ICRISAT shares insights on using agricultural biotechnology to facilitate healthy and sustainable consumer food choices

The 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium held recently in Iowa had a strong ICRISAT presence. ICRISAT’s Ambassador of Goodwill Dr Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was honored as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate in the main event and at one of the sub-events, the crucial role agricultural biotechnology plays in facilitating nutritious, healthy and sustainable consumer food choices was underlined by ICRISAT scientist Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur. The theme of the symposium was ‘The Road out of Poverty’.

The need for sustainable technological interventions to overcome challenges in agriculture development was discussed by Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, Theme Leader – Cell, Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering, ICRISAT. The presentation titled ‘Solutions for Impact in Emerging Markets: The Role of Biotechnology’ was made at the Seed Security for Food Security Forum convened on 17 October.

“With rising populations, climate change, increased pressure on natural resources, food and energy crises, we need to embrace breakthroughs in biotechnology to breach the genetic glass ceiling to overcome ‘intractable traits’ in crops,” says Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur.

High-value crops such as cowpea and banana found in Africa are insect and virus resistant and biotechnological interventions have already occurred in these traits. However, ‘intractable traits’ for example, aflatoxin in groundnut and striga in cereals are difficult to cope with due to their complexity and lack of genetic variability. It is precisely here that biotechnology has immense potential to find appropriate breeding solutions.

Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur emphasized that ICRISAT’s country strategies for Asia and Africa could forge strategic alliances to help establish clear priorities, outreach and communication of technological interventions.

“The World Food prize can be called as the Nobel Prize for Agriculture. Dr Adesina, who is our Goodwill Ambassador, has gone on to be a real advocate on the role of agriculture in lifting smallholder farmers out of poverty. He has brought visibility on the need for science-based solutions to improve agriculture and rural development more broadly,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General-ICRISAT.

Several other speakers called for institutional changes besides technological interventions to step up the game. Marie Haga, Executive Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust emphasized the need for dietary diversification of food for nutrition security.

The application of CRISPR-Cas for cassava, a food security crop for Africa was highlighted by Rebecca Bart, Senior Research Scientist, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Chiedozie Egesi, Project Manager at NextGen Cassava Breeding discussed the efforts made towards developing and releasing improved varieties of cassava and yam including the pro-vitamin-A cassava for Nigeria. Edward Mabaya from Cornell University talked about ways to improve the lives of African farmers through private enterprises.

Speakers from Dow DuPont including Neal Gutterson, Vice President, Research & Development, Paul Schickler, retired President, and Jim Gaffney Global Biotech Affairs & Regulatory Lead-Ag Traits, highlighted the firm’s commitment for global food security.

Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur’s full presentation can be accessed here.

-Published in ICRISAT website.  See original article link here.