Initiative:

Accelerated Crop Improvement Through Precision Genetic Technologies

Challenge

Feeding the world’s population of 8.5 billion by 2030 will require increasing crop yields and providing more nutritious and higher quality food while also making agriculture more resilient and sustainable. Currently, 15% of production is lost to pests and diseases, with another 30% lost after harvest. On top of this, crop production is predicted to decline by 2–6% per decade due to climate change. Furthermore, staple crops are generally poor in micronutrient content, contributing to malnutrition estimated to cost US $3.5 trillion per year.

Conventional crop breeding methods alone will not be sufficient to meet future demand. Breeding pipelines are currently too long, and many key target traits require genetic diversity beyond what is currently available within elite breeding and pre-breeding pools. In addition, the costs, skills, complex intellectual property landscape, and varying levels of public acceptance present challenges across the crops and regions served by CGIAR.

Objective

This Initiative aims to accelerate the development and delivery of parental lines with high potential to produce valuable progeny and the improvement of elite varieties with new traits unachievable or inefficiently attainable with conventional breeding approaches.

Through precision genetic technology products, this Initiative seeks to reduce crop losses by approximately 20% and pesticide use by approximately 50%, and to improve micronutrient content (reaching 30–50% of estimated average requirements) with a reduced environmental footprint.

This will be achieved by:

  • Prioritizing traits, crops, and countries targeted for 2022–2024, carried out by overlaying product profiles (blueprints for target varieties) with characteristics demanded by local farmers and consumers.
  • Managing trait lifecycles through a stage-gate process. Genetic material that confers pest and disease resistance, yield improvement, better nutrition and quality, or adaptation or mitigation to climate change will be incorporated into parental breeding lines or elite varieties and progeny will be selected for possible release through a series of predefined steps.
  • Establishing three regional technical Nodes of Excellence with crop specialization, to efficiently deploy the latest innovations in precision genetic technology. Local capacity development will further progress towards self-reliance.
  • Developing a CGIAR enabling platform to accelerate precision genetic technology product adoption. The platform will harmonize internal policies, regulatory stewardship, access to proprietary technology, and compliance, as well as facilitate effective communication to support informed decision-making for products.

Outcomes

Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. CGIAR and national scientists working at Nodes of Excellence, equipped with state-of-the-art enabling tools and best practice protocols, efficiently develop novel products with impactful traits for focus crops in target geographies.
  2. Breeders use precision genetic technology-improved parental breeding lines in their elite breeding germplasm for developing mainstream traits and in the future release of novel varieties. CGIAR and national scientists use feedback on trait performance to develop next generation products.
  3. Agronomists, breeders, and seed system partners use precision genetic technology-improved elite varieties for at least two CGIAR crops for seed production in a minimum of four countries.
  4. Freedom to operate in intellectual property agreements on potential CGIAR products is obtained and used to develop products in target geographies. Coherent best practices for biosafety, stewardship, and compliance are applied across CGIAR locations.
  5. CGIAR science leaders use common principles, policies, and ethics for precision genetic technology. Decision-makers, farmer leaders, women, youth, and value-chain stakeholders have increased awareness of the potential of precision genetic technology, thereby making more informed decisions. In-country ambassadors are informed and empowered with effective key messages on CGIAR precision genetic technology products.

Impact

NUTRITION, HEALTH & FOOD SECURITY

The application of precision genetics accelerates the development and deployment of resilient varieties and contributes to meeting future demand for healthy foods. Improved varieties close the yield gap by 10–20%. Micronutrient content of a few staple crops is improved to reach 30–50% of the estimated average requirements for women and children.

POVERTY REDUCTION, LIVELIHOODS & JOBS

Increased agricultural production, reduction in input costs, and improved nutrition increase the incomes of households and improve their livelihoods. A more deliberate focus on farmer- and market-informed product profiles stimulates and diversifies opportunities for the agrifood sector and its entrepreneurs and employees.

GENDER EQUALITY, YOUTH & SOCIAL INCLUSION

Gender and youth participation in developing product profiles and prioritization to make decisions on target crop traits are emphasized, as well as the potential for enabling new income opportunities. Cutting-edge technology product development attracts youth involvement in agriculture.

CLIMATE ADAPTATION & MITIGATION

Varieties better adapted to climate change are developed by targeting traits such as heat tolerance, methane reduction, and/or nitrogen-use-efficiency. The reduction of inputs resulting from the cultivation of pest- and disease-resistant varieties helps reduce carbon emissions from producing, transporting, and spraying pesticides to control pathogens.

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & BIODIVERSITY

Cultivation of improved varieties with pest and disease resistance helps reduce chemical inputs currently needed to control them. Non-target organisms affected by chemicals are restored in agricultural environments, thereby increasing soil and aboveground biodiversity.

 

For more details, view the full preliminary outline

 

Header photo: Cross of selected clones introduced from INIA Uruguay with local varieties and advanced adopted International Potato Center-bred breeding clones with heat tolerance at the Huancayo Greenhouse, Peru. Photo by M. Major/Crop Trust.