December 7, 2010 - FARM published the study What are the prospects for genetic improvement in drought-tolerant crop plants ? The objective is to present the state of the art on research conducted on crops, and their availability to farmers, with respect to a better reaction to drought than the current varieties. Indeed, drought, one of today’s environmental constraints, is also poised to become one of the major consequences of climate change.
The study has been presented by Laure Gaufichon to the press and the public of the conference World agriculture and green growth, the authors being Laure Gaufichon, Bernard Bachelier and Jean-Louis Prioul.
The working method used was two-fold. It began with a bibliographical analysis followed by a survey involving laboratories in public research agencies and private sector companies. Those surveys took place in France, and further aﬁeld in Europe, the United States and Africa, namely Kenya. This is the reason why the results show the most
important aspects of the projects underway in France, the United States and Africa. The study focused on cereal crops cultivated in both developed and developing countries (maize, wheat, rice, sorghum and pearl millet) and looked at the different research options in plant breeding, including both conventional breeding and transgenesis.
Two varieties of maize showing higher tolerance to drought will soon be commercialised in the United States, where demand is strong among farmers. One is a standard variety, stemming from a conventional breeding process, while the other stems from transgenesis. Even though these varieties are aimed at the North American market, African farming may beneﬁt from this research since an international programme bringing together seed companies, national and international public research organisations and American foundations was launched a few years ago to apply the progress achieved with maize to tropical species.
The analysis has shown that while the progress achieved in plant biology over the past thirty years has helped speed up, target and facilitate the breeding process, genetic resources remain the keystone of improvement programmes. Furthermore, this progress is dependent upon economic and biological criteria relating to the species concerned. Accordingly, maize currently claims the lion’s share of investments made by private research to improve crops’ drought tolerance. Besides, it is crucial to remember that since drought tolerance is based on complex biological processes, research is on-going and the path will be a long one. Lastly, it will not be possible to exploit the potential of enhanced seeds without a simultaneous improvement in farming practices, and increase investment in agriculture, especially in developing countries.
The complete study (4Mo, pdf)