Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Africa to Improve Crops

Beat the hunger as it requires one radical redesign of global agricultural systems. For food security and safe food to be a reality for all, science cannot neglect the subsistence farming systems that involve 570 million people in the world and provide nourishment for more than two billion people, especially in the global south. These data are highlighted by the team of geneticists from the Research Center for Plant Science at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa on the occasion of World Food Safety Day, which falls on 7 June each year, following a resolution in 2018. UN. Overcoming world hunger is also the second goal of the ‘UN Agenda 2030’ Sustainable Development Plan, which is defined to make the development and life of people on the planet more sustainable.

The group of geneticists from the Plant Science Research Center at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies is studying how to access knowledge from subsistence farmers and includes it in the scientific criteria used to support genetic improvement of crops and is involved in numerous projects within AfricaConnect. This is a special program from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies aimed at African issues that sees collaborations with African farmers and institutions to apply advanced research approaches to development issues. Countries involved in research by the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Genetics include Ethiopia, Niger, Mozambique, Kenya and Malawi, where geneticists combine genome research with climate science and participatory approaches to accelerate the development of varieties of plants suitable for climate stress and can thus contribute to a sustainable intensification of local agriculture. This research approach aims, on the one hand, to promote knowledge about local agrobiodiversity and the climate adaptation mechanisms of plants, while at the same time contributing to a greater inclusion of local agricultural communities and local food independence.

Plant varieties traditionally grown by subsistence farmers have adaptation properties that respond to both climate and local customs. In these agricultural systems there is a close connection between culture and agriculture, so thatagrobiodiversity locals tell a story not only about plant genes and diversity, but also about traditional farming methods and food uses. Food security and food security require local farmers to be able to harvest a safe and nutritious product, even in a changing climate. The key to this ability could lie in the genes that are traditionally kept within their field and which can be studied thanks to the interaction with the local communities.

“Participatory methods – comments Matteo Dell’Acqua, coordinator of the Plant Science Research Center at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – provides access to traditional knowledge by local farmers. This knowledge is needed to support adaptation strategies that respond to local needs and improve food security in a sustainable way. African cultivation systems – continues Matteo dell’Acqua – bring together an extraordinary cultural and cultural diversity. Data-driven quantitative methods can exploit this diversity to the benefit not only of local agriculture but equally of global agriculture. With this research, frontier science meets tradition and reveals the great potential of interdisciplinary methods to improve the performance of plants under real growth conditions. This information can help with genetic improvement to produce and select varieties that respond to local needs and can mitigate the effects of climate change “.” Agriculture is also culture – concludes Mario Enrico Pè, professor at the Research Center for Plant Sciences among the initiators of AfricaConnect – and modern computerized research approaches, such as DNA sequencing and climate analysis, open up new avenues to strengthen local diversity and, in consultation with farmers, efforts to ensure food safety in a fair and sustainable way “.

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