Week 3 (Unit 6)
International Crop Improvement Strategies
Modern cultivar development
- role of public and private agencies
Friendly Version of Unit 6
Post Green Revolution crop improvement
Role of biotechnology and agricultural
chemical companies in crop improvement
Modern Cultivar Development - Role
of Public and Private Agencies
field of plant breeding has changed dramatically in the past ten years
and continues to evolve at a rapid rate. There has been a dramatic shift
from public breeding efforts to privatization of breeding programs. A
survey conducted by Ken Frey
at Iowa State University showed that the number of scientist-years devoted
to plant breeding research and development in the public sector decreased
2.5 scientist-years per year from 1990 to 1994. In contrast, during the
same period private industry was found to have an annual net growth of
32 scientist-years. There has also been a major
shift from traditional field selection programs to breeding programs
that integrate field selection and molecular approaches.
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:
"The development of stronger plant intellectual property rights
has most certainly fueled corporate interest in plant breeding and varietal
development and release. There is no doubt that the availability of
Plant Variety Certificates, plant patents, and the extension of utility
patents to cover new varieties as well as plant tissues and genes has
contributed to industrial interest in the area. All major chemical companies,
both national and international Hoechst, DuPont, CIBA Geigy, Imperial
Chemical Company, and Monsanto, for example, have acquired or developed
corporate divisions with deep capabilities in agricultural biotechnology--the
most recent consolidation is DuPont's acquisition of Pioneer Hi-Bred."
Based on a survey conducted of public plant breeders, he concluded
"... public sector plant breeding has been negatively impacted
by the private sector's development and control of proprietary genetic
stocks. Nearly 50% of public plant breeders have had difficulties obtaining
genetic stocks from companies; the most shocking result is that almost
1/4 of the breeders responded that graduate student training has been
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
- Increasing the emphasis on opportunities for private agricultural
research must be balanced by sharpening the focus and defining the comparative
advantage of public research programmes.
- Public breeding programmes should explore opportunities to recover
some costs, but not at the expense of generating broad social benefits,
their basic mandate.
- Public plant breeding can be made more efficient through a flexible
strategy that tests varieties from a range of sources while shifting
from national towards regional testing and release approaches.
- Public plant breeding must improve its links with the commercial seed
sector, becoming more proactive in promoting its products and moving
them through appropriate private channels to the ultimate user.
- Countries need to establish adequate plant variety protection regimes
in order to stimulate private seed activity and to facilitate use
public varieties by the private seed sector. An appropriate plant variety
protection system will allow continued open exchange of public germplasm
and preserve farmersí ability to save seed of protected varieties.
- Public plant breeding programmes need to increase their negotiating
and legal skills in intellectual property management in order to access
privately held tools and technologies that can help the public sector
address its mandate, especially to serve small-scale farmers.
International Agriculture Research
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:
- FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- UNDP – United Nations Development Program
- UNEP – United Nations Environment Program
- World Bank
The CGIAR undertakes research that the private sector is unlikely to
undertake, national research programs are unable to undertake, and where
coordination is needed and beneficial.
Examples of activities:
- genetic improvements in plants, livestock, fish, and trees
- developing improved natural resource management practices
- saving biodiversity through the CGIAR genebank network
- helping to streamline and improve policies that strongly influence
the spread of new technologies and the management and use of natural
- strengthening of National Agricultural Research (NAR’s) programs
- training of researchers, educators, extension agents, government administrators
- applications and implications of biotechnology for developing countries
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
is a French organization with a mandate to "contribute to rural
development in tropical and subtropical countries through research,
training operations in France and overseas, and scientific and technical
information, primarily in the fields of agriculture, forestry and agrifoods".
CIRAD works in over 50 countries worldwide and had an annual budget
about $150 million in 2001.
IFPRI. 2002. Green Revolution,
Curse or Blessing?
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.
Improvements in wheat
and rice focused on development of high yielding semi-dwarf varieties
with short, stiff straw that
could withstand higher production inputs and increased grain yields.
These varieties could be planted at high densities (more plants
per hectare), in contrast to many traditional varieties that would
lodge (fall over
field) at high density and high fertility levels. In wheat, the
semidwarf genes (Rht1 and Rht2)
had been identified in agricultural trials in post-war Japan by
a USDA agricultural
officer. Crosses were made between the japanese variety, 'Norin
10', and a variety adapted to the US at Washington State University.
Seed of this cross was provided to Norman Borlaug at CIMMYT. The
high yielding varieties (HYVs) that were developed responded to
nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation, and intensive management. Norman
Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions
to the Green Revolution.
Dr. M.S. Swaminathan was a prominent Indian scientist
and plant breeder based at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute
in New Delhi. He collaborated with Dr. Borlaug on seed introductions,
testing, and adoption of high yield varieties and production systems
in India. The result was rapid acceptance of the new varieties
and technology. In 1964, 20 tons each of 'Sonora 63' and 'Sonora
64' semi-dwarf wheat were introduced to India. By 1973, 10 million
hectares were planted to CIMMYT HYV’s. The term 'Green Revolution'
was coined by William Gaud of the US-Agency for International Development
(USAID) to describe this dramatic growth in agriculture. Dr. Swaminathan was winner
of the 1987 World Food Prize for his contributions to the Green
and Indian food production.
What were the features of Dr. Borlaug's breeding and technology dissemination
strategies that contributed to their success?
- Shuttle breeding
- alternated between Toluca and Obregon breeding sites (contrasting
environments) in Mexico
- Daylength insensitivity in varieties
- Resulted in broad adaptation, yield stability
- High levels of disease resistance
- Rust and disease resistance
- Screening and evaluation
- Discovery of new genes and their deployment
- Anticipated changes in rust races
What was accomplished during the 'Green Revolution'?
- Reversal of food shortages in India and Pakistan in the 1960’s
- Averted mass starvations due to exponential population growth
in Indian subcontinent
- 1950: 692 million tons of cereal grain produced worldwide-->1992:
1.9 billion tons of grain
- Increased national security through reduced hunger
- Contributed to increases in global food production
- Raised farmer income and stimulated rural non-farm economies
- Better nutrition was attained through increased income and reduced
What are the criticisms of the Green Revolution?
- Environmental concerns related to intensive production practices
- Fertilizer, pesticide use
- Irrigation requirements, higher water use
- soil erosion
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.
- Decreased biodiversity, increased genetic vulnerability related to
monoculture, high yielding varieties
- Farmers abandoned local land races to grow high yielding varieties
Resulted in increased efforts worldwide to collect and preserve germplasm
and to broaden the genetic base of modern cultivars.
- Inequitable sharing of benefits and income among regions and within
- Large farmers were the primary adapters of technology
- Encouraged unnecessary mechanization, reducing employment
Large numbers of poor people were lifted out of poverty through lower
food prices and increased employment. In some instances small farmers
and landless laborers gained proportionally more income than larger
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
- A scale neutral technology package that can be profitably adopted
on farms of all sizes
- An equitable distribution of land with secure ownership or tenancy
- Efficient input, credit, and product markets so that farms of all
sizes have access to modern farm inputs and information and are able
to receive similar prices for their products
- Policies that do not discriminate against small farms and landless
laborers (for instance, no subsidies on mechanization and no scale
in agricultural research and extension).
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:
- Reduced tillage systems that leave some debris on the soil surface
help to conserve moisture and organic matter and reduce erosion. The
drawback to these methods is that they often require increased use
- Biological control methods using natural predators and pathogens
can be used to control agricultural pests and reduce reliance on pesticides
- Improved water management and efficient irrigation systems that conserve
- Use of organic fertilizers and enhanced biological nitrogen fixation
- Greater biodiversity in farming systems
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
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
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:
- The bulk of the work of SG 2000 projects is carried out by national
extension workers; this ensures that the benefits of the project will
last after the project has officially ended
- Initially, SG 2000 projects focus on training extension workers and
farmers in better production technology for the principal food crops.
- Demonstration plots are used as a ‘classroom’ to show
technology and provide extension outlet for research.
- After several years, SG 2000 shifts from direct involvement in production
demonstration programs and expands work in grain storage, draft power,
agro-processing, and seed production.
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
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:
- increased investment in multi-crop, multi-trait programs
- understanding agro-ecological diversity through applied GIS and combined
- biotechnology aimed at intractable problems
- combining improved soils and crops
- decentralized, well-funded national breeding programs supported by
strategies for variety development
- increase in funding at national level resulting in wider range of
- improving farmer participation through priority setting and participatory
- developing indigenous agricultural input sector.
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
- Gene cloning
- Basic Biotechnology
- Biotechnology and the consumer
- Allergenicity of foods in relation to biotechnology
These lessons are simple and can be viewed free of charge.
Another excellent reference on biotechnological techniques is the
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
- The regulatory process for release of transgenic crops in the US
- Current and future transgenic products
- Risks and concerns about transgenic crops
- Golden rice
- GM corn in Mexico
- Labelling GM foods
- The terminator technology
- Starlink corn
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
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
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 on April 25th
Select one of the CGIAR centers and review its web site. Briefly
- the major research objectives of the center
- the principal crops that it works on
- its geographic focus
- important achievements
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