In life I believe one of the great mysteries is to find out what you are sent here to do, I was lucky enough to find my mission in plant breeding. I would do crossing at home in the veggie patch while I was studying and reading books about plant breeding around all sorts of different crops.
One of my other great passions in life is to try to help out in the developing world. Growing up in Australia, I have been given many chances and opportunities to study and develop diverse interests. I feel very lucky. I want to share some of that luck with others that are not as fortunate as me.
In September 2003 the first spark of Plant Breeders without Borders came to life. I was at a Eucarpia breeder’s conference as a postgraduate student. At the event, I made many great friends and learnt a lot from these breeders. Over time many of them retired or their public breeding programs were closed down. I thought about the wealth of knowledge that was going to be lost if these breeders could not pass it onto the next generation. Plant breeding was also changing. As molecular technologies became more useful in breeding the number of field based conventional plant breeders seemed to me to decline. Yet plant breeders will always play a key role in helping to feed the world and anticipate the effects of climate change in farming.
It was then that I put my two passions together and thought that we could do this work in developing countries to help farmers to harness the new skills of plant breeding. Farmers were the original plant breeders so maybe it was time to go back to the beginning and allow the plant breeders of today to learn some lessons from the past and share the knowledge. By strengthening the link between farmers and plant breeders it could lead to better uptake of newly bred varieties due to the farmers having first-hand involvement at their initial development. Farmers could also understand the importance of research and development by looking at the gains that could be achieved by doing just a limited amount of crossing and selection.
This year Bayer and Plant Breeders without Borders join forces with Bogor University in Indonesia to empower 30 farmers and agricultural students to develop their own varieties of Bambara Groundnut and other Indonesian indigenous vegetables. Bambara Groundnut is known as a “complete food” as the seeds contain on average 63% carbohydrate, 19% protein, and 6.5% fat, making it a very important source of dietary protein. Our partnership with Bayer wants to focus its efforts on developing underutilized crops where there is limited breeding in these species. Such a focus will make a difference to the people that are interested in these species, as well as protecting the local biodiversity. Five million children under the age of 5 die each year due to malnutrition. Protein and vitamins are essential for the development of infants and this is exactly what these crops could deliver.
Plant Breeders without Borders is a chance to make a difference in emerging countries and share plant breeding knowledge with farmers. We have a challenge ahead to feed the 10 billion world population by 2050. This means a 70% increase in current levels of food production. Plant breeding may not be the only answer but it’s a great place to begin. Let’s start seeding knowledge and make a difference in developing countries.