Home' Partners : Partners February 2010 Contents BY DR GIO BRAIDOTTI
There is a consensus among
agricultural scientists that water
scarcity is currently the most
persistent reason for rural poverty
and the single greatest factor
determining crop yields.
Adding to that strain, agricultural scientists
are faced with the need to double crop
production by 2050 using current water
availability. As part of the global effort to
meet the challenges posed by water scarcity,
scientists from around the world met in
Shanghai for the Interdrought-III conference
to step up drought-related research efforts
in agronomy, plant breeding, genomics,
NOVEMBER 2009 FEBRUARY 2010 PA RTNERS
transgenics and water management.
Six hundred agricultural scientists at the
conference, including Australian researchers and
their collaborators involved in ACIAR-funded
projects, rated drought as the biggest threat to
food production in developing and developed
countries. The conference was hosted by the
Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences and
the Shanghai AgroBiological Gene Centre.
The purpose of the meeting, said one of the
fathers of drought-stressed-plant physiology,
Israel's Dr Abraham Blum, was to respond to
the plight and the need of farmers all over the
world, including poor smallholders, whose
livelihoods are constantly threatened.
One of the most significant responses to
the many challenges posed by water stress
has occurred in China. Dr Blum said China
was defying trends in the developed world by
massively boosting spending on agricultural R&D.
A dozen presentations by Chinese researchers
demonstrated the breadth of the drought work
being undertaken. Government start-up projects
there are linking scientists with farmers to create
a "second Green Revolution" based on more
efficient and ecologically sound uses of water
resources in conjunction with water-efficient
farming systems and crop varieties.
Dr Peng Shigi from the Chinese Ministry of
Agriculture provided a snapshot of the state
of China's water resources. She explained that
the development of irrigated agriculture had
played an important role in China's agricultural
development (only 30% of grain is produced
by dryland farming). Today, 70% of China's total
annual water supply is used in irrigation.
However, with urbanisation and rising
living standards the amount of water needed
for domestic and industrial use is on the
rise, straining the nation's already overdrawn
resources. More frequent drought events are
further adding strain and rendering once-arable
land desert. The ministry estimates that if left
unchecked, the effects of pollution, climate
change and land degradation will make drought
events more frequent and catastrophic.
"Agricultural production suffers the threat
of severe drought," Dr Peng said. "The direct
reduction of grain output has (already) reached
20 million tonnes a year. Water savings and
raising the efficiency of water use in agriculture
is an important guarantee for agricultural
development in the future."
Dr Zhang Qifa from Huazhong Agricultural
University explained that past agricultural practices
emphasised yield above all other considerations
and led to the unsustainable use of nitrogen and
phosphorus fertilisers and the indiscriminate use
of pesticides, which added water-quality issues to
overstrained water supplies.
"The Government is now calling for a
second Green Revolution based around more
sustainable farming practices, with Chinese
scientists mandated to increase production
while using less inputs and making more
efficient use of water," Dr Zhang said.
Chinese agricultural scientists are targeting
opportunities provided by both agronomy
and plant breeding for water savings and
efficiencies. Molecular breeding technology in
particular is being scaled up and includes GM
technology to test and deploy genes associated
with 'drought tolerance' traits. These efforts are
targeting both irrigated and dryland areas.
Scientists rally to
the challenge of a
The world's leading drought specialists gathered in
Shanghai recently to advance global research into
more water-efficient and drought-tolerant crops
More frequent and severe droughts are
regarded as the single biggest threat to the
world's supply of arable farmland.
PHOTO: EVAN COLLIS
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