Early promise, long journey

News VICE — While the challenges facing global food security and smallholder farmers’ livelihoods over the past year may seem insurmountable at first, IICI’s mission is to continue making impactful agricultural innovations where they are needed most.

From extreme heat across the Horn of Africa to historic floods across South Asia, climate change is fundamentally altering the rhythms of food production in many parts of the world, while bringing with it New pests and diseases.

The changes are set against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has repeatedly disrupted global food and fertilizer supply chains, often affecting the most vulnerable, small-scale farmers.

As a result, figures released by the UN in July 2023 show as much 783 million people Faced with hunger in 2022, the convergence of climate extremes, repeated shocks to global supply chains, increasing economic insecurity and conflict. 122 million more people suffered from hunger last year than in 2019. In particular, the African continent is the worst-affected region, with one in five infected – and it continues to rise. Twice the world average.

However, all these challenges serve to reaffirm the importance of innovative agricultural research and technologies, in particular 10 percent Smallholder farmers in developing countries have access to the latest seeds developed through biotechnology tools. Given the accelerating impact of climate change and the time needed to address these challenges – agricultural innovation must be at the forefront of our response to ensure a hunger-free and climate-resilient world for future generations.

Nevertheless, ICI’s own work, and the wider ecosystem for cutting-edge agricultural solutions, remains promising. African countries continue to adopt innovative agricultural technologies, including those developed in collaboration with IICI with several world-class partners, as the continent undergoes its food system transformations.

Elsewhere, some countries and regional groups are reversing their historical resistance to the role of agricultural biotechnology solutions in modern food systems. In March 2023, the United Kingdom passed a milestone Genetic Technology (Precise Breeding) Act, which approved the commercial development of genetically modified crops. At the same time, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, A Correction Its rules governing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) paved the way for more resilient crops designed with new gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR.

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Also, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which entered into force in January 2021, will soon celebrate its third anniversary. Better-quality agricultural technologies, including improved staple crops, will unlock the full potential of the trade agreement for farmers across the continent, contributing to economic growth, resilience and improved food security.

As we prepare for another year of impactful science and development, I look forward to continuing our important work in translating plant science discoveries and innovative technologies into food and nutrition security solutions for the people who need them most. Throughout our team’s work, several achievements have been highlighted over the past year.

The pod-borer resistant (PBR) cowpea recently celebrated its two-year anniversary of commercialization in Nigeria, where as I wrote Comment piece In July, further groundwork was laid for high-impact agricultural innovations in Africa.

Across Africa, cowpea is an important, low-cost crop, although cowpea production across Africa is threatened by a variety of pests, most notably the maruga pod borer, which can cause losses of up to 80 percent to small-scale farmers.

IICI has worked closely with partners in recent years to grant biosecurity regulatory approvals for PPR cowpea in Nigeria and Ghana. Nigerian farmers have access to improved varieties that help protect yields, reduce costs, contribute to food security goals and protect the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and their communities.

Specifically, this innovation has helped farmers reduce pesticide sprays from eight to two per season, while greatly reducing pesticide costs and providing the same level of protection to their harvests.

Demand for this new variety was so high that seed dealers ran out of stock within days. Now, PBR should focus on measuring the impact of cowpea and creating more quality assurance.

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IICI is also extensively involved in capacity building of seed systems in the country. For instance, it has made several trips to Nigeria last year, where IICI trained seed inspectors licensed to the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). IICI has also supported the International Seed Testing Association’s International Seed Testing Association methods in sampling and molecular diagnosis, detection and diagnosis of cassava virus diseases, and training in seed testing laboratory techniques at the National Crop Research Institute in Uganda, in collaboration with Kenya. Plant Health Inspectorate Service. In doing so, IICI has played a key role not only in providing improved crop varieties, but also in ensuring that farmers can enjoy the full benefits of improved cassava and cassava varieties with greater confidence in their quality.

Elsewhere, IICI’s work is making advances in improving key staple crops for the Horn of Africa, where food production systems face climate-related stresses including extreme heat and drought.

In April 2023, IICI worked tirelessly to secure pre-market regulatory approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the semi-dwarf variety of teff, an Ethiopian staple crop, whose importance cannot be overstated. Foods – from injera flatbreads to baby food mixes. Ethiopia also grows approx 90 percent of the world’s teff.

Developed by IICI researchers in collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, this semi-dwarf variety has now cleared the way for USDA production. The new teff variety, developed using new plant breeding techniques, has reduced height and resistance to lodging or toppling, which can cause yield losses of up to 25 percent, and make the plant more vulnerable to diseases and pests. .

The first season of field testing at the Danforth Plant Science Center field research site confirmed earlier greenhouse observations that semi-dwarf teff showed better lodging resistance despite several storms during the growing season. These preliminary results show great promise for the development and distribution of this important trait to Ethiopian breeders and farmers.

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These developments help to further strengthen teff as a key crop for African food security, helping to address the growing hunger challenge and the impacts of climate change, pests and diseases.

The IICI team has also supported ongoing work to develop and scale up virus-resistant cassava for Africa (Excuse me), which will help secure resilient diets for the one-third of the continent that relies on crops for most of their calorie intake. The first national performance trials of varieties with combined resistance to cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease were planted in Kenya in April this year, with a second season of trials soon to begin. These tests are used to prepare various records and data required by farmers.

As we approach the end of 2023, the first 'global stockpile’ of climate action at this year’s COP28 since the 2015 Paris Agreement, we can be reminded once again how far behind the world is in support for climate adaptation. . Likewise, the recent 2023 AGRF African Food Systems Summit in Tanzania highlighted the need for

However, in both cases, we know that agricultural innovations that contribute to climate adaptation and resilience, especially for the most vulnerable communities in our food systems, including women and youth, are beyond doubt. Now, the task is to ensure that funding and support help these tools reach communities at large.

As we have seen, agricultural innovation across a complex landscape is cautiously optimistic in some places, and requires further engagement and progress in others.

The world now has an opportunity to use the positive developments of the past year to continue working towards a food-secure and climate-resilient world for future generations. We are delighted that IICI is playing its part through continuous innovation for the world’s small-scale farmers.

Dan McKenzie, PhD Managing Director Institute for International Crop Development

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