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Two of the world's leading agricultural research centres announced last week (19 January) that they will form an alliance to strengthen food security in the developing world.

Details of the alliance between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) were mapped out at a joint meeting of their trustees, held in China early this month.

Together, rice, maize and wheat provide 60-70 per cent of calories consumed by people in developing countries, where the three crops cover 400 million hectares of land.

The two research centres have agreed to collaborate in four areas. The two research priorities are to intensify crop production systems in Asia and to adapt maize, wheat and rice to the changing global climate.

In addition, the centres agreed to set up units providing information to researchers who are genetically modifying the three crops, and to create 'training and knowledge banks' to provide training events, learning materials, and library services.

Although both centres conduct research into genetically modified crops, Masa Iwanaga, director-general of the CIMMYT, told SciDev.Net that he did not believe that genetic modification was a "silver bullet" for solving the food and agriculture difficulties of developing countries.

Rather, he said, genetic modification is an important research tool – one of many options.

As part of the IRRI and the CIMMYT's commitment to training, Iwanaga said the partners could develop Internet-based training tools, including information on identifying and managing pests, for scientists in developing nations.

"Training is the most difficult area to get funding for in developing countries," said Iwanaga, adding that there has been a decline in the international community's commitment to capacity building over the past ten years.

He hopes that by creating an alliance, his centre and the IRRI will attract more funds into this area.

The IRRI and the CIMMYT are two of the fifteen research centres of Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which aims to reduce poverty and increase food security in developing countries through scientific research.