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Shortage of Skilled Plant Breeding Scientists Threatens Global Food Security, New Study Finds

A new study highlights the lack of skilled plant breeding scientists, posing significant threats to global food security.

Saurabh Shukla
Shortage of Skilled Plant Breeding Scientists Threatens Global Food Security, New Study Finds (Photo Source: Pixabay)
Shortage of Skilled Plant Breeding Scientists Threatens Global Food Security, New Study Finds (Photo Source: Pixabay)

A significant shortage of skilled scientists specializing in plant breeding poses serious risks to food security in Australia and globally, according to a new study spanning three continents. The paper, titled "Cultivating Success: Bridging the Gaps in Plant Breeding Training in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand," was recently published in the journal Crop Science.

Plant breeding, a multidisciplinary field crucial to the production of food, animal feed, fuel, and fiber, is facing a critical skills gap. This joint research effort by Australia's national science agency CSIRO, Lincoln University in New Zealand, and McGill University in Canada, highlights the urgent need to address this shortage to sustain agricultural productivity.

Dr. Lucy Egan, the lead author and a CSIRO scientist, highlighted that the skills deficit has been developing over time and could significantly impact global agricultural output. "We are witnessing a generational shift where many seasoned plant breeding specialists are retiring, and there is a notable decline in new graduates entering this field, preferring instead to focus on other plant science areas like molecular biology," Dr. Egan explained. "This shortage could have dire consequences, including compromised food security and economic stability worldwide, particularly in Australia."

Dr. Rainer Hofmann from Lincoln University echoed these concerns, noting that the situation in New Zealand mirrors that in Australia. "Agricultural production is vital to our economy, making it imperative to devise strategies to counter this skills shortage," he said. "Our study assessed plant breeding capabilities across tertiary education, government, and industry sectors and found that diminishing expertise in this field will adversely affect various agrifood and fiber industries."

The research suggests several strategies to mitigate the shortage, calling for a coordinated effort between public and private sectors. Dr. Valerio Hoyos-Villegas of McGill University highlighted the necessity of establishing dedicated training facilities and enhancing graduate programs in plant breeding. "Increasing private sector involvement is also crucial to keep pace with scientific and technological advancements," he stated. "Given the long-term and diverse nature of agricultural industries reliant on plant breeding, prioritizing funding and modernizing education in this field is essential."

This study underscores the need for immediate action to bridge the skills gap in plant breeding, ensuring sustained agricultural productivity and global food security.

(Source: CSIRO)

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