The CropBooster-P roadmap will detail how ‘future proof’ crops can be developed to feed future populations – a predicted 9.7 billion people by 2050. The €3m project, which was commissioned by the EU, was launched on 1 November 2018 and will run through to 31 October 31 2021.
Dutch institution Wageningen University & Research is leading the initiative, which is comprised of 18 European partners. These include ETP-Plants for the Future, the European Seed Association, an Association de coordination technique agricole (ACTA) representative for farmer organisations and the European Plant Science Organisation (ESPO) as representatives of academia.
According to René Klein Lankhorst, CropBooster-P coordinator and programme developer at Wageningen University & Research, the project will carry out scenario building with consumers, farmers and industry, to identify the crops that need to be future-proofed.
“It is easy to predict that for sure, the main crops like rice, wheat, maize and potato will be amongst them,” he told FoodNavigator.
“The European Commission will then use this to carry out the research needed to secure our future food supply.”
According to Klein Lankhorst, it is technically feasible to double the yield of European agriculture by 2050. Photosynthesis – the process by which certain plants use sunlight to synthesis nutrients from water and carbon dioxide – will play a major role, he explained.
“The current agricultural crops now convert a surprisingly low percentage of sunlight into plant biomass; some 0.5 to 1%. Doubling the percentage to 1 to 2% is all we need and this has already been scientifically proven to be possible.”
Doubling Europe’s agricultural yield will also rely on how efficiently the improved crops use water and minerals, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, he said in a statement.
“Moreover, an increased yield should have no impact on quality and nutritional value. A great deal of additional research will be required to achieve this goal.”
‘Resisting modern technology’
According to Klein Lankhorst, the roadmap also serves to encourage dialogue on technological advances in the sector.
“Various social parties are resisting the use of modern technology in plant breeding,” he explained. “This is probably partly due to the fact that people don’t feel heard in their objections and doubts related to technological developments.”
The project will therefore involve society from the outset, he continued: “We will do so by organising a large number of workshops where the challenges facing modern agriculture will be discussed with consumers, the industry and farmers.”
“Together with these parties, we aim to formulate solutions in order that future generations will also have access to sufficient, high-quality food. By the time the CropBooster-P project is concluded we expect to have developed a roadmap that is supported by society.”