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Global network to increase wheat yield, fight hunger

To meet the global demand for wheat, wheat yield needs to be increased by 60% by 2050 or 1.6% per year. While scientific evidence suggests that the yield potential could be increased by 50% or more, the research needed is beyond the current capacity of individual institutions or national research programs. Therefore, the establishment of an international Wheat Yield Network (WYN) was proposed on 13 November 2012 during the Wheat Yield Funders’ Conference in Mexico City. The WYN follows on from a major three year effort by the Global Wheat Program and many international partners (who worked together as the Wheat Yield Consortium) with strong support from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) through the MasAgro initiative.

The meeting was officially opened by Francisco Javier Mayorga Castañeda, SAGARPA Secretary. Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT director general, welcomed all participants on behalf of CIMMYT. Hans Braun, CIMMYT Global Wheat Program director, then provided an overview of the global wheat crisis, stating that increasing wheat yield is currently one of the biggest challenges to food security. However, investments in wheat research are low compared to other major crops, although wheat is currently second to rice as the main calorie source and the most important source of plant protein in human food. To achieve the goals of the proposed WYN – increasing the photosynthetic capacity of wheat, achieving high and stable harvest index and lodging resistance, and establishment of a state-of-the-art breeding platform to deliver new wheat lines from this work to the world – it is necessary not only to connect leading public and private research teams, but also to establish more research platforms in developing countries, such as the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) near Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico.

During his presentation on the origins of the Wheat Yield Consortium, Lumpkin discussed the importance of wheat for achieving food security and raised the question whether wheat will be able to compete with other crops without increased research funding. “We need to supercharge wheat and make it competitive with maize,” he said. Helene Lucas, Wheat Initiative and INRA international coordinator, offered a global perspective on wheat programs and purpose of Wheat Initiative. Steve Visscher (BBSRC deputy chief executive and chief operating officer) and Saharah Moon Chapotin (division chief for agricultural research, USAID) outlined the public sector position, and John Bloomer (JMB Consulting (Pleshey) Ltd. director) summarized the perspective of the private sector.

Prior to the closed session, a discussion was held to cover possible future steps. It was reiterated by participants that the question is not whether a global platform to support wheat research is needed; the question is how to do it. A communiqué with results of the conference is currently being prepared.