Sunday, October 14, 2012


Global food security issues are getting more and more complicated with different experts taking conflicting views and it is not yet certain that the 10 billion population expected by the year 2050 will be able to get their minimum needs of food as recommended by international nutrition agencies. The great Green Revolution has already run its course and while achieving record breaking yields it has also ruined the soil health to the extent that it is impossible to think of another such feat unless the land is rehabilitated and rejuvenated at great cost. The wonder technology going by the name Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is not able to achieve significant production increase though food wastage in the field is controlled to some extent in some cases. Expansion of cultivated land or the irrigation infrastructure can achieve limited gains, not to the extent demanded by the situation. It is against this context one has to view the exciting development in wheat breeding taking place in Australia where scientists are reported to have identified wheat strains with yields, 30% more than traditional varieties grown at present. Here is a take on this new development which may have a far reaching positive impact on future food security.

"A CSIRO research team has made a chance discovery that could increase Australian wheat production by 30 per cent a year, The Australian reports. Grains Research & Development Corporation chief John Harvey described the discovery as 'serendipitous', and worldwide it is being heralded as a potential solution for future food shortages. The breakthrough occurred while researchers were experimenting with the genetic make-up of wheat, Mr Harvey says. "Researchers at CSIRO's division of Plant Industry were looking at ways to change starch in wheat (for industrial processing reasons) and noticed when they grew (these new wheat types) the plants ended up 30 per cent larger, with 30 per cent bigger heads and a 30 per cent increase in grain yield." This 'super wheat' is being grown in three locations around Australia after initially being bred in Canberra by the research team headed by Matthew Morell. Researchers hope this advancement will provide the leap in wheat productivity for which they have searched for years. CSIRO Plant Industry chief Jeremy Burdon says that researchers have changed their approach since the 1960s and 1970s from creating disease resistant varieties of wheat, to increasing wheat biomass and grain head yields. "That's why this new development is potentially so significant; a 30 per cent yield increase is an extraordinary achievement if it can be replicated in the field." Wheat is one of the most important food crops, with an estimated 650 million tonnes produced globally each year. Australia produced a record 29.5 million tonnes last year. With world wheat
prices hitting a record high in recent times due to drought in the US, Canada and Russia, the expectation is that process will rise in the next five to ten years. "With this technology, we see more vigorous wheat with larger seed heads, and larger seed," said Bruce Lee, director of CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship. "If we can achieve significant yield increases in the field, this will have a major impact on food production on a global scale." 

Wheat is by far the most sought after food grain with practically all industrialized nations consuming large quantities as it is the staple food there. Besides the multi billion bakery products industry is founded upon the unique protein, gluten present in wheat and the demand for this grain is bound to grow in the coming years. While Australian scientists deserve kudos for their chance discovery, what is disturbing is that the new technology is going to be "bottled up" through patenting, denying its benefits to those population which really deserve it. There must be a universal agreement at international level to share results of such vital scientific findings beneficial to people in all countries through some form of compensation to the discoverers for their investment in research.


No comments: