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PARTNERING WITH THE CGIAR
SUMMER 2012 PARTNERS
Work for world's poor improves
Australia's crop fortunes
Australia's long-standing partnership with the CGIAR's agricultural
research centres, aimed at alleviating poverty in the developing world,
has also reaped many benefits on home soil.
the emerging international wheat-breeding
community---including Nobel Prize winner
Norman Borlaug from CIMMYT---to source the
Today, that germplasm is the platform on
which Australia's wheat industry is largely
built---with Australia's key quality traits bred
back into it.
The extent of CIMMY T's impact on the
Australian wheat industry is illustrated in a 2004
analysis by John Brennan and Kathryn Quade. It
found that 193 varieties incorporating CIMMYT
genetic material had been released in Australia
by the end of 2003. By 2001, these varieties
covered 98% of the area sown to wheat in
Yield gains attributable directly to CIMMYT
averaged 4.6% across Australia in 2001, with
gains as high as 10.5% in Queensland, more
than 7% in Victoria and New South Wales,
and about 2% in South Australia and Western
In terms of world wheat production, yields
were estimated to be 12% higher because
of CIMMYT's research, and world prices 7.4%
lower than if CIMMYT had not achieved those
THE CGIAR AS CONDUIT OF
GLOBAL CROP BIODIVERSITY
International exchange of germplasm was
taking place well before the CGIAR was
formed in 1971 as an umbrella organisation for
international research centres such as CIMMYT.
But Dr Fox and Dr Eagles are in no doubt
that germplasm transfer to this day is helped
through Australia's investment in the group.
Dr Fox says the steady, long-term working
relationship Australia shares with CIMMYT and
other CGIAR centres has assured the smooth
flow of germplasm into Australia. While not the
biggest donor to the CGIAR, Australia has been
consistent and reliable and, in turn, centres have
been forthcoming in sending germplasm here.
Key benefits from the relationship are
nAustralia's agricultural industries benefit from
ACIAR's investment in CGIAR centres around
nImportant gains have been made thanks to
access to international germplasm, optimising
breeding potential for traits desirable for
nBenefits have also derived from participation
in an international research community
collaborating on issues relevant to the region.
nCareful breeding has allowed Australia to
return benefits to the international community.
BY MELISSA MARINO
For a country devoid of any indigenous
broadacre agricultural crops, and
which imports all its base germplasm,
the importance of Australia's
partnership with the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) cannot be underestimated.
The CGIAR facilitates scientific research
between the world's best agricultural minds to
improve food production in developing countries.
But in the process of alleviating famine and
poverty through work with smallholder farmers,
the CGIAR produces scientific advances, genetic
resources and relationships of value to Australia.
Benefits of ACIAR's $18 million annual
investment in the CGIAR are evidenced through
the knowledge gained from participation in an
international research community operating
for public good. This is most obvious in crop
production: Australian breeders gain access to
genetic material from all over the world that
contains the diversity needed to build up the
yield potential, quality and resilience of local
This includes the high-yielding semi-
dwarf varieties from Mexico that transformed
Australian wheat production in the 1970s, to the
latest genetic defences being built into wheat
to protect against modern-day disease threats
such as the highly virulent rust strain, Ug99.
THE INTERNATIONAL FLAVOUR OF
The effort to advance Australian-grown wheat
with new international genetic material dates
back to the late 1800s, when William Farrer
bred his breakthrough variety, Federation,
from germplasm sourced from India, Italy and
Canada. This greatly improved the prospects
for Australia's farmers, who had struggled to
grow British and northern European varieties in
Australia's hotter, drier climate.
Released in 1901, 'the great wheat' Federation
trebled Australia's wheat harvest in 20 years.
It was bred from crossing Purple Straw (now
thought to have originated in Italy), Canadian
Fife wheats and the Indian wheat Etawah.
A century later and ACIAR's Crop
Improvement and Management research
program manager Dr Paul Fox says much of the
stress tolerance in varieties grown today can be
traced back to Farrer's Indian wheats.
The next big wave of improvement through
international germplasm occurred in the 1960s
when the CGIAR was established and the Green
Revolution was getting underway. At that time,
Australia began looking further afield to Mexico
and the Middle East for genetic material,
culminating in an influx of germplasm from
what would become a key CGIAR centre---the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.
Wheat genealogy expert and University of
Adelaide researcher Dr Howard Eagles says
the shorter, stronger, rust-resistant and high-
yielding CIMMYT semi-dwarf varieties were
cross-bred with existing Australian wheat
varieties. This allowed for the new traits to
be incorporated without diluting the quality
traits already established in Australian varieties
required for domestic and export markets.
Dr Eagles says it is Dr Albert Pugsley who
Australia can thank most for introducing semi-
dwarf varieties and their benefits. Based at
Farrer's former workplace, the Wagga Wagga
Agricultural Institute, Dr Pugsley worked with
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