What should OneCGIAR do?

David Lobell of Stanford University, whose work we have featured here in the past, has a think-piece out called “Principles and priorities for one CGIAR.” For the uninitiated…

OneCGIAR is a dynamic reformulation of CGIAR’s partnerships, knowledge and physical assets – building on an energized, interconnected, and diverse global talent pool. It aims to drive major progress in key areas where innovation is needed to deliver on the SDGs by 2030, anchored in more unified governance, institutions, country engagement, and funding.

And yes, there’s a hashtag.1

Anyway, David thinks the new, improved OneCGIAR should focus on just two things. The first is kind of obvious:

…continued investment in breeding, a longstanding strength of the system. Progress on flagship crops such as wheat and rice will be needed, especially in the face of climate change. For example, maintenance breeding to protect against evolving diseases and pests will be ever more important, as will finding varieties that can withstand heat extremes. Equally important, however, will be to expand work on the many other crops that are grown by poor farmers throughout the world. Historically, these “orphan” crops have received far less attention than major internationally traded crops, but many compelling reasons exist to expand efforts on these crops, including (i) their potential value in addressing micronutrient deficiency (“hidden hunger”), for which less progress has been made than for calorie deficiency in many regions (Gödecke et al., 2018); (ii) the ability of nitrogen-fixing legumes to reverse soil degradation in a cost-effective way (Vanlauwe et al., 2019), a critical need for improving productivity and fertilizer responsiveness in many smallholder fields; (iii) the ability of many orphan crops, such as pigeonpea, cowpea, and cassava, to withstand increasingly frequent extreme heat and drought conditions, and (iv) the prospects that new technologies like genomic selection and gene editing will dramatically reduce the cost of working on orphan crops, especially given recent progress in sequencing many of their genomes (Dawson et al., 2019).

Nice to see orphan crops being highlighted in this way, as we often do here. And of course the international genebanks underpin the CGIAR’s breeding, although David doesn’t mention them. David’s proposed second priority is perhaps more surprising:

…precision agronomy, often also referred to as site-specific or digital agronomy. In food insecure regions, productivity gains from improved management are often far greater than from improved genetics. Yet spurring adoption of a new seed has typically been easier than a new set of practices (Stevenson et al., 2019). Part of the reason is that the ideal management depends a lot on local soil, weather, plot history, and economic conditions, and many “best-practice” recommendations fail to deliver profits for a large fraction of farmers (Jayne et al., 2018).

However, new technologies will help to much more quickly diagnose the major needs at subnational and even field scales. For example, spectrometers can be used to rapidly measure soil deficiencies (Viscarra Rossel and Bouma, 2016), photos from mobile phones can be used to diagnose canopy stresses (see Fig. 1), and satellite imagery can be used to identify fields most likely to benefit from specific inputs or practices (Jain et al., 2019). These existing examples, many of which involve CGIAR scientists, are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. As the different data streams grow and become integrated, it is plausible that every smallholder in the world could have access to recommendations with a high probability of boosting yields and profits. Although some of this can be achieved by the private sector, my view is that a major investment by CGIAR, along with national partners, would help to ensure that poor farmers can quickly benefit from these technologies.

Again, this is an area that we have occasionally discussed here, in particular the usefulness of high-resolution spatial datasets.2

I haven’t seen any replies to David’s suggestions yet, but I’m sure they’re in the works and we’ll be on the lookout for them.

  1. But is it all too little, too late? []
  2. I’ve unashamedly used my mother-in-law as a guinea pig when exploring some of these. []

Brainfood: Potato genebanks, Aichi 11, Taming foxes, Fruit diversity, Polyploidy review, Evaluating quinoa, Into Africa, IPCC review, Desiccation tolerance, Pig diversity, Oolong diversity, Wild millet, Sustainable diets

Culture, Agriculture, Food & Environment, and genebanks

Dr Helen Anne Curry, Peter Lipton Lecturer in History of Modern Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge, guest edited a special issue on “The Collection and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources” for the journal Culture, Agriculture, Food & Environment in December.

Looks good. A couple of the papers are even open access. I admit I haven’t read them yet, but I will, and report back.

And watch out for Dr Curry’s new project “From Collection to Cultivation: Historical Perspectives on Crop Diversity and Food Security,” which is launching this year with support from a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.

Food system research roundup from IFPRI

According to IFPRI, “2019 saw increasing attention to the intersections of food systems and environmental sustainability throughout the year,” and I thing they’re probably right. That makes it increasingly difficult to keep track of what’s going on. Fortunately, they took the trouble of providing a useful summary in their last newsletter of the year. Do read the whole newsletter, and subscribe, but here’s their list of 2019 research highlights.

Healthy diets from sustainable food systems
The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health published a study in January outlining how to sustainably feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet. IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan served as a Commissioner for the report and provided his key takeaways in a video message and blog post.

Seizing the momentum for agriculture and nutrition
In February, IFPRI and CABI published Agriculture for Improved Nutrition: Seizing the Momentum reviewing the latest findings, results from on-the-ground programs and interventions, and recent policy experiences from countries around the world that are forging the agriculture and nutrition sectors closer together. The book launch was hosted by IFPRI and accompanied by a three-part blog series, beginning with a post by the book’s editors.

Over 100 million people faced acute hunger in 2018
According to the Global Report on Food Crises 2019 released in April, more than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger in 2018 driven primarily by conflict and insecurity, climate shocks, and economic turbulence. A mid-year update to the report published in September provided revised numbers on current global food crises.

Increasing CO2 levels and projected climate change reduce nutrient content
A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health in July estimated that the combined effects of projected increases in atmospheric CO2 will reduce the global availability of nutrients by 19.5 percent for protein, 14.4 percent for iron, and 14.6 percent for zinc relative to expected technology and market gains by 2050.

Global hunger still on the rise for third year in a row
More than 820 million people did not have enough to eat in 2018, over 9 million more than in 2017. This was the third year of increase in a row according to the annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report launched in July. IFPRI and FAO hosted a discussion on the key findings of the report.

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report explores the changing face of malnutrition
For the first time in 20 years, UNICEF’s flagship report released in October examined the issue of children, food, and nutrition, providing a fresh perspective on a rapidly evolving challenge. It found that despite progress in the past two decades, one third of children under age 5 are malnourished and two thirds are at risk of malnutrition and hidden hunger because of the poor quality of their diets.

The global food system delivers the wrong prices of healthy and unhealthy foods
An article published in The Journal of Nutrition in November assessed the relative caloric prices for different food categories across 176 countries and found that prices vary systematically across countries and partially explain international differences in the prevalences of undernutrition and overweight adults. In an IFPRI blog post, the paper’s authors noted that as countries develop, their food systems get better at providing healthier foods cheaply, but they also get better at providing unhealthier foods cheaply.

Assessing the affordability of the EAT–Lancet reference diet
A study published in November in The Lancet Global Health used food price and household income data of 159 countries to estimate affordability of the benchmark diets recommended in the EAT-Lancet Commission report. The conclusion is that the reference diet costs a small fraction of average incomes in high-income countries but is not affordable for the world’s poor: to improve diets for them, some combination of higher income, nutritional assistance, and lower prices would be needed.

Brainfood: Food access, Rare species, Italian landraces, Forest status, CC & production, Myanmar nutrition, Super-pangenome, Plant pest priorities, Peanut resistance, Maize coring, EAT-Lancet costs, Sorghum tannins double, Dutch cattle core