New partnership hopes to increase wheat yields 50% by 2034

Richard Flavell, founding member of IWYP, answers questions after a presentation on the new partnership. Flavell and other members hope to significantly increase wheat yields by 2034. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

Richard Flavell, founding member of IWYP, answers questions after a presentation on the new partnership. Flavell and other members hope to significantly increase wheat yields by 2034. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

By Meghan Eldridge

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico — A new research and funding partnership plans to increase global wheat yields 50 percent by 2034.

The partnership, called the International Wheat Yield Partnership, or IWYP, was launched Friday during a presentation at the close of the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. More than 700 people from more than 64 countries attended the summit.

The IWYP brings together wheat geneticists, international aid agencies, private sector companies and farmers to achieve a long-term goal of increasing yields in one of the world’s most vital crops in the fight against food insecurity.

The partnership plans to fund its goals by raising $100 million over the next five years from donors and funders worldwide. The group has already received significant pledges toward that goal.

The IWYP will combine some of the leading scientists to share genetic resources like wheat germplasm, data and ideas to increase yields, said Nora Lapita, founding member of the IWYP, during the presentation.

The partnership hopes to increase wheat yields by 160 million tons a year, which would produce $50 billion to $100 billion in additional annual income for some of the world’s poorest farmers, she said.

More than increasing yields, the primary goal is to further Norman Borlaug’s hope of getting research advances into farmers’ hands quickly, Lapita said.

“All of this only makes sense when farmers can increase their yields and have more grain in their bags,” said Hans-Joachim Braun, founding member of the partnership and director of the Global Wheat Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT.

The IWYP was founded through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; CIMMYT; Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food of Mexico; and United States Agency for International Development.

Agricultural companies, wheat research programs and private companies are invited to become members of the partnership. DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and Bayer Cropscience are among the companies that have already applied for membership.

The IWYP acknowledges they’ve set a lofty goal for the future.

“It is truly an ambitious goal, but it’s a goal that is worthy of our time and investment,” Lapita said.

Kathryn Ingerslew contributed reporting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Farmer to farmer method of learning sees success

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – Digital Green, an agricultural website in India, has found that producing and sharing content is best done at the grassroots level. By creating videos using as many local faces as possible, the company has found them ten times more effective per dollar spent than previous agriculture extension work.

“We are trying to build on the existing social networks of these communities and use technology as a leverage,” Rikin Gandhi, chief executive officer at Digital Green, said.

Digital Green adds a component of fun their agricultural mission with Wonder Village, an interactive online game similar to FarmVille

Digital Green adds a component of fun their agricultural mission with Wonder Village, an interactive online game similar to FarmVille

When using scholars to explain differing farming methods, the viewers dwindled.

“They see a great socioeconomic, demographic and educational disconnect between those individuals and themselves,” Gandhi said of farmers attitudes towards university and government officials.

They want to hear from similarly resource-constrained small farmers. By using a village’s local farmer as an actor in the educational videos, the perception of being a pupil is lost and viewers increase.

Using familiar faces also creates local stars and role models. The farming methods highlighted in the videos are seen as a first choice, not a last resort.

“Some farmers adopt these practices just so they can be seen on video as role models in their respective communities,” Gandhi said.

Displaying the videos brings the community together, generally twice a week. Battery powered projectors run by local, certified and trained, facilitators display the on-demand videos offline. The video can be paused, rewound, or viewed again for questions or comments, answered by the local villager.

“Having these local facilitators familiar with caste and political structure of the community were important in terms of relaying information to fellow members,” Gandhi said.

Digital Green aims for each educational video to be produced in the local district.

Eighty percent of the video content — land, actors, facilitators on and off the screen — are local, Gandhi said.

Farming communities can become even more tight knit using Digital Green’s online aspects. For those that have Internet access, the Digital Green videos create a larger community. Information as to whom has watched what video and what questions they may have asked is also available.

“It’s important to broaden the participation of these communities so they too can be able to take their one small step towards improving their lives and those around them,” he said.

The company’s website and YouTube channel categorize each video for easy access and learning.

Posted in Borlaug 100, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can climate projections aid in wheat breeding?

By Kathryn Ingerslew

Dr. Graham Farquhar addressing a question from the audience at Borlaug 100.

Graham Farquhar of the Australian National University addresses a question from the audience at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – The future of breeding wheat to grow in a climate-changed world is in flux.

Graham Farquhar, a scientist at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Thursday that long-term climate predictions cannot yet provide the kind of detailed information on future conditions in specific regions to be useful to breeders.

The climate may be hotter, cooler, wetter or drier in different regions, and several climate-change models disagree on just how it will all play out, Farquhar said at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security.

“There could be surprises,” he said, referring to how rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere might affect photosynthesis, flowering and other key aspects of plant growth.

The bottom line: wheat breeders who are seeking guidance on how to direct their efforts for breeding seeds with the best traits for their corners of the world are on their own. Such traits might include drought tolerance and pest resistance.

Farquhar advised them to be prepared for everything, leaving wheat breeders without solid direction for now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Professor: Politics of rich nations block food from reaching the poor

By Shawna Rowe

CIUDAD OBREGON – The food security problems of Africa can be traced to activist groups in rich nations that have prevented access to genetically modified foods, a Wellesley University political scientist said Friday.

Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science, discussed the political issues preventing farmers in developing countries from using higher-yield crops.

Robert Paarlberg Photo by Shawna Rowe

Robert Paarlberg
Photo by Shawna Rowe

“When it comes to food crops, the gene revolution, in contrast to the Green Revolution, has not reached the fields,” Paarlberg said.

This lack of acceptance appears linked to the emergence of global organizations that simply did not exist during the time of the Green Revolution, he said. Global environmental groups like Greenpeace emerged only in the 1970s.

Uncertainty about genetic modifications spurred activists to push for regulations that now block GMOs from acceptance in many developing countries.

“All that is needed is uncertainty,” Paarlberg said, referring to creating public concern about a new technology. “You can get uncertainty by hypothesizing a risk that has yet to be tested.”

Confusion and fear about GMOs have been triggered by individuals in industrialized nations who remain skeptical, he said. They have scared people in positions of power, which has kept farmers in developing nations from accessing GM crops.

The problems of regulations have intensified in recent years, Paalberg said. He cited the example of Zambia in 2002.

During a severe drought, 1.5 million Zambians were threatened by famine. Since the food aid brought into the nation contained GMOs, much of it was disposed of before it got to hungry people.

“To anyone with a general interest in social justice, it should be clear what is happening,” he said. “The rich are getting what they want from GMOs while denying the poor of what they need.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faces of the Borlaug 100: Dale Leftwich

By Kathryn Ingerslew

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – Dale Leftwich, a farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada, is attending the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security to learn more about agriculture and the legacy of Norman Borlaug.

Dale Leftwich, farmer from Saskatchewan. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

Dale Leftwich, farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

Leftwich grew up in a small town where he attended a school of 130 students. Trips to his grandparents’ farm were always special, and after he turned 15, he spent his summers working on the farm and developing his love for agriculture.

Leftwich earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and economics and became an agronomist and seed salesman for about 20 years. In 2004, he began farming full time and currently grows a rotation of wheat and canola.

“When I heard about the Borlaug summit, I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a world-class conference close to home,” he said.

Leftwich is learning about new agricultural practices as well as paying tribute to Norman Borlaug, who is credited with starting the Green Revolution beginning in the 1940s.

“Taking it to the farmer” is the most valuable idea that has been discussed so far, Leftwich said. Many scientists during the Borlaug summit have discussed the vital transfer of information from researchers to farmers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faces of the Borlaug 100: Emily Haghighi

By Meghan Eldridge 

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico —Emily Haghighi, a second-year graduate student in the MU Truman School of Public Affairs, is attending the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security to learn more about an issue she’s passionate about: food security.

Haghighi, 28, spent two years in the Peace Corps following graduation from Soka University of America in California.

Emily Haghighi, MU graduate student, presents a poster at the Borlaug summit on Wednesday. Haghighi shared her findings from two years in the Peace Corps with conference attendees. Photo by Shawna Rowe

Emily Haghighi, MU graduate student, presents a poster at the Borlaug summit on Wednesday. Haghighi shared the experiences she had in the Peace Corps stationed in Niger. Photo by Shawna Rowe

She worked in Niger in agriculture extension, sharing knowledge of intercropping with subsistence farmers in the village where she was stationed. Haghighi emphasized the potential to increase food security for families by growing legumes in between rows of millet.

She presented her experiences in the Peace Corps with fellow attendees at the Borlaug summit during a poster presentation Wednesday and Thursday.

In addition to her own poster, Haghighi presented a poster created by her mother, Kathleen Ross Dahlman. Dahlman’s poster shared the findings of a research collaboration between Ernie Sears, a wheat geneticist from MU, and Norman Borlaug that took place in the late 1950s.

The poster exemplified the connection Borlaug had with other scientists across the country as he studied the effects of stem rust on wheat varieties in Mexico, Haghighi said.

Haghighi plans to take what she’s learned at the conference and apply it to her study of non-profit and public management at MU.

“I’ve been really into the idea of collaboration and interdisciplinary work,” she said. “The researchers have been talking about the importance of working with policy-makers, non-profits and farm cooperatives to get their research to the farmers.”

That’s exactly what Norman Borlaug did, Haghighi said.

“Keeping the spirit of Borlaug alive is something we need to take away as young students, especially in the non-profit and policy worlds,” she said.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fraley: reconnection to agriculture critical

Robert Fraley Image by Ann Millington

Robert Fraley
Photo by Ann Millington

By Shawna Rowe

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – Modern agricultural information is not effectively distributed to all parts of society, Monsanto Co.’s chief technology officer said Thursday.

Robert Fraley, who also is Monsanto’s Executive Vice President and a World Food Prize Laureate, said this lack of communication leads to several problems. He called on scientists to take a more active role in advocating for agriculture.

Throughout his career, Fraley has been working to create innovations and promote policies to help all people gain better access to information about modern agriculture.

“We must make the right decisions in terms of investment and agriculture,” Fraley said in an interview before speaking at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. “Less than 1 percent of people are directly involved in the production of their food in the U.S. We need to reconnect on the importance of advocating for agriculture.”

With policies lagging behind advances in biotechnology, farmers in many nations are prevented from using the necessary tools to produce enough food to feed their populations, he said.

Organizations Fraley termed “fear-mongers” have encouraged nations to prohibit the use of genetically modified foods. This is a problem because it results in malnourishment and further cultivation of previously untouched land, he said. That, in turn, harms the environment.

“We are now on the doorstep of understanding yield enhancements that allow for less land being involved in production,” Fraley said. “If we didn’t continue to innovate, then we would end up plowing out more of the planet. We must use all of our tools effectively.”

Fraley has made strides toward engaging more young people in agriculture. For example, he donated proceeds from his World Food Prize — with matching funds from other personal resources and from Monsanto — to establish the Fraley-Borlaug Scholars Fund at the University of Illinois. This fund aims to increase participation in the plant sciences by women — a group that Fraley believes is currently under-represented.

“In many nations, women are a critical component of agriculture,” he said. “They are the ones working the field, but they are largely under-represented.”

Fraley has dedicated his life to agriculture and says those involved in agriculture have an obligation to advocate for it and educate others.

The growing information disconnect increases the prevalence of uneducated decisions about agriculture, Fraley said. A reconnection to the important role of food production can go a long way in encouraging policy change, he said.

Posted in Borlaug 100, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment