Gates foundation injects $4m into drought-tolerant sorghum research

Beef Central, 14/03/2013

A $4 million research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is underpinning a trial in Queensland which is designed to improve sorghum productivity under drought conditions.

The trial is supported by research expertise and resources from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at The University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

“This is certainly one of the biggest international drought-tolerant sorghum research programs ever undertaken,” Queensland premier Campbell Newman said.

“Improved drought resistance is vital to global food security and supports our commitment to double the value of food production in Queensland by 2040.

“The Gates Foundation grant and support for sorghum improvement is complemented by local growers, making land available for trial plots and working closely with our research teams.”

Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry John McVeigh said this collaboration was a win-win for both Queensland and African sorghum research.

“Like Queensland, Africa needs improved drought-resistant sorghum varieties,” Mr McVeigh said.

“This grant from the Gates Foundation will help secure food supply in Africa while at the same time benefiting Queensland's $429 million sorghum crop (farm gate value) and the valuable livestock industries it supports.”

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj joined the Premier and the Minister for Agriculture, near Dalby, to congratulate the project's researchers.

“The Gates Foundation's commission is testament to the outstanding combined expertise of UQ and DAFF researchers, especially those who focus on agriculture and sustainable food production,” Professor Høj said.

“UQ is very pleased to lend its strength as a global leader in agricultural research to a partnership targeting high-impact, practical outcomes for people internationally and at home.

“As well as aiming to alleviate hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, the research may stimulate Queensland's sorghum industry, which adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's economy and is a mainstay of many rural communities.”

One of Australia's most experienced sorghum plant breeders, Associate Professor David Jordan, and sorghum crop physiology/modelling authority Professor Graeme Hammer, both from QAAFI, will lead the team tasked with improving sorghum yields.

Sorghum is the world's fifth most important cereal and a staple food crop for millions of people in the semi-arid tropics,” Dr Jordan said.

“It's crucially important to food security in Africa as it is grown in the drier and resource-poor areas, where its capacity to better tolerate drought, high temperature, and low fertility make it a preferred crop to maize.

“My colleagues and I plan to use sophisticated computer modelling to exploit new marker technologies, which allow rapid development of new varieties,” he said.

“The project will generate benefits beyond the initial target countries and Australia.

“Our research template provides a basis for other crop improvement programs in impoverished countries such as Ethiopia," Dr Jordan said.

“In addition, there will be intangible benefits to the establishment of enduring relationships between the collaborating countries that will extend beyond the project.”

Dr Jordan said the trait-discovery component of the project would have the potential to deliver global benefits for drought adaptation of crops.

“While it is focused on delivery into the target crop improvement programs, any findings will have far wider applicability,” he said.



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