The broad adaptation of wheat has made it suitable for many production environments around the world. Its success has made it both critical for the world’s food supply and a major component of the agricultural environment. A strong research and breeding network has underpinned the improvements in wheat production efficiency over the past hundred years, and this network will be essential to ensure sustainable wheat production in an increasingly unstable climate. The wheat network operates in the public and private sectors and across the full wheat value chain, from growers to handlers and marketers, processors and other end-users. Mobilising this network and directing focus onto activities that address the major challenges is the key role of the Wheat Initiative.
1.1. Why Wheat?
It is estimated that agriculture occupies about five billion hectares, which is almost 40% of the land surface 
. Of this, about one-third is cropped, with the remainder used for grazing livestock. Most of the cropland, about 90%, is under annual crops, and just over 20% is under irrigation. The growth in the world’s population has imposed strains on the use of cropland, and it is estimated that the area of land available per person for cropping has halved between 1961 and 2018 (from 0.36 to 0.18 ha/capita) 
Wheat is the most widely grown crop, with the area sown to wheat in 2019 estimated at 216 million hectares, and over 90 countries each produce over 10,000 tonnes annually 
. The three cereals, maize, rice and wheat, dominate crop production, accounting for almost 90% of the world’s cereals, and play a critical role in human nutrition. Although wheat represents 26% of the total world cereal production, it occupies almost 30% of the land used for cereal production (Table 1
Data on cereal production, trade and food supply. Production and trade numbers represent the annual average for the decade 2011 to 2020, and food supply information is the annual average for the decade 2010 to 2019. Maize and wheat imports and exports include grain and flour, and rice imports and exports include broken, husked, milled and paddy rice and rice flour 
Together, cereals provide 45% of the caloric and almost 40% of the protein intake in the human diet. Although maize exceeds both wheat and rice in total production, only around 12% of maize is used for food, with the remainder used as animal feed or for industrial purposes, such as ethanol production. In contrast, 77% of the rice and 65% of the wheat crop is used for food (Table 1
). However, wheat occupies a special and strategic role in global food security, as shown by the social unrest during the Arab Spring a decade ago. Wheat is particularly important, since almost 25% of the global production is traded internationally, while most rice is consumed in the country of production with only about 0.4% traded 
Wheat also plays an important nutritional role. As noted above, cereals account for about 45% of carbohydrate and 40% of the protein in the human diet. Wheat and rice contribute equally to our carbohydrate consumption (19% and 18%, respectively), but wheat accounts for 20% of our protein consumption compared to 12% for rice and only 5% for maize (Table 1
1.2. Impact of Climate Change
Water availability is the single biggest factor influencing wheat yield. Both breeding and agronomic practices can be used to match maturity to the growing season, and this trait is generally well managed in existing programs. While the adjustment of maturity to the environment has been critical to building wheat yields, problems arise during abnormal seasons when the developmental path of elite varieties no longer matches the rainfall and temperature patterns. Increasing climate variability is exacerbating this problem. Farmers accept that some years will be bad and they may lose money, if this can be offset by good years. An increasing frequency of bad years is a serious problem, and farmers seek varieties and management practices that can take advantage of the good years but minimise the losses in the bad years.
Drought and heat stress are becoming increasingly prevalent. Around half of all wheat globally experiences periods of heat stress, and 20 million hectares or more routinely experience water deficits 
. Models highlight the risks of simultaneous crop failures due to heat and/or drought in global “breadbaskets” 
, and extremes in temperature and precipitation are already attributed to 40% of inter-annual wheat production variability 
. Severe water-scarcity events are expected for up to 60% of the world’s wheat-growing areas by the end of this century 
, and each 1 °C increase in temperature is predicted to decrease yield by 7% on average 
. Although some research and modelling studies indicate that rising levels of atmospheric CO2
will at least partially offset the harmful effects of heat and drought stress, the data are far from consistent 
. Furthermore, the models neglect the harmful effects of rising night temperatures 
, heat shocks, unstable rainfall patterns and nutritional factors, for which there is no evidence of amelioration by elevated CO2 
, and these factors are likely to further negatively impact wheat yields.
1.3. The Wheat Initiative
The Wheat Initiative was established following endorsement by the G20 Group of Countries in 2011 to provide a global coordination mechanism for wheat research. It formed part of a broad strategy to enhance global food security in the face of major and rising challenges to current food production systems. The Vision of the Wheat Initiative is “to encourage and support the development of a vibrant global wheat public-private research community sharing resources, capabilities, data, knowledge and ideas to improve wheat productivity, quality and sustainable production around the world”. The Wheat Initiative comprises public and private researchers, and educators working on wheat to develop strong and dynamic national and trans-national collaborative programs.
Figure 1 shows the structure and organisation of the Wheat Initiative. The most important vehicles for achieving the objectives of the Wheat Initiative are the Expert Working Groups (EWGs). They provide the coordination and operational framework, link researchers with related interests, develop coordinated international projects, enhance the capacity-building of young scientists and set the research priorities.
Figure 1. Wheat Initiative organisational structure.
1.4. Global Wheat Research
The importance of wheat research is also apparent through the strong public investment; for example, a survey in 2020 identified 771 funded research projects on different aspects of wheat improvement and agronomy in just five countries (Australia, Canada, China, Spain and the USA) 
. An international survey in 2018 of wheat research projects involving work aimed at enhancing the heat and/or drought tolerance found 162 projects in 21 countries (unpublished data).
The funding of wheat research has followed a similar pattern of change with agricultural research. A strong divide has remained in research support between the world’s richest (OECD) versus poorest countries. In 1980, there was a 7.7-fold difference in agricultural research and development funding, with the wealthiest countries investing USD 13.25 per person compared to only USD 1.73 in poor countries. The discrepancy in private sector funding was even more extreme: “in 2011, for every dollar of private AgR&D spent in high-income countries, a meagre 0.8¢ was spent in low-income countries” 
Only around USD 69.3 billion was spent on agricultural research in 2011, which represented about 5% of the total research funds 
. However, there has been a shift in the role of middle-income countries (primarily China, India and Brazil), with their share of investment increasing from only 29% in 1980 to around 43% in 2011 
2. Wheat Initiative Structure and Organisation
2.1. Develop Educational and Training Programs
Technological advances have opened new opportunities for wheat research but have also increased the complexity of research teams. As noted above, modern programs require quite diverse skills to be effective and access to appropriately trained staff can be difficult. In addition, many traditional skills are becoming harder to source but are still important. This is particularly the case for quality assessment.
Although the WI has offered workshop and training programs in some areas, this has not been a major activity. In 2021, a new plan was approved to encourage the engagement of postgraduate students and early career researchers (ECRs) in the EWGs. This involves establishing two new membership categories and setting up a representative group from young researchers to provide input into the operations and strategy setting of the Wheat Initiative. A budget has been allocated to support these activities.
Wheat Initiative role:
Given the recognised importance of education and training, the WI should explore the possibility of employing a coordinator to develop the many options, liaise with existing related programs and explore funding opportunities.
Ensure the full and rapid implementation of the postgraduate and ECR plan for involvement in the EWGs.
Establish an exchange program that provides partial funding for students to work in other laboratories.
Encourage EWGs to deliver training workshops and courses, and link to existing options offered by other organisations, such as universities, CIMMYT and ICARDA.
Develop an online Wheat Initiative seminar program.
Develop mentoring programs to support students and link to industry.
2.2. The Wheat Initiative as an Advocacy and Lobby Organisation
The membership of EWGs represents a wealth of knowledge and expertise around wheat. This provides a trusted resource for information on wheat and wheat research and can be used to complement advocacy groups, such as farmer and processor organisations. The Wheat Initiative also plays a role to ensure that the needs of the research community are heard in government and international agencies. The diverse and multidisciplinary expertise represented in the WI allows the identification of globally relevant targets and the assessment of the feasibility of different approaches, in order to address challenges to wheat production; in other words, the Wheat Initiative can identify targets and strategies that fit the biological reality.
There is also value in providing information to the general public on the importance and relevance of wheat to global food security and validating the most relevant outcomes.
Wheat Initiative role:
Produce public explanatory documents and videos covering the Wheat Initiative activities, major topics and issues affecting wheat production, such as the role of germplasm exchange, gene editing, hybrid wheat, and crop protection.
Participate in relevant G20 workshops and meetings and develop links to government agencies and international organisations.
Advocate and lobby for the support of transnational research.
Develop links to the wheat grower and processing industry organisations.
Promote wheat resources such as WheatIS and WheatVIVO.
2.3. Expand Engagement
The current membership of the Wheat Initiative is dominated by developed countries with low representation from industry and from some regions, such as North and sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. This is also reflected in the membership of the EWGs, even though scientists from 47 countries are members. Broader engagement would expand the reach of the Wheat Initiative and increase access to skilled researchers and important wheat production regions. Therefore, the Wheat Initiative is actively seeking to increase industry participation and encourage the involvement of researchers and government agencies from resource-poor counties that import a large quota of their wheat consumption, such as Indonesia (100%), Egypt (80%), Tunisia (80%), etc., with all the entailed socio-economic and political consequences.
Wheat Initiative role:
The Institutions’ Coordination Committee has established a sub-committee to work through the options to build membership.
Develop and distribute documentation explaining the value to industry from joining the WI—Industry.
Increase industry participation in WI activities, particularly in training and mentorship: a component would be to identify platforms and capabilities that could be used by industry.
Identify and target government and institutional organisations in major wheat producing and wheat-importing countries to seek greater engagement in the WI.
Target early career researchers in under-represented countries to encourage the membership of EWGs. In addition, provide support to allow key people from these regions to participate in WI activities.
2.4. Supporting Multinational Research
There are relatively few opportunities to directly support multinational research programs. An exception has been the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), where funding was made available from several countries to support a coordinated research program. However, the creation of a pot of funds to support international research is not regarded as a viable option to support multinational research. Consequently, the Funding EWG was established to specifically consider possible mechanisms to support multinational research activities. The outcome of the FEWG was a three-stage plan:
Stage 1—Coordination across existing research to capture synergies, prevent duplication and identify gaps—low incremental costs but a proactive coordination is instrumental and essential.
Stage 2—Project alignment and leverage of existing investments: initially focus on the twinning of existing projects or building on a call(s) for proposals by one or more national funders joining (e.g., recent AAFC (Canada)/BBSRC (UK) IWYP-aligned call-linked consecutive calls for proposals in each country).
Stage 3—Scaling-up joint investment: under the key areas of interest to all funders, funding can be allocated to a common/centrally managed pot/program or managed nationally by a lead funder, still aligned under a broad umbrella theme.
This model was used to establish two new alliances: AHEAD and WATCH-A.
Wheat Initiative role:
AHEAD and WATCH-A provide the first two examples of implementation of the strategy developed by the Funding EWG. The progress of these initiatives will be closely monitored and used to make decisions on additional multinational programs.