Workshop: breeding crop resistance for the Dry Areas

Innovative approaches using applied mathematics for agricultural genebank mining for climate change resistant traits improve the effectiveness of breeding programs and of food security for dry areas.

Dry areas represent more than 40% of global land cover and are home to over 2.5 billion people. Some 16 per cent of this population lives in chronic poverty. These areas also face several demographic challenges – rapid population growth, high urbanization, large youth populations, and the world’s highest unemployment rate.

Dry areas are further characterized by persistent water scarcity, frequent drought, high climatic variability, and various forms of land degradation, including desertification and loss of biodiversity. This desperate situation is predicted to worsen even further as a result of climate change and shifting weather patterns. 

Presented with these challenges, scientists have to provide solutions capable of sustaining agricultural production – a need that will continue to grow in the years ahead as dryland countries are forced to contend with even higher temperatures and more intense and variable rainfall.         

One crucial area of assistance is the development of crop cultivars with improved tolerance to heat and drought, and resistance to emerging virulent pests and diseases, which will become crucial under current changing climatic conditions.

Identifying stress tolerance and resistance traits from more than seven million accessions held in the world’s 1,700 major agricultural genebanks, is not a trivial exercise. Today, developing innovative approaches to mining these agricultural gene banks is more important than ever.

The latest innovations include methods that use applied mathematics – including the Bayes-Laplace inverse and the Stone-Weierstrass approximation theorems in combination with phenomics and genomics – for rapid and cost-effective identification of crop plants with climate change adaptive genetic traits.

Applying these approaches as a standard practice for genebank mining in the world's breeding programs will improve the effectiveness of these organizations help accelerate crop improvement, to maintain biodiversity, food security, and improve the livelihoods of communities living on the world's marginal lands and dryland areas.

Taking this forward will be the focus of an international workshop this week, to be held in Rabat, Morocco – Applied Mathematics and Omics Technologies for Discovering Biodiversity and Genetic Resources for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation for Sustainable Agriculture in Drylands.

Bringing together genebank managers and some of the World’s leading crop scientists, the workshop will focus on a number of relevant and important discussions:

-          Climate change and its impact on agriculture

-          Applied mathematics and the modeling approaches for the adaptation of crops to changing climate conditions

-          Plant phenomics for adapting crops to changing climates in dryland systems

-          Region-specific challenges and opportunities for maintaining genetic resources for sustainable agricultural productivity         

Discussions and outcomes from the workshop will be shared on a new ICARDA website promoting FIGS – or Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy -

The Workshop Program and Abstracts can be accessed here