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Conference - Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: options from life sciences and biotechnologies
Last update: 27/02/2003 Element graphique Element graphique
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How can life sciences contribute to the production of food under marginal conditions?

Production: Fungi feed phosphates to food plants

Most Chinese soils contain small amounts of phosphate and yields of staple food crops suffer as a result. Chemical fertilisers cost too much for small farmers and can damage the structure of the soil, but micro-organisms in the soil could be adopted to help unlock new phosphate sources for crops to use. These mycorrhizal fungi are now being studied in a large-scale collaborative research project involving European and Chinese researchers. They are collecting strains of fungi and testing them in the lab and on crop sites.

Mycorrhizal technology makes use of the beneficial fungi that grow among the roots of plants, extracting nutrients from decaying organic material and even insect shells, passing it back to the plant hosts. Plants are able to grow faster and the structure of the soil is improved.

Research has shown that these fungi work best in unfertilised soil that is deficient in phosphorus. For this reason the European Commission’s INCO programme started an innovative three-year project to assist small-scale farming for staple foods in China, where most soils are phosphorus-poor.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Ferdinand Kaser at Research DG
Website
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Husbandry: Reducing the loss of valuable crops from witchweeds

The witchweeds (Striga spp) are obligate root parasites that infect major tropical crops, causing major crop losses in Africa. Rapid human population growth, increased demand for food supplies and intensified land use have lead to reduced crop rotation and shorter fallow periods. Accordingly, soil fertility has declined and the extent and intensity of Striga infestations has increased rapidly causing the parasite to become a major threat to food production in Africa. The FAO estimates that crop losses due to one Striga species alone cost between $7-13bn per year, and Striga is said to have an impact on the lives of over 100 million African people.

A European Commission-funded (INCO Programme) project – ‘Improved Striga control for maize and sorghum’ – is using innovative research approaches to build an integrated and broad-based plan of control of witchweeds.

The research project analysed the problem of Striga control on many levels from the genetic and biochemical to crop husbandry and resistance management.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG -
Website
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Molecular biology: Growing maize in acid soils

Maize is one of the three most important crops in the developing world, a staple food in Africa and Latin America. It is critical both in terms of food security and as source of income and employment for resource-poor farmers. Due to population growth, demand for maize is expected to double by 2020, therefore additional land must be brought under cultivation to feed the world's growing population.

Aluminium (Al) toxicity and low availability of phosphorus (P) are the main abiotic factors limiting maize production in acid soils. Maize is susceptible to soil acidity, and acid soils cover approximately 43% of the world's tropical land area.

A European Commission-funded project (INCO programme) has brought together internationally recognised research groups to integrate physiological and molecular knowledge into practical breeding and crop management, thus leading to a breakthrough not only in the understanding of the adaptation of maize in acid soils and in its enhancement, but also to the development of sustainable maize-cropping systems.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG -
Website
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Gene technology: Growing potatoes and beans in the desert

Arid and semi-arid lands constitute approximately 36% of the available arable land around the world. In these areas, osmotic stress, whether by drought, salinity or low temperatures, represents the most severe environmental pressure limiting plant growth and productivity.

A European Commission-funded project – ‘Agriculture under extreme environmental conditions in Latin America by using osmoprotection genes to generate stress-resistant potato and bean plants’ – focuses on the most important problems facing Mexican or Peruvian agricultural areas.

The primary goal of the project is the recovery of arid and semi-arid soils in Mexico and Peru by their cultivation with plants metabolically engineered to resist abiotic stresses. For this purpose, two important plants, potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) and beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), which are not naturally resistant to such stresses, will be genetically manipulated by transferring genes responsible for the synthesis of compatible solutes.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG
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