Tailor-made crop varieties for farmers

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Bacterial wilt in tomato crops were the focus of this study (© Pexels)

Bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) is one of the world’s most devastating plant diseases, with major crops such as tomato, potato and pepper being severely affected. Until now, crop breeders and farmers have had to simply wait for their crops to mature to determine the level of resistance to the disease. New research has shown that with modern metabolomics technology, it is possible to determine the level of disease resistance in plants much earlier at the seedling stage. This development could save both farmers and breeder time and money when growing host crops, and reduce the yield losses caused by the bacterial disease.

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How The Gates Foundation and Carlos Slim are Supporting Innovation and Crop Improvement For Farmers

Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Mexican Dignitaries visit CIMMYT to inaugurate the new Bioscience facilities © Eruviel Avila (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Mexican Dignitaries visit CIMMYT to inaugurate the new Bioscience facilities © Eruviel Avila (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Fundación Carlos Slim have announced a partnership in support of efforts by the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center CIMMYT) in Mexico to develop and disseminate higher-yielding, more resilient wheat and maize varieties. Continue reading

Parasitic Witchweed defeated in Kenya

Striga Weed in a rice field © AfricaRice (License CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Striga Weed in a rice field © AfricaRice (License CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Striga, a parasitic weed (also known as Witchweed,) has long been a problem in African nations; causing farmers to lose billions of dollars’ worth of crops annually. To make matters worse, the weed flourishes in conditions that characterise that of poor farming communities (small plots, mono-cropping, lack of oxen and natural manure and lack of agricultural inputs.)

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The Climate Reality Project- Coffee Production Hit by Climate Change


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Recently aired as part of The Climate Reality Project (founded by Al Gore), this documentary contains a 5 minute  film about climate change and smallholder coffee production in Colombia. The film featured as part of a 24 hour online stream of climate documentaries and discussions to raise awareness and explain the varying impacts of global climate change.

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Research Projects Into Improving Crop Plants Receive Major Funding

The University of Illinois has received a five year, $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, such as rice and cassava. The project, entitled ‘RIPE- Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency’ has the potential to benefit farmers by improving the productivity of staple food crops. Increasing photosynthetic efficiency has the potential to increase yields and reduce the use of irrigation and fertilisation, however to date there has been limited research on photosynthetic properties of crop plants. The University of Illinois research team will apply recent advances in photosynthetic research, model simulations and crop bioengineering to the RIPE project. Stephen Long, the Project Director and Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois said:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predict that the world will need to increase staple crop yields by 20% by 2050. Photosynthesis promises a new area, ripe for exploitation that will provide part of the yield jump the world needs to maintain food security”

Women oversea cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Women over look cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Slicing Into The Bread Wheat Genome

Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is a globally important crop that accounts for 20% of the calories consumed by the world’s human population. Major work is underway to increase wheat production by expanding knowledge of the wheat genome and analysing key traits, however due to the large size and great complexity of the bread wheat genome progress has been slow. Now scientists from a number of organisations including the Centre for Genome Research at the University of Liverpool, the University of Bristol, University of California and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research service have been working to sequence the genome and identify several classes of genes involved in crop productivity. The analysis provides a resource for improving this major crop by identifying variation in useful traits such as yield and nutrient content, thereby contributing to sustainable increases in wheat production.

Wheat (Triticum aestivum), one of the world's most important food crops © David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Wheat (Triticum aestivum), one of the world’s most important food crops © David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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Looking to the past for disease resistance

Fireblight on apples
Fireblight on apples

Traditionally, farmers have bred their crops so that, in several generations, they have a variety that has a high yield or a particular taste or texture. These days, many farmers don’t breed their own crops but buy varieties that have been specially developed to perform well. However, it turns out that sometimes it is best to rediscover old varieties that naturally already have desirable traits.

Researchers at the Swiss research centre, Agroscope, were commissioned by the Fructus Association to look at the properties of apple varieties that are no longer widely grown. This is part of the NAP-PGREL project, which aims to record the properties of approximately 300 fruit varieties a year and make this information available to fruit growers. Continue reading