On 100th Anniversary of Birth of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, Wheat Experts Convene in Mexico on Threats and Opportunities for Wheat – One of the World’s Most Important Crops

Released: 18-Mar-2014 12:30 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
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Newswise — Mexico City, March 18, 2014 – Global experts will hold critical talks in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico (March 22-28) about evolving risks and opportunities for wheat, one of the world’s three key staple food crops. The meetings also will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Norman Borlaug, a legendary scientist who developed high-yielding, semi-dwarf wheat that is credited with sparking the Green Revolution and saving over 1 billion people from starvation. Borlaug’s wheat varieties were first grown in Mexico, India, Pakistan and Turkey, boosting those countries’ harvests, preventing a famine in South Asia and sparking widespread adoption of improved crop varieties and farming practices.

The high-yielding wheat varieties Borlaug developed were also resistant to wheat-killing stem rust, which some consider the “bubonic plague of agriculture.” However, those varieties are now vulnerable to new strains of the disease. At the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop, researchers will report on progress in the fight against resurgent wheat rusts. At the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security, experts will focus on wheat’s critical role in global food security. They will also examine Dr. Borlaug’s legacy as the father of the Green Revolution and what needs to happen now to spark an “Evergreen Revolution.” Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace by increasing the food supply.

The meetings are organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and Patronato for Research and Agricultural Experimentation of the State of Sonora (PIEAES).

Among key Borlaug Summit speakers are:
• Lic. Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico
• Sir Gordon Conway, Imperial College London
• Howard G. Buffett, Chairman & CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation
• Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, 2001 World Food Prize Laureate
• Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Executive Vice President/Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto and 2013 World Food Prize Laureate
• Dr. Hélène Lucas, International Scientific Coordinator of the Wheat Initiative

By 2050, the world population will exceed 9.6 billion and demand for wheat, maize and rice is expected to increase by at least 60 percent. The world’s climate is changing; temperatures are rising in major wheat-growing areas and extreme weather events are becoming more common; natural resources are being depleted; new diseases are emerging; and yields are stagnating. In addition, increasing wheat demand from more people and changing diets pressure grain markets which can push up prices and disrupt free trade when droughts or floods threaten crops in wheat-producing nations.

During the Summit, scientists will examine how climate change imperils wheat production. Wheat is a key source of calories and protein for 4.5 billion people in more than100 countries; for more than 1 billion of them wheat is the major food and they live on less than US $2 per day. According to Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, “If harvests fail in two of the world’s top wheat-producing countries, global stocks cannot meet demand and serious unrest and turmoil may follow in many risk-prone countries.” Noting the world’s nearly 1 billion hungry, Braun stated, “Addressing global food security challenges requires greater collaboration, more advanced research and better systems to effectively reach wheat producers in target populations.”

There will be presentations from China and India – the top two producers and consumers of wheat – on how their grain policies affect market volatility. Shortfalls in just one or two key countries could rock global markets with politically destabilizing price spikes, as happened in 2007-08 and 2011.

“Norman Borlaug championed the development and adoption of improved varieties of wheat that were nutritionally adequate and best adapted to future challenges for smallholder farmers,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI. Therefore, new insights regarding the growing importance of wheat in Africa will be presented. BGRI, CIMMYT and Ethiopian scientists also will talk about new insights regarding dramatic improvements in wheat productivity among smallholder farmers in key African nations, many of which only grow a fraction of what’s possible.

Coffman also stated that “new technologies – including biotechnologies – must be made accessible to all the world’s farmers so that nutritionally superior seeds that are well-adapted to climate change are put into the hands of farmers with limited resources.” Several speakers will discuss new technologies to increase wheat yield and production.

Another key Borlaug Summit event is the launch of the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP). Initiated by public funders from a number of countries, IWYP’s donors will work together with the private sector to form a strong global public-private partnership. The focus of IWYP is research to increase the genetic potential of wheat yields by 50 percent by 2035. This will be accomplished by stimulating research and development progress and moving scientific discoveries into market-ready products for developing and developed nations.

According to Steve Visscher, Deputy Chief Executive & Chief Operating Officer of the United Kingdom’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, “There are many ways we can increase wheat yield, such as improving wheat’s photosynthetic efficiency. Wheat uses only about 1 percent of sunlight to produce biomass compared to maize’s 4 percent efficiency and sugarcane’s 10 percent efficiency.” Wherever breakthroughs are found they will be bred as rapidly as possible into elite, commercially viable seed by CIMMYT or other public sector breeding programs and also by the private sector. “Their potential will then be evaluated in relevant environments across the world and continually developed until those capable of achieving the desired yield gains can be released as finished varieties.”

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About Dr. Borlaug
Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914-September 12, 2009) was an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who many consider “the father of the Green Revolution,” “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson” and “the man who saved 1 billion lives.” He is one of only seven people to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Borlaug was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honor. On March 25, 2014, a statue of Dr. Borlaug will be unveiled in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. It will be one of two statues representing the State of Iowa.

Dr. Borlaug began his groundbreaking work on wheat in 1943 during his tenure on a joint Government of Mexico-Rockefeller Foundation program to make Mexico food-self-sufficient. (This program was the precursor to CIMMYT.) In the mid-1950s Borlaug led the introduction of his high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques; as a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963.

Borlaug’s wheat seeds were sent to India, Pakistan and Turkey in the early 1960s, a time when Pakistan and India were on the verge of famine. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in these countries, greatly improving their populations’ food security. These collective increases in yield were termed the Green Revolution. Later in his life, he helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa. Dr. Borlaug worked at CIMMYT for more than 43 years.

About CIMMYT
Headquartered in Mexico, CIMMYT is the global leader in research for development in wheat and maize and wheat- and maize-based farming systems for developing countries. CIMMYT works throughout the developing world with hundreds of partners to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat systems to improve global food security and livelihoods.

Improved, CIMMYT-derived wheat is sown on more than 60 million hectares in developing countries – over 70 percent of the spring wheat area planted with modern wheat varieties in those nations. These wheat varieties are responsible for bigger harvests that bring annual added benefits to farmers of at least US $500 million.

CIMMYT is a member of CGIAR and receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

About BGRI
The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) is an international consortium of over 1,000 scientists from over 20 institutions working together to reduce the world’s vulnerability to stem, yellow, and leaf rusts of wheat; facilitate sustainable international partnerships to contain the threat of wheat rusts; and enhance world productivity to withstand global threats to wheat security.

Key components of the BGRI include systems for: cereal rust monitoring and surveillance; gene discovery; improved testing, multiplication and adoption of replacement varieties; training and capacity building; understanding non-host resistance to stem rust; and increasing levels of investments and coordination in wheat rust research and development.

The BGRI was championed by Norman E. Borlaug, and initiated by ICAR, ICARDA, CIMMYT, FAO and Cornell University. It is fostered by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project which serves as the secretariat of the BGRI, and was established in 2008.

About PIEAES
PIEAES, known in Mexico as the Patronato, serves as a model for productive farmer-researcher partnerships. Their objectives include: providing moral and financial support to agricultural research activities in the State of Sonora; developing a permanent exchange of information and experiences between researchers and farmers; and production of certified seed of new improved varieties developed by CIMMYT-INIFAP for the farmers of Mexico and the world. As a result of this collaboration, Patronato growers obtained an average record yield of 7.2 tons per hectare in the Yaqui Valley in 2012, similar to that achieved by farmers growing winter wheat in western Europe.

Dr. Borlaug began his work in Mexico alongside the capable farmers of the Patronato. This association of commercial and communal farmers has contributed significantly to the field of agricultural research. More than 1,300 cultivars of wheat and triticale, released in more than 50 countries and grown on more than 60 million hectares, can trace their ancestry to the fields and resources that the Patronato has provided to CIMMYT in the Yaqui Valley in northwestern Mexico.


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