Application of Biotechnology and Mutation Techniques for the Improvement of Local Food Crops in LIFDCs


Improved basic and neglected food crops in LIFDCs through application of biotechnology and mutation techniques to:

  • Improve local varieties of basic food crops for yield and quality, early maturity, and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses.
  • Initiate mutation induction in the local germplasm of neglected crops and promote their collection.
  • Establish protocols for various in vitro techniques (such as micropropagation, somatic embryogenesis, haploid production) of basic and neglected food crops.
  • Evaluate performance of mutants and parent varieties for nutritional value and quality traits (protein content, starch, cooking quality, shelf-life).


Food production per capita in 'Low Income Food Deficit Countries' (LIFDCs) is on the decline mainly as a result of population increase. Production of export oriented commodity crops such as tea, coffee, cocoa and palm oil, while important to the economy, has not helped populations at large to secure the minimal calories required to avoid malnutrition. Increased production and an assured food supply can be achieved by improving crop yields on small land holdings and family-oriented, labour intensive agriculture. The strategy for increasing production should consist in maximizing stability of the farming systems by increasing yield per unit area without over-exploiting land resources.

There are many traditional food crops adapted to the agroclimatic and biotic stresses which are used by local communities as the primary source of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, vitamins and other micro-nutrients. Some of the crops are grown only in specific regions to supplement basic dietary needs but are not known to the outside world. It is essential that the local cultivars and land races are improved in yield, quality and tolerance to stress. Other food plants are completely neglected or "orphan" crops having received little or no attention with respect to developing improved varieties compatible with modern farming. The importance of improved crop varieties in enhancing food production and security is well recognized. In many LIFDCs, existing varieties of traditional crops are heterogenous mixtures of land races, and often represent simply the adapted natural germplasm which needs to be improved through genetic manipulation. There are several reasons for using mutation breeding techniques for improving food crops. Improvement of crop plants can be speeded up by combining in vitro techniques with mutation induction and mutant isolation, particularly in vegetatively propagated plants. The use of mutation techniques in haploids to recover homozygous mutants is much faster than conventional sexual recombination. These technologies are well advanced and are being used extensively to complement conventional plant breeding approaches in developed countries. These techniques, however, are either not available or are in their infancy in LIFDCs. The access to in vitro culture techniques and their application can thus play a significant role in the improvement of traditional and neglected crops of these countries.

Expected Outputs:

CRP proposes to increase the food production potential by developing improved and better yielding breeding lines of local food crops through mutation induction and related biotechnologies, which could contribute to food security and income generation. It will, furthermore, enhance collaboration between the participants of the CRP in exchange of technologies and germplasm, with various NARS and with the relevant International Agricultural Research Centers.

  • Develop appropriate methodologies for the application of mutation techniques and related in vitro and molecular techniques in under-utilized local food crops.
  • Induce mutations for desired traits in the different crops of interest.
  • Broaden the base of breeders' populations and enhance their diversity.
  • Select desired useful mutants and mutant lines for further evaluation.
  • Incorporate promising mutant lines in existing crop improvement and cross breeding programmes.

This project will involve participants from agricultural research institutions and universities from the LIFDCs. Twelve research contracts are expected to be awarded. In addition, it is foreseen that 3 technical contracts will be awarded for the development of specific mutation techniques and biotechnologies related to some of these neglected crops, and 4 research agreements will be made with researchers from non-LIFDC countries which have either active research programmes on related food crops or are engaged in developing technologies related to their improvement. It is foreseen that the support for specific research needs such as mutation induction, in vitro and molecular techniques related to the project will be carried out by the Plant Breeding Unit of the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory in Seibersdorf.

To apply for a contract/agreement in this programme, please complete a Proposal for Research Agreement or Research Contract Proposal and return it to the IAEA's Research Contracts Section.


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  • Report of First RCM, Vienna, Austria, 1998

Project Officer:

P.J.L. Lagoda