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[NEW DELHI] The Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA), named for the US-born agriculture scientist, will help meet rising food security challenges in developing countries by boosting research in wheat and maize.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico, will work together to offer sophisticated crop research facilities at the new institute, spread over three locations in India.

The institute has been set up in honour of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner and wheat expert Norman Borlaug (1914–2009) whose work on high-yielding, dwarf varieties of wheat helped trigger India's 'green revolution' in the 1960s.

"It would not be an overstatement to say that Norman Borlaug is a household name in India," India's minister for agriculture and food processing, Sharad Pawar, said at the launch of the institute last week (5 October).

CIMMYT director-general Thomas Lumpkin told SciDev.Net: "The coming green revolution in South Asia will look far more technical than it did in the 1960s, but the impetus for addressing food security is just as urgent."

"The challenge today," he said, "is to increase yields of staple crops in South Asia despite the fact that climate change, population growth, dietary changes, and natural resource degradation all pose enormous challenges to agriculture".

Lumpkin said BISA has been created to "address the challenges head on." He said providing food security was "a daunting task" and the region needed "a dedicated, world-class effort focused entirely on these problems."

Critical areas of wheat and maize research that BISA would focus on include genomics and conservation technologies such as location specific seed-fertiliser placement and supplemental irrigation systems.

BISA will also look at support tools like farmer specific mobile phone advice and provide information on farming practices, market and weather databases and integrating software.   

At the launch, CIMMYT and ICAR signed an agreement to set up centres under BISA in the states of Punjab in north India, Bihar in eastern India, and Madhya Pradesh in central India.

"Each of the states comprises varied agro-ecological zones, allowing testing of diverse maize and wheat varieties and cropping practices suited to the equally varied environments of South Asia," a CIMMYT release said.

Punjab and adjacent Haryana state — together considered India's wheat bowl — were at the forefront of the green revolution that boosted wheat yields using high-yielding dwarf varieties and intensive application of irrigation and fertilisers.