The French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s concerns about fluctuations in crop prices received much credit for the provocative pronouncements on agriculture and food emanating from the recent G20 summit in Paris. Yet, it was an effort by the American wheat industry that focused attention on the need for research devoted to improving the quantity and quality of global wheat production that resulted in the one step by leaders of the 20 leading nations that could be considered unique to this gathering. This is launching the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement.

Identified by the acronym, IRIWI, the initiative is no idle dream like so many prior declarations by G20 meetings. A detailed paper spells out objectives centered on cooperation in global bread and durum wheat improvement research efforts in the fields of genomics, genetics and agronomy “to increase food security, wheat nutritional value and safety.” In addition to research collaboration, the G20 calls for integration of databases and development of protocols to spur consistent screening and analyses.

No previous undertaking of the G20 has so firmly been centered on improving the contribution of a single crop to meet expanding food needs. Dates beginning this autumn are set out for starting work as well as holding conferences to assure progress. Emphasis goes to collaboration with existing international and national research entities studying wheat. There has hardly ever been a worldwide program with such potential for grain-based foods.