Work by CSIRO to predict Australia’s possible agricultural future is gaining international attention for its potential to improve food security in the developing world.
The organisation that catalysed the ‘Green Revolution’, improving crop yields and food security and preventing hundreds of millions of people from starving, is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known as CIMMYT by its Spanish acronym) is a global leader in the development of high-yielding grain varieties and improved farming practices.
Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds, who led CSIRO's integration science and modelling work, has been asked to present the 2015 Australian National Outlook at CIMMYT's definitive 50th birthday party happening this week in Mexico, a conference themed: Turning research into impact: past, present and future.
The first of its kind, the outlook linked nine national and global models to provide an integrated analysis of economic activity, agriculture and food, energy, water, land use, biodiversity, material flows and climate change.
"The aim of the outlook was to find and explore the ways Australia could navigate through interconnected future challenges, to better meet the needs of a growing national and global population," Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
"These challenges are not unique to Australia, and CIMMYT can see how the flexible integrated approach demonstrated by CSIRO can help identify and test options for reducing poverty and improving food security across diverse developing world contexts," he said.
While CIMMYT is best known for supplying the world with hardier and higher-yielding wheat and maize varieties, the best science estimates this is only likely to contribute about half of the productivity gains needed to meet future food demands.
The remainder will need to come from more productive and efficient farming systems, such as precision maize and wheat farming, with efficient use of soil, water and fertiliser.
"In Australia, the outlook told us that for agriculture to thrive, we need to focus our efforts on innovative technologies, enabling infrastructure and meeting and developing new markets for agrifood exports," Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
"Most importantly, the outlook highlighted the need for continuing agricultural productivity increases to meet greater demand globally and that higher food and energy costs were likely," he said.
It also revealed significant opportunities for reducing carbon emissions, promoting voluntary conservation and diversifying farm incomes.
While it warned of future challenges for agriculture in the face of climate change, it showed that with the right choices, sustainability and economic growth can be partners rather than competitors.
"These insights into what is required to ensure a sustainable agricultural sector in Australia have been welcomed by business, government agencies, and NGO groups, and CSIRO is developing new partnerships within Australia to extend this analysis across a wider range of issues," Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
"Similarly, amid increased pressure on land and other resources, CIMMYT is looking for insights into where it can best target its efforts to have the greatest impact on farm productivity and sustainability, and ultimately on poverty reduction and food security."
"With the outlook, we have shown how analysing interactions across different sectors can help identify new opportunities, unlocking previously unrecognised potential and improving risk management," he said.
CSIRO and CIMMYT have a long history of collaboration over many of the past 50 years.
A particular focus has been on the breeding of rust-resistant wheat varieties addressing the global food security cost where millions of tonnes of wheat are lost to rust pathogens each year.
CSIRO researchers have provided wheat breeders, both locally and internationally, with more than 20 genetic markers, helping the industry keep one step ahead of this costly disease.
This collaboration continues, with an increased emphasis on farm system modelling.
CSIRO is one of many international organisations which is proud to be associated with CIMMYT and its achievements over the past 50 years, most notable of which are a Nobel laureate (Norman Borlaug), three World Food Prize Winners and the training of more than 10,000 scientists.
CIMMYT's work is estimated to provide at least $2 billion in annual benefits to farmers.
More than 70 per cent of the wheat grown in developing countries and more than 50 per cent of improved maize varieties originate from CIMMYT.
Each year, the organisation sends half a million seed packages to 100 countries.
"CSIRO is looking forward to many more years of collaboration, and is excited to partner with CIMMYT in working towards a world without hunger, improved food security, and sustainable and resilient agricultural systems," Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
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