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Improving wheat for world food security

cimmyt-wheatIn order to contribute to world food security, the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI), supported by research organisations and funding agencies from about ten countries, has been adopted by the Ministers of Agriculture of the G20. INRA, with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (UK) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, Mexico), will contribute to the coordination activities of the IRIWI during the first four years of the project.

The historic agreement between the Ministers of Agriculture of the G20 on 23 June 2011 in Paris underlines the importance of increasing world agricultural production, in particular that of wheat, to resolve the urgent challenges of hunger and food price volatility. Already very active on this issue, INRA, together with other national and international research and funding organisations from about ten countries, will launch the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI) in 2011. This initiative aims at reinforcing synergies between bread and durum wheat national and international research programmes to increase food security, nutritional value and safety while taking into account societal demands for sustainable and resilient agricultural production systems.

Wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world but the present production levels do not satisfy demand. With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 70%. Annual wheat yield increases must jump from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.7%.

Repeated weather hazards in a context of global change, the constant rise in oil prices, speculation on agricultural markets are some of the factors reinforcing volatility of wheat prices and aggravating food insecurity in numerous countries.

Strengthening coordination of world wheat research

IRIWI will coordinate worldwide research efforts in the fields of wheat genetics, genomics and agronomy. Both Northern and Southern countries share the need to improve wheat yield, tolerance to stress, pathogens and pests, as well as wheat resource use efficiency. Improved agronomic practices and development of innovative cropping systems are also a priority. Several large national research programmes on wheat have been launched recently in Northern countries. CIMMYT and ICARDA have presented a new CGIAR research programme called WHEAT for the developing world.

As part of its activities, IRIWI will provide a forum to facilitate communication between research groups, identify potential synergies and encourage collaborations among major existing or emerging nationally, regionally and internationally (public and private) funded wheat research programmes. It will also support the development of publicly available integrated databases and platforms and establish and periodically update priorities for wheat research of global relevance.

Sharing resources, methods and expertise to improve and stabilise yields

The on-going efforts to decipher the wheat genome sequence, as well as the development of high throughput genotyping and phenotyping tools, will provide new ways to exploit more efficiently the available genetic diversity and create new wheat varieties by public and private breeders. Development and adoption of precise and site-specific management techniques will lead to the improvement of production systems. The IRIWI will facilitate and ensure the rapid exchange of information and know-how between researchers, and will organize knowledge transfer to breeders and farmers.

These actions will allow the creation of improved wheat varieties and the dissemination of better agronomic practices worldwide in the next 15 years. These new wheat varieties and agronomic practises will allow farmers to stably produce more and better wheat in different environments.

Presentation of the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (pdf)

IRIWI reinforces INRA’s long-term involvement in research in wheat improvement. Recently, the BREEDWHEAT project was selected by the French Stimulus Initative. BREEDWHEAT is carried out in coordination with or contributes to other international initiatives, such as the WHEAT-Global Alliance project for food security in Southern countries, conducted by the CIMMYT and the International Wheat Sequencing Programme coordinated by the IWGSC.