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Wheat Group Seeks 50% Yield Boost by 2034 to Feed World

Crop researchers will aim to improve wheat yields by 50 percent by 2034 to feed a growing world population, according to an announcement at a summit to mark Nobel Peace Prize-laureate Norman Borlaug’s birth.

The International Wheat Yield Partnership hopes to secure $100 million in funding over the next five years, the U.K.’s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council and the El Batan, Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or Cimmyt, wrote in an e-mailed statement today.

Wheat is a key source of calories and protein for 4.5 billion of Earth’s 7 billion population, according to Cimmyt. The World Bank estimates output of the grain will have to climb by 60 percent from 2000 and 2050 to meet rising demand, the researchers wrote.

“We need a collective global approach to make more wheat available,” Steve Visscher, chairman of the partnership’s board of founding members and deputy Chief Executive Officer of the U.K.’s BBSRC, said in the statement. “It’s the most widely grown staple food crop and new varieties with increased yield will be vital.”

Wheat demand is growing “much faster” than production, according to the statement. The partnership’s founding partners include the BBSRC and Cimmyt, as well as Mexico’s Agriculture Secretariat and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Increases in wheat yields have slowed in developed nations since 1990, and price spikes such as those of 2007-08 and 2011 “are likely to be repeated” should production fall short of demand, according to the statement.

Farmers across the world harvested an average 3.04 metric tons of wheat per hectare (2.47 acres) in the 2012-13 season, and that’s predicted to climb to 3.25 tons in 2013-14, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show. Wheat yields have climbed from 2.67 tons per hectare a decade ago and 1.15 tons at the start of the 1960s.

The partnership will allow for scientific breakthroughs currently out of reach, according to Visscher. One focus will be on improving wheat’s use of the sun’s energy, he said.

The partnership was announced at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico. It marks the 100th birthday of Borlaug, an American crop researcher who died in 2009 and whose work on high-yielding wheat varieties helped avert hunger in Mexico, India and Pakistan. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1970.

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