Re-orienting crop improvement for the changing climatic conditions of the 21st century
1 Plant Genetic Resources and Seeds Team, Plant Production and Protection Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy
2 International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia
Agriculture & Food Security 2012, 1:7 doi:10.1186/2048-7010-1-7Published: 1 June 2012
A 70% increase in food production is required over the next four decades to feed an ever-increasing population. The inherent difficulties in achieving this unprecedented increase are exacerbated by the yield-depressing consequences of climate change and variations and by the pressures on food supply by other competing demographic and socioeconomic demands. With the dwindling or stagnant agricultural land and water resources, the sought-after increases will therefore be attained mainly through the enhancement of crop productivity under eco-efficient crop production systems. ‘Smart’ crop varieties that yield more with fewer inputs will be pivotal to success. Plant breeding must be re-oriented in order to generate these ‘smart’ crop varieties. This paper highlights some of the scientific and technological tools that ought to be the staple of all breeding programs. We also make the case that plant breeding must be enabled by adequate policies, including those that spur innovation and investments. To arrest and reverse the worrisome trend of declining capacities for crop improvement, a new generation of plant breeders must also be trained. Equally important, winning partnerships, including public-private sector synergies, are needed for 21st century plant breeding to bear fruits. We also urge the adoption of the continuum approach to the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture as means to improved cohesion of the components of its value chain. Compellingly also, the National Agricultural Research and Extension System of developing countries require comprehensive overhauling and strengthening as crop improvement and other interventions require a sustained platform to be effective. The development of a suite of actionable policy interventions to be packaged for assisting countries in developing result-oriented breeding programs is also called for.