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Improving Productivity Could Boost Global Crops Value to $120 Billion

Improving Productivity Could Boost Global Crops Value to $120 Billion

23 July 2013

ANALYSIS - Studies into the financial value to agriculture of breeding more productive and resilient varieties of 29 of the world’s priority crops including wheat, potato and rice estimates their value at $42 billion for current crop varieties, rising to $120 billion for future crop varieties, writes Gemma Hyland for TheCropSite.

The research, by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), commissioned by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, is based on an analysis of how the productivity and resilience of four staple crops - wheat, rice, potato and cassava (a root vegetable common in Africa, Central and South America) - could be improved through the collection and use of their Crop Wild Relative’s (CWR) genetic traits.

This study comes as the UK government announces a £160 million boost to technology funding for UK agriculture.

Developed in partnership with industry, the Agricultural Technologies Strategy will ensure everyone from farmers and retailers, to cooks and shoppers share the benefits these exciting opportunities bring.

With the demand for food rising rapidly worldwide, the strategy also aims to make the UK a world leader in addressing global food security issues.

New varieties needed

Crop Wild Relatives, the wild cousins of staple foods like rice, wheat and potato were used as early as the 1950s to breed new crop varieties that improve or protect crops. This included the creation of nutritionally enhanced varieties of broccoli and a disease resistant variety of rice.

Using analysis of the sample crops the study extrapolates the current and potential value of a wider group of 29 of the world’s most important food crops using CWRs to improve their productivity.

  • Based on an analysis from seed development through to farm gate sales, the study estimates that the current value of commercial crops grown today containing improved productivity or stress resistance traits derived from CWRs for the 29 priority crops is $42bn and the potential value is $120bn for future crops, yet to be developed
  • If maize, soya bean and sugarcane are included, the current and potential values increase to $68bn and $196bn respectively.

As the global environment changes, studies have identified the risk of a significant shortfall in crop production to meet the needs a growing global population. New crop varieties will be needed to improve production and CWR genetic material will be crucial in bridging this shortfall.

The analysis is part of an initiative led by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank to collect the crop wild relatives of 29 priority gene pools. Without a representative CWR collection there is a risk that many wild relatives already in existence will suffer a loss of genetic diversity or, in severe cases, become extinct, through pressures of climate change, continued development and urbanisation. This would reduce the options society has to adapt agriculture to future needs.

Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, said: “For the first time, PwC’s research has allowed us to understand the potential monetary value of the work of the Millennium Seed Bank in protecting the future of some of the world’s most important staple crops. Critically the valuation is not just about dollar signs, it supports the business case for investment in CWR collection activity and crop breeding research to help realise direct yield improvement, greater disease resistance and crops’ ability to deal with extremes of environment.”

"Meet growing export demand"

Launching the Agricultural Technologies Strategy, Defra Minister for Science Lord De Mauley said: "We face a global challenge to feed the rapidly increasing population in a way which is affordable and sustainable.

"We are investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges and take advantage of the growing demand in export markets for British food."

To take advantage of agriculture’s opportunities and drive growth the Agricultural Technologies Strategy sets out a range of key actions, including:

  • a £90 million government investment in world class Centres for Agricultural Innovation with additional investment from industry. The centres will support the wide-scale adoption of innovation and technology across key sectors, technologies and skills in the food and farming supply chain. This includes up to £10 million for a Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability which will use data from farms, laboratories and retailers to drive innovation
  • creating a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst to help new agricultural technologies bridge the so called ‘valley of death’ between the lab and the marketplace. Co-funded with industry, the catalyst will specifically support small and medium sized enterprises. The investment includes £10 million to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries
  • the creation of an industry Leadership Council to unify the agriculture technology sector and make the UK more internationally competitive
  • the recruitment of a new UKTI agri-tech team to boost exports and overseas investment in the UK’s agricultural technologies

In addition also announced this week:

  • £30 million for four agri-science research and innovation campuses by Biotechnolocy and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • a multi million pound scientific research partnership between Rothamsted and Syngenta to increase wheat productivity

Gemma Hyland, Editor

Gemma Hyland, Editor

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