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Agriculture in the developing world: Connecting innovations in plant research to downstream applications

In this paper, Deborah Delmer of the Rockefeller Foundation addresses the “disconnect” between fundamental research generally, and its application in the field. She notes that the health sector is now getting to grips with the problem, and advocates a similar approach in agriculture. However, this approach, which is usually described as “translational biology”, faces obstacles such as culture differences between academia and the private sector, IP and dissemination, and monitoring of crops in developing countries.

The author discusses “harnessing the of new sciences for crop improvement such as molecular breeding and genetic modification (GM), and argues for the need to develop crops with traits relevant to the needs of developing countries. These would include crops that are nutritionally enhanced, able to extract more nutrients from the soil, or tolerant to attack by pests.

The report concludes with a call for better collaboration in order to improve the strategic selection of projects likely to have the highest impact for farmers, and to help scientists identify the best approaches to their research, as well as encourage them to use techniques that are likely to gain regulatory approval. Finally, Delmer says, substantial new sources of funding will be needed to translate fundamental research findings to the field.