Genes, Seeds, Plots, Models and the Poor
An International Roundtable sponsored by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and convened by The International Food Policy Research Institute and the University of Minnesota.
The development and adoption of more productive cropping systems has played a key historic role in improving the lot of poor people. Maintaining and significantly enhancing this role in the future so as to accelerate the alleviation of hunger and poverty is both a humanitarian imperative and a fundamental scientific challenge. Of the several complementary strategies for raising cropping system productivity, this Roundtable focuses specifically on the scope for accelerating, enhancing the effectiveness of, and better targeting crop varietal improvement efforts through the transformation of underpinning information and knowledge systems.
The tools of crop improvement have expanded dramatically in the past several decades, making it possible to tackle an ever-increasing set of constraints and opportunities at all stages of crop production and utilization. Supporting information systems have also evolved in some areas. For example, the capacity to generate and interpret genome-scale data has expanded exponentially, while information on existing crop technologies and on crop performance in farmers’ fields remains limited and fragmented, particularly in many poorer countries. Thus, not all relevant information sets have improved uniformly, nor has our ability to analyze and tap information across existing data and disciplinary divides. The key hypothesis of this Roundtable is that there are poorly articulated, underdeveloped or undiscovered strategic opportunities for enhancing the role of information, information systems, and information sharing in accelerating crop improvement. Greater and more-timely access to primary data and value-added information might help, for example, in targeting trait identification, expression, and delivery to maximize their impacts for poor people. This might include improving the design of breeding strategies by striking a better balance between developing more-widely versus more-locally adapted varieties, and in designing optimal networks of field trail locations both within and beyond target production areas.
This Roundtable brings together a cross-disciplinary group of world experts to identify and characterize strategic information constraints and opportunities, suggest those which have high priority and, most critically, articulate the consequences for varietal development and delivery efforts of relieving such constraints or realizing such opportunities.