Food Security: Successes and Struggles of Impact-Focused Crop Improvement Projects

A special issue of Plants (ISSN 2223-7747). This special issue belongs to the section "Plant Genetics, Genomics and Biotechnology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 March 2024) | Viewed by 1641

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Consultant, Freelance, Cambridge, UK
Interests: climate resilient crops; high temperature stress; drought; nutrient use efficiency; crop genetic diversity
1. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, Telangana 502324, India 2. School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Leicestershire LE12 5RD, UK
Interests: crop genetic diversity, marker-assisted breeding; minor crops; resilient agriculture

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Breeders and growers, and agronomists, have done a tremendous job over the past decades to steadily increase production and crop yield per unit area, providing food for a global population which has doubled from four billion in 1974 to eight billion in 2023 – in less than a lifetime. The challenge we are facing now is how to continue growing sufficient, nutritious food for billions in a sustainable way - and produce it where it is needed.

There are large global imbalances in productivity. In addition to local climatic and soil conditions, this is at least partly due to lack of access and/or rate of application of fertilizer nutrients and agrochemicals for crop protection. Additional challenges now arise from climate change, which increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heat, drought and floods. For each 1°C increase in average temperature, predicted yield losses of the main staples, rice, wheat and maize, are estimated between 3.1 - 7.4% (C. Zhao et al., 2017, PNAS).

Stress resilient crops are thus urgently needed, especially since we will not be able to hold global warming below the critical 1.5°C (IPPC). This means that life on earth will become more challenging for all of us and crop failure and yield losses will become more frequent and severe. Therefore, plant science and breeding have a tremendously important role to play in developing crops that are better adapted to climate extremes, more resistant to pests and diseases, and that make better use of nutrients.

The availability of genome sequences and sequence-based technologies, such as molecular markers or gene editing, as well as image-based, high-throughput phenotyping and speed-breeding are now available, holding promise to advance development of such future-proofed crop varieties.

However, whilst technologies advance in some countries, low-tech and low-cost breeding programs, especially in developing countries, continue to produce improved crop varieties often relying on germplasm provided by CGIAR centers, such as CIMMYT, ICRISAT, IRRI or CIAT, as a starting point.

To pay tribute to the enormous efforts and contributions by the many remarkable, dedicated individuals, as well as organizations, such as the CGIAR and Philanthropies, this special Plants issue is inviting articles highlighting small and big successes made towards food security and translation of science into the fields, as well as critical opinion papers and reviews on how we can do better.

Dr. Sigrid Heuer
Dr. Sean Mayes
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • applied crop research
  • molecular breeding and/or demand-led breeding
  • food security and/or nutritional security
  • SDGs
  • climate change
  • crop resilience
  • abiotic stresses
  • disease resistance
  • heat tolerance
  • drought tolerance

Published Papers (2 papers)

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Review

32 pages, 5685 KiB  
Review
The Kirkhouse Trust: Successes and Challenges in Twenty Years of Supporting Independent, Contemporary Grain Legume Breeding Projects in India and African Countries
by Claudia Canales Holzeis, Paul Gepts, Robert Koebner, Prem Narain Mathur, Sonia Morgan, María Muñoz-Amatriaín, Travis A. Parker, Edwin M. Southern and Michael P. Timko
Plants 2024, 13(13), 1818; https://doi.org/10.3390/plants13131818 - 1 Jul 2024
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Abstract
This manuscript reviews two decades of projects funded by the Kirkhouse Trust (KT), a charity registered in the UK. KT was established to improve the productivity of legume crops important in African countries and in India. KT’s requirements for support are: (1) the [...] Read more.
This manuscript reviews two decades of projects funded by the Kirkhouse Trust (KT), a charity registered in the UK. KT was established to improve the productivity of legume crops important in African countries and in India. KT’s requirements for support are: (1) the research must be conducted by national scientists in their home institution, either a publicly funded agricultural research institute or a university; (2) the projects need to include a molecular biology component, which to date has mostly comprised the use of molecular markers for the selection of one or more target traits in a crop improvement programme; (3) the projects funded are included in consortia, to foster the creation of scientific communities and the sharing of knowledge and breeding resources. This account relates to the key achievements and challenges, reflects on the lessons learned and outlines future research priorities. Full article
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26 pages, 22706 KiB  
Review
Review of Crop Wild Relative Conservation and Use in West Asia and North Africa
by Nigel Maxted, Joana Magos Brehm, Khaled Abulaila, Mohammad Souheil Al-Zein, Zakaria Kehel and Mariana Yazbek
Plants 2024, 13(10), 1343; https://doi.org/10.3390/plants13101343 - 13 May 2024
Viewed by 744
Abstract
Ensuring global food security in the face of climate change is critical to human survival. With a predicted human population of 9.6 billion in 2050 and the demand for food supplies expected to increase by 60% globally, but with a parallel potential reduction [...] Read more.
Ensuring global food security in the face of climate change is critical to human survival. With a predicted human population of 9.6 billion in 2050 and the demand for food supplies expected to increase by 60% globally, but with a parallel potential reduction in crop production for wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1% by the end of the century, maintaining future food security will be a challenge. One potential solution is new climate-smart varieties created using the breadth of diversity inherent in crop wild relatives (CWRs). Yet CWRs are threatened, with 16–35% regarded as threatened and a significantly higher percentage suffering genetic erosion. Additionally, they are under-conserved, 95% requiring additional ex situ collections and less than 1% being actively conserved in situ; they also often grow naturally in disturbed habitats limiting standard conservation measures. The urgent requirement for active CWR conservation is widely recognized in the global policy context (Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, UN Sustainable Development Goals, the FAO Second Global Plan of Action for PGRFA, and the FAO Framework for Action on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture) and breeders highlight that the lack of CWR diversity is unnecessarily limiting crop improvement. CWRs are not spread evenly across the globe; they are focused in hotspots and the hottest region for CWR diversity is in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). The region has about 40% of global priority taxa and the top 17 countries with maximum numbers of CWR taxa per unit area are all in WANA. Therefore, improved CWR active conservation in WANA is not only a regional but a critical global priority. To assist in the achievement of this goal, we will review the following topics for CWRs in the WANA region: (1) conservation status, (2) community-based conservation, (3) threat status, (4) diversity use, (5) CURE—CWR hub: (ICARDA Centre of Excellence), and (6) recommendations for research priorities. The implementation of the recommendations is likely to significantly improve CWRs in situ and ex situ conservation and will potentially at least double the availability of the full breadth of CWR diversity found in WANA to breeders, and so enhance regional and global food and nutritional security. Full article
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