G20 endorses international wheat improvement effort to improve food security

29th Jun 2011

Agriculture Ministers from the G20 group of nations have adopted the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI), which will be funded for coordination activity in part by BBSRC.

The historic agreement between the Ministers of Agriculture of the G20 in Paris underlines the importance of increasing world agricultural production, in particular that of wheat, to resolve the urgent challenge of sustainably providing enough safe, nutritious and affordable food for a growing global population.

Wheat is the most widely consumed crop in the world, producing over 20% of the calories and protein consumed by humans. It is also the UK's most important crop. This initiative will aim to reinforce cooperation and coordination between national and international bread and durum wheat research programmes. It will support improvements in food security, nutritional value and safety while taking into account societal demands for sustainable and resilient agricultural production systems able to adapt to anticipated climate change.

Coordination activity by IRIWI in its first four years will be supported by BBSRC, INRA (France) and CIMMYT (Mexico). IRIWI itself is supported by research and funding organisations from 10 countries which have, or intend to develop, national programmes to improve wheat germplasm. The number of partner countries is expected to increase and the coordination will ensure that information from these national programmes is available for application globally.

Prof Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "I am delighted that the G20 Agriculture Ministers have adopted the initiative. Wheat is the most widely consumed carbohydrate in the world and the UK's most important crop. Our efforts to improve yield, nutritional value and safety must overcome international barriers to deliver the greatest impact. The UK has a key role in international wheat research, supported by BBSRC, so I am very pleased that we can play a similarly important role in the initiative."

Present production levels of wheat do not satisfy demand and with a predicted world population of 9Bn in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 70%. In order to meet future demand the average annual increase in global wheat yield must jump from its current level of below 1% to at least 1.7%. Improvements in wheat production vary considerably from country to country so in order to achieve this level of increase international cooperation and the sharing of best practice is vital.

IRIWI will coordinate worldwide research efforts in 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.

A number of national research programmes have been initiated recently by leading nations, including BBSRC's recent announcement of a £7M programme of wheat pre-breeding research.

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.

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