Who We Are and What We Do
The Institute for International Crop Improvement is an applied product development arm of the Danforth Center directed by Donald MacKenzie, Ph.D. It is where plant technology developed at the Center and at other institutions can be translated into crop improvements that are safely and effectively developed and delivered to where they are needed most. This makes the Center unique among institutions of its kind.
Why Focus on Staple Crops for Food Security?
- We emphasize improvement of crops that are important for food security of smallholder farmers in developing economies: These “orphan” crops do not receive the research and development focus applied to large scale commercial crops due to lack of commercial markets or low profitability. However, they are extremely important for human subsistence. They include crops such as cassava, sweet potato, groundnuts, cowpeas, sorghum, millets and banana. Also included are specific improvements in crops like maize and rice that aren't being addressed by agribusinesses.
- We work in strong partnership with institutions in the geographies where the improved crops are needed most and can have maximal impact: Key partners include the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria, and the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. These collaborators provide leadership and guidance in their geographies and direct involvement in the product development efforts.
- We have a critical mass of applied product development expertise to guide projects through the product development process: Areas of expertise include product development planning and coordination, confined field testing, regulatory strategy development, biosafety, communications, analytical activity, and nutritional evaluation. These employees and consultants gained their product development experience working in the private sector.
- Our critical mass of expertise allows us to support not only crop improvement efforts for the Danforth Center, but for other institutions as well: In this way we can expand our reach and impact. We work with external institutions on grant preparation and then follow up with participation and support of the projects as they advance. This external work is coordinated through activities of the Biosafety Resource Network, a key component of the Institute.
- We receive critical and much-appreciated funding from important agriculture supporters: Organizations and private donors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID from the American People, the Monsanto Fund, and the McDonnell family.
In underdeveloped lands, yields of crops are on average less than twenty percent of the plant’s potential. The Institute for International Crop Improvement concentrates on taking the improved genetics developed in the lab and greenhouse through the practical, safety, and regulatory tests so they are proven safe and effective for the farmers who will benefit from them. In developed countries research on maize, soybeans and rice, all money-making crops, has led to many improvements. We see great promise in research on subsistence crops such as cassava, sweet potato and sorghum, which have seen little research or development in the past. The hope of the Institute is to double the yields of what have been called “orphan crops,” which include the food security crops of developing countries. Cassava, an Essential Crop
Cassava with improved disease resistance and nutritional quality is an important example of crop advances being developed into products through the Institute for International Crop Improvement. Cassava is a starchy root crop that grows productively in low-nutrient soils and is an important food security crop for 250 million sub-Saharan Africans. Resistance to the devastating virus diseases - cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) - has been developed in a collaboration between researchers at the Danforth Plant Science Center, the National Crops Resources Research Institute and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. The Institute is coordinating field testing and product development with our collaborators in Uganda and Kenya. Results to date are showing great promise for being able to control these diseases. A second project has developed improvements to cassava root nutritional quality, including elevated pro-vitamin A, and iron, and protein. Plants with these improved nutritional characteristics are being evaluated in field trials by the Institute and its partners in Nigeria and Kenya. The evaluations provide insights directing the projects to further improvements.