(August 4, 2022) - Due to the shifts in the world trade markets, also caused by the war in Ukraine, the secure supply of the world population with sufficient and high-quality food has moved into the public focus. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are looking for modern methods with which the global harvest can be increased and thus global food security can be secured. Wheat plays a special role here.
Wheat is one of the most important grains worldwide - based on the area under cultivation - and an important staple food. It is grown in over 100 countries. However, the supply of this food is not sufficient. Many developing and emerging countries are heavily dependent on imports. Senthold Asseng , Professor of Digital Agriculture at TUM, is working with international research teams on scenarios and models that could lead to a better outcome of the wheat crisis.
Wheat crisis threatens food security and world peace
Fluctuating world market prices and harvest quantities have a major impact on the food situation for large parts of the world's population. As a result, these supply bottlenecks lead to a deterioration in the quality of life of the population, which can result in disruption of social peace. “The current global wheat crisis shows us how important wheat is to the world. In many countries, food security is linked to national security, civil unrest, migration and even war,” notes Prof. Asseng, Director of the Hans Eisenmann Forum(HEF) for Agricultural Sciences at the TUM in Weihenstephan. “Wheat yields are stagnant in many parts of the world. Due to the increasing world population, a continuous increase in yield is necessary in the coming decades in order to secure global food requirements,” warns Asseng.
Finding and using hidden breeding resources
Prof. Asseng is working intensively on perspectives for increasing wheat yields. As a scientist, he not only relies on theoretical calculations and models, but also conducts research directly in nature, in field trials, also with regionally different types of wheat.
"We are approaching the biophysical limits of wheat yield. Therefore, we need to understand the functions of crops in order to be able to achieve further increases in yield," says the scientist. And he is convinced that the genetic resources of the crop wheat are large "He identified the unused genetic resources to increase wheat yields around the world. He speaks of a genetic yield gap of 51 percent. This breeding gap needs to be mobilized. This can be done through targeted breeding that uses the yield potential of the plants and thus can lead to richer harvests.
Genetics is important, but only an interdisciplinary approach leads to the goal
However, Prof. Asseng assures: “Genetics alone will not solve the global nutritional problems. This can only be done in an interdisciplinary manner, through a combination of genetics with soil, climate and crop research.”
The application of modern, advanced breeding instruments and the continuous improvement of agricultural cultivation by optimizing plant and soil management lead to the urgently needed increases the world wheat harvest. "This can then be the expedient solution for an adequate, global supply of food in the future," says Asseng.
Senapati, N., Semenov, MA, Halford, NG et al. Global wheat production could benefit from closing the genetic yield gap. Nat Food (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00540-9
Reynolds, MP, Slafer, GA, Foulkes, JM et al. A wiring diagram to integrate physiological traits of wheat yield potential. Nat Food 3:318-324 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00512-z
Prof. Senthold Asseng (https://www.professoren.tum.de/asseng-senthold) is Director of the Hans Eisenmann Forum (HEF) for Agricultural Sciences, a central institute of TUM.