Sydney — Australia’s national science agency warns a lack of scientists specialized in plant breeding could lead to ‘dire’ food security implications around the world. Researchers say plant breeding is a critical science that underpins the global production of food, animal feed and fuel. The finding is among the conclusions of a recently published paper by researchers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada.      

A joint paper published earlier this month by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in collaboration with Lincoln University in New Zealand and McGill University in Canada, warns that highly-skilled plant breeding experts, who are reaching the end of their careers, are not being replaced by sufficient numbers of university graduates, many of whom are choosing other areas of plant science including molecular biology.

Lucy Egan is the study’s lead author and a CSIRO research scientist.  She told VOA Wednesday that new recruits are needed.

“It is really based on developing new plant varieties for future climates.  So, plant breeding is a slow game.  It takes a long time to develop a new crop variety, so you’re looking at least ten years on average to develop a new variety.  When you have a lack of plant breeders coming through to replace the generation that are retiring, it does generate a bit of concern around the succession plan,” she said.

The report said that the implications of a skills shortage “could be dire” and that global food security could be affected. It recommends establishing “dedicated training facilities in different countries”.  

Egan said that plant breeding can help countries adapt to a warming climate.

“I think instead of focusing on, you know, certain countries and the implications, I think if you look at it on a global level plant breeding is really the backbone of the agricultural sector.  Without the development of new varieties with changing climates and all these things that are sort of happening across the world, we need to really build strength and resilience within the agricultural sector and plant breeding is really key to do that,” she said.

The research is published in the journal, Crop Science.  It reports that since the 1960s, global crop production has increased by more than 250%, which is due in large part to plant breeding science.

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