Food security is a massive challenge in a world of 7.8 billion people who are growing exponentially. Reliance is on scientific research and innovation to find unconventional methods and solutions to address this unprecedented challenge in human history. Hence, the Newton-Mosharafa Fund targets sustainable food production as one of its priorities to support scientific research and innovation in Egypt. With a funding of £50 million, the Newton-Mosharafa Fund seeks to support scientific research in Egypt by establishing partnerships between Egyptian research institutions and their counterparts in the United Kingdom. The fund provides the opportunity to build capacities and skills, enhance research collaboration between the two countries, and transfer of innovation, knowledge and expertise.
Here are three inspiring stories of researchers and scientists striving to achieve food security and sustainable food production through controlling plant diseases using genetic engineering, addressing the impacts of climate change on agricultural crops, and using cloud computing and big data analysis to support farmers.
Protecting the yellow gold from rust
Wheat is the most important cereal crop in Egypt, providing 30 per cent of the population's nutritional needs. However, the local production of the crop, estimated at nine million tons annually, suffices only half of the required consumption. The main food crop in Egypt faces an imminent threat, rust diseases, which cause the loss of huge quantities of wheat. Protecting yellow gold from rust is the main goal of Ahmed Elkot, Researcher at the Agricultural Research Centre in Egypt, through a research partnership with the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom.
The research project aims to fight those diseases that infect wheat crop by developing new strains that contain multiple disease resistance genes. A new technology developed at the Johns Innes Centre allowed the rapid discovery and sequence identification of disease resistance genes. Using this revolutionary technology, resistance genes against rust and mildew in Egyptian wheat strains can be identified. Then these genes can be used to develop new wheat strains that can better resist diseases and reduce the yield loss of wheat.
'We have evaluated 300 bread wheat strains against rust diseases in four different locations in Egypt. We have used this data through the new technology to identify candidate disease resistance genes... We have identified a candidate gene for major diseases of wheat and its function has been confirmed.' Ahmed Elkot explains
The Newton-Mosharafa funded project was not only limited to the research part. Through the project, 25 young Egyptian scientists from various universities and research centres were trained on a number of necessary non-research skills, such as scientific publishing, applying for funding grants and science communication. This contributes to building the capacities of Egyptian researchers and helping them achieve their academic and scientific ambitions.
Addressing climate change effects on food security
Providing food for more than 100 million inhabitants is one of the main challenges facing Egypt's development. With a steadily increasing population, reaching more than 160 million inhabitants by 2050 - according to United Nations estimates, food production should increase by 70 per cent. However, at the same time, Egyptian food security will face another challenge, which is the effects of climate change on food crops. Understanding these effects is what Yasser Shabana, Professor of Plant Pathology at Mansoura University, seeks through a research partnership with the University of Hertfordshire, UK.
The research project aims to study how climate change affects the spread and distribution of fungal diseases infecting wheat and maize in Egypt. Climate change can bring about many changes in fungi that infect plants with diseases, in terms of disease cycle, pathogenicity, and geographical distribution. This is extremely important to effectively control fungal diseases that infect wheat and maize, the most important agricultural crops in Egypt, with the aim of reducing the yield losses.
Yasser Shabana explains: 'We have determined the occurrence and distribution of seed-borne pathogens on wheat in Egypt, as well as identifying their characteristics by biological, physiological and molecular methods. Maps of distribution of the most important fungal pathogens have been produced. Weather-based disease and growth models to predict severity and yield loss are being developed.'