|Keywords:||Disease/pest resistance; Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).|
|Correct citation:||nn. (1997), "Editorial: Resistance breeding and the CGIAR." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 33, p. 23.|
Looking back over the last century of modern plant breeding, it appears there has been a linear development towards higher yields and more stable product quality. The dramatic advancements in these fields provided by the hybridization and the Green Revolution are well known. Since the 1980s, modern biotechnology has emerged, increasingly focusing plant breeding on the evaluation of single genes instead of plant phenotypes. Technological innovations as such often appear to provide a logical explanation for why plant breeding has become what it is now. However, by looking at potential alternative directions of plant breeding, a more elucidating picture of social and political influences, decisive for the development and adoption of new breeding techniques and directions, can be drawn.
Resistances to pests and diseases, for example, have received less attention
in the past, especially since the application of agrochemicals was seen
as a good strategy to control pests and diseases. The decision of agrochemical
companies to heavily invest in plant breeding in the 1970s and 1980s is
often seen as an important stimulation for the further development of the
specific agricultural model of high input/high output agriculture. But,
as Louwaars shows, the system for approval of new plant varieties
also strengthens a direction towards uniform, widely adapted and high yielding
Now again, social, political and economic pressures are changing the breeders directions. Resistance breeding is now one of the main focuses of modern plant breeding, mainly because of the growing concerns about the abundant use of agrochemicals in worldwide agriculture. Another factor, especially in Europe, is the changing subsidy system, which makes farmers more responsive to real production costs. However, of the two main approaches in resistance breeding, vertical resistance remains more popular than horizontal resistance. Furthermore, vertical resistance is well integrated in the dominant breeding paradigm and variety approval systems.
Since vertical resistance depends on a single gene, genetic engineering has some special advantages in this type of resistance. Genetic engineering adds to the efficiency of utilizing one resistance gene to a plant variety. Horizontal resistance, on the other hand, depends on the complex interrelationships of many genes, against which genetic engineering has been helpless so far. However, in terms of durability, horizontal resistance is more reliable. Vertical resistance in a variety can be lost within one planting season.
Which direction will future plant breeding take? Interesting in this respect is the position of the CGIAR, as is described in this issue. The CGIAR has always pursued the dominant paradigm of centralized breeding for high yield and wide adaptation. At the same time, the CGIAR is struggling with its position towards biotechnology. However, the CGIAR has increasingly been pressured by their donors and NGOs to address environmentally sustainable agriculture and the needs of smallscale farmers. To do this, the CGIAR has to diversify its breeding strategy to include diverse socioeconomic and agroecological conditions. Addressing these issues demands significant changes in CGIAR policies that will not only have consequences for resistance breeding but for plant breeding in general.
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