Global experts will discuss evolving risks and opportunities for wheat at the the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop and the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security, March 22-28 in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico.
The meetings coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who is credited with sparking a green revolution and saving more than 1 billion people from starvation.
International agriculturalists will discuss the high-yielding wheat varieties Borlaug developed – which were also resistant to wheat-killing stem rust – but have now become vulnerable to new strains of the disease.
Researchers will also report on progress in the fight against resurgent wheat rusts, and discuss wheat's 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."
The meetings are organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, and Patronato for Research and Agricultural Experimentation of the State of Sonora.
The summit will host several top speakers, including Dr. Robb Fraley, Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto and 2013 World Food Prize Laureate and Howard G. Buffett, Chairman & CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
Other speakers include Lic. Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico; Sir Gordon Conway, Imperial College London; Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, 2001 World Food Prize Laureate; and Dr. Hélène Lucas, International Scientific Coordinator of the Wheat Initiative.
Addressing the security of wheat crops
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 $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 said, "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.
"New technologies, including biotechnologies," Coffman said, "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.
International Wheat Partnership
Another key Borlaug Summit event is the launch of the International Wheat Yield Partnership. 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% 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.
"There are many ways we can increase wheat yield, such as improving wheat's photosynthetic efficiency," says Steve Visscher, deputy chief executive of the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
"Wheat uses only about 1% of sunlight to produce biomass compared to maize's 4% 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," he said.
Both events will be streamed live at www.borlaug100.org.