Italian Scientist Wins Food Security Prize

The ability to grow durum wheat in the extreme heat of famine-affected Senegal, Mauritania and Mali has helped to boost the income of 1 million farming families and won the 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security.

The genome fingerprinting research project, led by Dr Filippo Bassi of International Centre for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and Professor Rodomiro Ortiz (SLU, Alnarp), and funded by the Swedish Research Council, used non-GM molecular breeding techniques to develop a set of durum wheat varieties that can withstand constant 35-40 degree heat along the savannah of the Senegal River basin.

In this region, farmers grow rice for 8 months of the year but the land remains unproductive for the other 4 months.

The new durum varieties have therefore been developed to grow super-fast so that farmers can grow the wheat between rice seasons, which could produce 600,000 tonnes of new food, equivalent to 175 servings of pasta per person per year in the region, and could generate USD$210 million in additional income for the farmers.

Since the wheat has 5 times more protein than rice, as well as vitamins and minerals, it will also help to improve diets.

Through ICARDA’s policy of sharing all germplasm and IP (identity preservation) freely with developing countries, the discovery also has wide adaptation potential for other areas hit by increasing temperatures.

This ground-breaking research was therefore voted by a panel of expert judges as the winner of the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security, an international prize launched by the global agri-business in partnership with the Agropolis Foundation. The prize value is US$50,000.00.

Dr Bassi noted: “When we had the idea 5 years ago, people thought we were a bit crazy so we are thrilled to see our vision of introducing durum wheat into this region recognised by Olam. I would like to give special thanks to our supporting partners U-Forsk2013, CNARAD, ISRA, Université Mohammed V and SLU Sweden.”

Sunny Verghese, Co-founder and Group CEO of Olam International said: “This research from Dr Bassi and his team goes to show how we can re-imagine agriculture through an inspired idea and the dedication of a team of people with a common goal.”

A business desk report