(10/27/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU AgCenter is partnering with several universities and countries on a $22 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at improving lives around the world by making cereal crops more readily available to those most at risk for hunger and malnutrition.
Kansas State University will lead the Feed the Future Climate Resilient Cereals Innovational Lab, or CRCIL, which includes U.S. and international partners aiming to advance breeding of four major world crops — sorghum, millet, wheat and rice.
The AgCenter is on the forefront of breeding climate resilient rice, and AgCenter rice breeder Adam Famoso will lead the project locally. His work will focus on enhancing breeding programs in partner countries.
“We will work with our project partners to help identify and incorporate climate resilient traits and genetics into their target breeding material for their local environments, with our primary focus being on rice,” Famoso said.
As part of the project, the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station will host international partners for collaboration and training. Famoso and his team also will collaborate with partners on the climate resilience research itself and capacity building.
Jagger Harvey, the innovation lab's director and a research professor in K-State's plant pathology department, said the award unleashes the strength of the U.S land-grant system and its global partner network to better climate-proof cereal germplasm, bolstering future food and nutritional security, and in turn increasing global security and prosperity.
"Thanks to USAID's generous support, we have assembled a top-tier, diverse consortium of scientists to collaborate with front-line cereal improvement experts leading efforts in partner countries,” Harvey said.
According to Harvey, the team has charted an ambitious and collaborative approach to enriching the climate resilience of genetic materials, like seeds, available to cereal breeders and ultimately to farmers abroad and in the United States.
He said CRCIL will work toward helping to sustainably double food production by 2050, even under “a perfect storm of dwindling and degrading arable land, less water, and under worsening climatic conditions that are also accelerating pest and disease-associated crop losses.”
CRCIL partners also include Clemson University, Cornell University, Delaware State University and the University of Florida; and international partners in South Asia, Eastern and Western Africa and Latin America. Additional support is being provided by RTI International, the African Women in Agricultural Research for Development program, and Seeds2B.
Globally, the climate crisis is impacting developing countries hardest. For example, East Africa has been facing its worst drought in 40 years, displacing a million people and threatening many more with famine. Harvey said global conflicts — including Russia's invasion of Ukraine — and geopolitical instability are further eroding global food security by reducing the availability of cereals to developing countries.
“More than 50% of the world's caloric intake comes from cereals, and with the exception of maize, CRCIL is dedicated to identifying and using genetic variation to improve farmers’ production and consumers’ acceptance of the top vital cereals,” said Jared Crain, a research assistant professor in K-State's plant pathology department who will serve as the associate director of the innovation lab.
The $22 million award is not to build a physical lab, but rather to support collaborative, interdisciplinary research and other activities related to improving the four focus crops.
“This project is another example of the AgCenter working to create sustainable agricultural practices that will ensure a safe and viable food supply not just in Louisiana, but across the globe,” said Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter executive associate vice president and director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station.
LSU AgCenter rice breeder Adam Famoso conducts rice research. Famoso will lead efforts locally on a $22 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at making cereal crops more readily available to those most at risk for hunger and malnutrition. LSU AgCenter file photo