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Improving food security through more productive and sustainable crops
Hands holding seed in a field

Cropping Systems and Economics

The Cropping Systems and Economics (CSE) program aims to improve food security through making field crop farming systems more productive and sustainable, using collaborative biophysical and economic research and development (R&D) partnerships.

Programs and projects research adjustments in cropping systems and farm-level economic conditions for increased productivity.  Where crops are a major source of livelihoods, this can improve food security, reduce poverty, improve farm systems, and help households make better decisions.

Food security has been a major concern since the 2007 food price crisis, which saw prices for rice and other staple cereal crops rise.  Factors that caused the crisis remain intricately linked to high food prices and uncertain production.

Increasing productivity, particularly amongst vulnerable smallholder producers, is the best way to insure against future shocks.  Increasing smallholder farm-level food security and productivity is, however, an ongoing challenge for developing countries, where cropping systems are often unproductive.

Cropping system research encompasses both applications of proven technology (focusing on improved management and profitability of soil fertility, conservation tillage, equipment and system interactions) and effective, participatory linkages between researchers, service providers and farmers of both genders.

This research is often associated with livestock, aquaculture and tree-crop research, as well as climate change and policy research, to devise biologically efficient systems.

Crop Improvement and Management

This program aims to make major crops and cropping systems more productive, sustainable and useful through researching agronomic practices and improving breeding methods, including breeding data.

Cereal crops – including maize, rice and wheat – are the world’s main food staples.  Demand for cereal crops will rise because of global population growth, increased demand for cereal-based animal feed, and diversion of crops from foods to biofuels.

Cereal production, however, is constrained by climate change, pressure on crop lands, and water scarcity.  Productivity of legumes and sorghum, both important sources of protein, has also declined.  Decreased production over the last decade has most affected the poor, who are least able to afford rising prices of staple foods.

Helping smallholders produce more cereals and legumes is vital to food security.  This relies on a mix of innovative agronomic practices and genetic improvement through breeding.  Scientists have created powerful tools for understanding the genetic basis of useful traits in crops, which could be used to improve crops in developing nations and accelerate genetic progress.

Research Program Manager: Dr Eric Huttner