 2002, contributions to the CGIAR amounted to $357 million.
Cosponsors of the CGIAR:
The CGIAR undertakes research that the private sector is unlikely to undertake, national research programs are unable to undertake, and where international coordination is needed and beneficial.
Examples of activities:
Application of CGIAR research:
Products of CGIAR research constitute ‘international public goods’, freely available to benefit the global public. Germplasm and varieties developed through the CGIAR system are in the ‘public domain’, held in trust under the auspices of FAO.
The challenge now is applications of modern biotechnology and concern
that, through Intellectual Property Right (IPR) restrictions, benefits
of modern biotechnology will
bypass poor people, resulting in ‘scientific apartheid’.
Centers are struggling now to deal with international IPR issues, as
well as public
acceptance of biotechnology in developing countries. Centers may need
to take out ‘defensive IPR protection’ to maintain ‘freedom
to operate’, but IPR claims also consume time and funds.
Other International Research Centers involved in Crop Improvement
de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le
In the mid-1960's, hunger was widespread in Asia and India, exasperated by several years of drought in India. In response, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations provided support for establishment of the international centers to help to transfer scientific advances in agriculture to developing countries. The Mexican Agricultural Program evolved into CIMMYT - The International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations also funded research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines to work on rice.
What were the features of Dr. Borlaug's breeding and technology dissemination strategies that contributed to their success?
What was accomplished during the 'Green Revolution'?
What are the criticisms of the Green Revolution?
Some outcomes were inevitable as millions of illiterate farmers used new technologies for the first time; but also related to inadequate extension programs, lack of regulation of water quality, and policies that subsidized input prices.
But, what would have been the impact on the environment if it had been necessary to expand farming into new areas of marginal lands and forested areas in order to produce adequate food? The total increase in cultivated land for cereals was only 4% during the Green Revolution.
Post Green Revolution Crop Improvement Strategies
Development practitioners now have a better understanding the conditions under which the Green Revolution and similar yield-enhancing technologies are likely to have equitable benefits among farmers. These conditions include:
These conditions are not easy to meet. Typically, governments must make a concerted effort to ensure that small farmers have fair access to land, knowledge, and modern inputs.
Innovative approaches must be employed to reduce the environmental impact of high yielding varieties. These would include:
Sasakawa-Global 2000 Program for Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only continent that has experienced a decline in per capita calorie consumption in the past thirty years.
A collaborative initiative has been undertaken by Norman Borlaug, Jimmy Carter and the late Ryoichi Sasakawa of Japan. This is a joint venture between Sasakawa African Association and Carter Center’s Global 2000 program. It is funded by the Nippon Foundation of Japan.
the focus of the Sasakawa-Global 2000 program is on small-scale farmers in 14 sub-Sarahan African countries. It arose from food aid efforts needed in the early 1980’s during severe drought affecting 20 sub-Sarahan African countries. Sasakawa recognized the need for small-farm level assistance to improve food production.
There was concern that the ‘Green Revolution’ technologies and information were not reaching small farmers, or being adapted to subsistence farming, which are critical for expanding food production in Africa.
Features of the program:
Current status of US International Agricultural Research Support
CRSPs - The US Agency for International Development (USAID) funds international partnerships with Land-grant universities through Collaborative Research Support Programs http://crsps.org/
There are nine CRSPs currently in operation to help build sustainable capacities of National Agricultural Research Systems of developing countries so that they can solve problems of agricultural production and utilization over the long term. The collaborative research of scientists in these programs benefits American agriculture, as well as agriculture in these developing countries.
Biotechnology, Breeding and Seed Systems for African Crops
The Rockefeller Foundation has recently undertaken a major initiative to increase food production in sub-Saharan Africa. The program recognizes the diversity and complexity of agroecosystems in Africa and aims to develop technologies that are tailored to local conditions.
Program Strategy: To increase food access through a yield-increasing and stabilizing strategy directed at needs of producers in low-input systems through:
For more information about this program, see http://www.africancrops.net/
Role of Biotechnology and Agricultural Chemical Companies in Crop Improvement
Multinational companies are also playing an increasing role in crop improvement efforts worldwide, particularly through applications of biotechnology and Intellectual Property Rights legislation.
Biotechnology can be broadly defined as the use of living organisms to provide products for humanity. For the plant breeder, biotechnology offers an additional array of tools for incorporating desirable traits into new varieties. The controversy around biotechnology arises in regard to transgenic varieties that contain genes from other organisms that were inserted using the techniques of genetic engineering.
If you would like to understand more about the science involved in the application of biotechnology tools, The University of Nebraska - Lincoln has an excellent Library of Crop Technology Lessons that covers topics such as
These lessons are simple and can be viewed free of charge.
Another excellent reference on biotechnological techniques is the NCBI Science Primer.
If you would like to have access to balanced information about the science and social issues pertaining to transgenic crops (genetically modified organisms or GMOs), please see Transgenic Crops: an Introduction and Resource Guide from Colorado State University. The site discusses topics such as
Not all applications of biotechnology for crop improvement involve the use of transgenics. It is also possible to use molecular techniques to track genes that already exist in a species through the selection process. Often this involves the use of genetic markers that are closely linked to genes that control important traits, but in other cases the genes themselves have been identified and can be monitored in the breeding program. For a basic introduction to Marker Assisted Selection in animal science, see the notes by Julius van der Werf and Brain Kinghorn.
We will discuss various applications of biotechnology in the units on specific crops.
Reading and discussion
Read the IFPRI article entitled "the Green Revolution: Curse or Blessing"
Go to the discussion board and let us know what you think are critical components of a post Green Revolution strategy for increasing food security. Respond to the comments of at least one of your classmates.
Due April 26th
Select one of the CGIAR centers and review its web site. Briefly summarize:
Submit your findings via the Assignments function on Blackboard.
Take the quiz on this Unit on the Blackboard.
Center for Global Food Issues. 2005. High-yield Conservation Protects
Easterbrook, G. 1997. Forgotten benefactor of humanity. The Atlantic
International Food Policy Research Institute. 2002. Green Revolution: Curse or Blessing? IFPRI Issue Brief #11. http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/ib/ib11.pdf
Levetin, E. and K. McMahon. 2005. Feeding a hungry world. Chapter 15 in Plants
and Society, 4th edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY. Additional on-line
notes and references:
Perkins, J.H. 1997. Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, genes, and the cold war. Oxford University Press.
Price, S.C. 1999. Public and private plant breeding. Nature Biotechnology
Tripp, R. and D. Byerlee. 2000. Public plant breeding in an era of privatisation. ODI Natural Resource Perspectives. http://www.odi.org.uk/nrp/57.html