Call for action on wheat blast threat in South Asia

This blast-infected wheat spike contains no grain, only chaff. Photo: CIMMYT files

By Gideon Kruseman and Mike Listman

A spatial mapping and ex ante study regarding the risk and potential spread in South Asia of wheat blast, a mysterious and deadly disease from the Americas that unexpectedly infected wheat in southwestern Bangladesh in 2016, identified 7 million hectares of wheat cropping areas in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan whose agro-climatic conditions resemble those of the Bangladesh outbreak zone.

The study shows that, under a conservative scenario of 5-10% wheat blast production damage in a single season in those areas, wheat grain losses would amount to from 0.89 to 1.77 million tons, worth between $180 and $350 million. This would strain the region’s already fragile food security and force up wheat imports and prices, according to Khondoker Abdul Mottaleb, first author of the study.

“Climate change and related changes in weather patterns, together with continuing globalization, expose wheat crops to increased risks from pathogens that are sometimes transported over long distances,” said Mottaleb.

Foresight research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has focused on new diseases and pests that have emerged or spread in recent decades, threatening global food safety and security. For wheat these include Ug99 and other new strains of stem rust, the movement of stripe rust into new areas, and the sudden appearance in Bangladesh of wheat blast, which had previously been limited to South America.

“As early as 2011, CIMMYT researchers had warned that wheat blast could spread to new areas, including South Asia,” said Kai Sonder, who manages CIMMYT’s geographic information systems lab and was a co-author on the current study, referring to a 2011 note published by the American Pathological Society. “Now that forecast has come true.”

CIMMYT has played a pivotal role in global efforts to study and control blast, with funding from the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

This has included the release by Bangladesh of the first blast resistant, biofortified wheat variety in 2017, using a CIMMYT wheat line, and numerous training events on blast for South Asia researchers.

Click here to read the article in PLOS-One: “Threat of wheat blast to South Asia’s food security: An ex-ante analysis.

 

 

 

From genes to networks to what-works

In a letter to the editorsof Nature, John R. Porter, Chair of the Independent Steering Committee for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and Tony Fischer, Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia, and former Director of the CIMMYT Wheat Program, along with other leading crop scientists, question where functional plant genomics research is headed. Their letter stems from a recent Editorial about reported progress in the 11th Plant Genomes Meeting. Porter et al. ask “what has been gained from decoding the alphabet of gene sequences,” and “when will the promise of genetics be translated into higher yields in farmers’ fields?”

“The best and most relevant research for crop science begins and ends in the field,” say Porter et al.

They call for an interdisciplinary approach aligning functional genomics with crop agronomy, while keeping food security in clear sight and contributing to the yield growth in crop production required to feed billions more consumers in coming decades.

* Full access requires a subscription to Nature or purchase of the letter.

Bearish headlines overstate the extent of available global wheat stocks, analysts say

By Mike Listman

MEXICO CITY, 5 April 2018–Declining area sown to wheat worldwide, together with stockpiling by China, is masking significant risk in global wheat markets, experts at the United Kingdom’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) caution.

“Less area sown means a higher dependence on yield to meet demand and thus a greater reliance on good weather, which is out of our control,” said Amandeep Kaur Purewal, a Senior Analyst in AHDB’s Market Intelligence Cereals and Oilseeds team, speaking in a recent interview with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

“If there is a production issue—say, drought or a serious pest or disease outbreak in a key wheat growing country—then wheat stocks may not be as accessible as recent, bearish headlines suggest,” Kaur Purewal added. “Bear in mind that the world’s number-one wheat producer, China, is not exporting surplus wheat at the moment, so China’s wheat won’t really be available for the markets.”

Established in 2008 and funded by farmers , growers and others in the supply chain, AHDB provides independent information to improve decisions and performance in UK agriculture.

In “Global wheat: The risks behind the records,” a report published by AHDB in February 2018, Kaur Purewal and colleagues suggest that, despite an unprecedented run of surplus global wheat production in the last four years, there is a relatively small cushion for large-scale importers to fall back upon, if imports become harder to obtain.

“Likely linked to China’s efforts to become self-sufficient in wheat, since 2007/08 the country has increased its stockpile by 225 percent, giving it a 64 percent share of the 138 million ton increase in global wheat stocks over this period,” Kaur Purewal observed. “This and the recent, huge global harvests for maize have saturated grain markets and pressured prices, driving the price of wheat futures to historic lows.”

According to the AHDB report, prices for wheat futures have been relatively stable, but if yields fall and production declines, greater price volatility may return.

“It’s important to remain aware of the market forces and read the news,” she said, “but in the case of the wheat stocks-to-use ratio, which measures how much stock is left after demand has been accounted for, the headlines may not be providing a true reflection.”

Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program, called the AHDB report an “eye opener.”

“This resonates with the cautionary message of the landmark 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London, which showed that the global food system is actually under significant pressure from potential, coinciding shocks, such as bad weather combined with crop disease outbreaks,” Braun said.

“Price spikes in basic food staples sorely affect the poor, who spend much of their income simply to eat each day,” Braun added. “CIMMYT and its partners cannot let up in our mission to develop and share high-yielding and nutritious maize and wheat varieties, supported by climate-smart farming practices. In an uncertain world, these help foster resilience and stability for food systems and consumers.”

Young women scientists who will galvanize global wheat research

By Laura Strugnell and Mike Listman

Winners of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award pose in front of the statue of the late Nobel Peace laureate, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Included in the photo are Amor Yahyaoui, CIMMYT wheat training coordinator (far left), Jeanie Borlaug Laube (center, blue blouse), and Maricelis Acevedo, Associate Director for Science, the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project (to the right of Jeanie Borlaug Laube). Photo: CIMMYT/Mike Listman

CIUDAD OBREGÓN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – As more than 200 wheat science and food specialists from 34 countries gathered in northwestern Mexico to address threats to global nutrition and food security, 9 outstanding young women wheat scientists among them showed that this effort will be strengthened by diversity.

Winners of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award joined an on-going wheat research training course organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 21-23 March.

“As my father used to say, you are the future,” said Jeanie Borlaug Laube, daughter of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, and mentor of many young agricultural scientists. Speaking to the WIT recipients, she said, “You are ahead of the game compared to other scientists your age.”

Established in 2010 as part of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project led by Cornell University, the WIT program has provided professional development opportunities for 44 young women researchers in wheat from more than 20 countries.

The award is given annually to as many as five early science-career women, ranging from advanced undergraduates to recent doctoral graduates and postdoctoral fellows. Selection is based on a scientific abstract and statement of intent, along with evidence of commitment to agricultural development and leadership potential.

Women who will change their professions and the world

Weizhen Liu. Photo: WIT files

Weizhen Liu, a 2017 WIT recipient and postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, is applying genome-wide association mapping and DNA marker technology to enhance genetic resistance in tetraploid and bread wheat to stripe rust, a major global disease of wheat that is quickly spreading and becoming more virulent.

“I am eager to join and devote myself to improving wheat yields by fighting wheat rusts,” said Liu, who received her bachelors in biotechnology from Nanjing Agricultural University, China, in 2011, and a doctorate from Washington State University in 2016. “Through WIT, I can share my research with other scientists, receive professional feedback, and build international collaboration.”

Mitaly Bansal, a 2016 WIT award winner, currently works as a Research Associate at Punjab Agricultural University, India. She did her PhD research in a collaborative project involving Punjab Agricultural University and the John Innes Centre, UK, to deploy stripe and leaf rust resistance genes from non-progenitor wild wheat in commercial cultivars.

Mitaly Bansal. Photo: WIT files

“I would like to work someday in a position of public policy in India,” said Bansal, who received the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug scholarship in 2013. “That is where I could have the influence to change things that needed changing.”

Networking in the cradle of wheat’s “Green Revolution”

In addition to joining CIMMYT training for a week, WIT recipients will attend the annual Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) technical workshop, to be held this year in Marrakech, Morocco, from 14 to 17 April, and where the 2018 WIT winners will be announced.

The CIMMYT training sessions took place at the Norman Borlaug Experiment Station (CENEB), an irrigated desert location in Sonora State, northwestern Mexico, and coincided with CIMMYT’s 2018 “Visitors’ Week,” which took place from 19 to 23 March.

An annual gathering organized by the CIMMYT global wheat program at CENEB, Visitors’ Week typically draws hundreds of experts from the worldwide wheat research and development community. Participants share innovations and news on critical issues, such as the rising threat of the rust diseases or changing climates in key wheat farmlands.

Through her interaction with Visitors’ Week peers, Liu said she was impressed by the extensive partnering among experts from so many countries. “I realized that one of the most important things to fight world hunger is collaboration; no one can solve food insecurity, malnutrition, and climate change issues all by himself.”

A strong proponent and practitioner of collaboration, Norman E. Borlaug worked with Sonora farmers in the 1940-50s as part of a joint Rockefeller Foundation-Mexican government program that, among other outputs, generated high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties. After bringing wheat self-sufficiency to Mexico, the varieties were adopted in South Asia and beyond in the 1960-70s, dramatically boosting yields and allowing famine-prone countries to feed their rapidly-expanding populations.

This became known as the Green Revolution and, in 1970, Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his contributions. Borlaug subsequently led CIMMYT wheat research until his retirement in 1979 and served afterwards as a special consultant to the Center.

When a new, highly virulent race of wheat stem rust, Ug99, emerged in eastern Africa in the early 2000s, Borlaug sounded the alarm and championed a global response that grew into the BGRI and associated initiatives such as DGGW.

“This is just a beginning for you, but it doesn’t end here,” said Maricelis Acevedo, a former WIT recipient who went on to become the leader of DGGW. Speaking during the training course, she observed that many WIT awardees come from settings where women often lack access to higher education or the freedom to pursue a career.

“Through WIT activities, including training courses like this and events such as Visitors’ Week and the BGRI workshop,” Acevedo added, “you’ll gain essential knowledge and skills but you’ll also learn leadership and the personal confidence to speak out, as well as the ability to interact one-on-one with leaders in your field and to ask the right questions.”

CIMMYT is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives generous support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) under UK aid, the DGGW project aims to strengthen the delivery pipeline for new, disease resistant, climate-resilient wheat varieties and to increase the yields of smallholder wheat farmers.

 

CIMMYT promotes gender awareness in agriculture research and development in Ethiopia

Gender awareness and gender-sensitive approaches are slowly spreading into agricultural research, extension, and policy in Ethiopia, based on recent statements from a cross section of professionals and practitioners in the country.

An initiative led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is helping to drive evidence-based approaches to foster gender equality and include it in mainstream agricultural research.

Moges Bizuneh, deputy head of the agricultural office of Basona District, attended a CIMMYT-organized workshop in which Ethiopia-specific results were presented from GENNOVATE, a large-scale qualitative study involving focus groups and interviews with more than 7,500 rural men and women in 26 developing countries. “I have learned a lot about gender and it’s not just about women, but about both women and men,” said Bizuneh.

The District of Basona has nearly 30,000 households, 98 percent of which depend on agriculture for food and livelihoods but have access to an average of only 1.5 hectares of land. More than 10,000 of those households are headed by females, because many males and youth have left Basona to seek opportunities in large cities or other countries.

Bizuneh and his colleagues are working with a district gender specialist and a women and gender unit to make gender sensitive approaches a regular part of their activities. In this, he concedes that he and other professionals are contending with “deep-rooted social and cultural norms around divisions of labor and a lack of awareness regarding gender issues.”

One surprise for Bizuneh, from group discussions regarding innovation and involvement in CIMMYT’s gender research, was that women said it was important to share experiences with other farmers and obtain new knowledge.

“No men mentioned that,” he remarked. “This shows that, if provided with information and support, women can innovate.”

Kristie Drucza, CIMMYT gender and development specialist, has been studying, publishing on, and presenting widely about people-centered, evidence-based approaches for gender equality that are being taken up by agirculture for development professionals. Photo: CIMMYT/Apollo Habtamu

Kristie Drucza, CIMMYT gender and development specialist, has been studying, publishing on, and presenting widely about people-centered, evidence-based approaches for gender equality that are being taken up by agriculture-for-development professionals. Photo: CIMMYT/Apollo Habtamu

Women and men plan and change together

Another product from the project is a 2017 review of gender-transformative methodologies for Ethiopia’s agriculture sector, co-authored by Kristie Drucza, project lead, and Wondimu Abebe, a research assistant, both from CIMMYT.

Drucza presented on the people-centered methodologies described in the publication at a recent workshop in Addis Ababa, offering diverse lessons of use for research and development professionals.

“The methodologies involve participatory research to help households and communities assess their situation and develop solutions to problems,” said Drucza. “By working with men and boys and allowing communities to set the pace of change, these approaches reduce the likelihood of a backlash against women—something that too frequently accompanies gender-focused programs.”

Annet Abenakyo Mulema, social scientist in gender at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), intends to apply some of the same methods to help rural families understand household and community gender dynamics and their role in managing the families’ goats, sheep, and other livestock.

Annet Abenakyo Mulema, social scientist in gender at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is applying participatory research and gender-sensitive methods to help households and communities assess their situation and develop solutions to problems. Photo: ILRI archives

Annet Abenakyo Mulema, social scientist in gender at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is applying participatory research and gender-sensitive methods to help households and communities assess their situation and develop solutions to problems. Photo: ILRI archives

“A 2015 study we did uncovered gender relationships associated with disease transmission,” Mulema explained. “Women and girls normally clean the animal pens and so are exposed to infections. Social conventions in the community make women feel inferior and not empowered to speak out about animal health, which is considered a man’s domain. We encouraged men and women to share roles and work together, and this made it easier for both to quickly identify disease outbreaks at early stages and prevent infections from spreading throughout the herd or to humans.”

Mulema said Drucza’s workshop helped her to understand and appreciate methodologies such as social analysis and action, community conversations, and gender action learning systems to support a shared, local response to the problem. “As another outcome, we spoke to service providers, such as veterinarians and extension agents, who needed to understand how gender related to animal health and the fact that the relationships between women and men in a community can change.”

Meskerem Mulatu, gender and nutrition specialist in Ethiopia’s Agricultural Growth Program II (AGP II) Capacity Development Support Facility (CDSF), said her group invited Drucza to speak on gender and social norms at a national workshop organized by AGP II CDSF in October 2017.

“Our event was on gender, nutrition, and climate-smart agriculture,” according to Meskerem. “Many technologies are gender-sensitive but research and extension are not giving this adequate attention because there is no common operational definition. Their preconception is ‘technology is technology; it’s the same for men and women.’ Drucza’s evidence-based presentation showed that men and women may have different technology demands.”

Meskerem is going to train district agricultural officers to use a transformative methodology identified by Drucza. “Kristie’s report is really good timing,” she said. “We were thinking of doing something in terms of gender and these methodologies make sense.”

Recording data on changes in social norms

In June 2017, Drucza presented the findings of her meta-analysis of evaluations of gender in Ethiopian agricultural development at a senior staff meeting of the Ethiopia office of CARE, the global humanitarian organization. Among the 26 agricultural program evaluations considered, explained Drucza, only three had strong findings, a heavy inclusion of gender, and evidence of changes in social norms—and all three were CARE projects.

Moges Bizuneh helps lead an agricultural office in Basona District, home to more than 10,000 female-headed households, and is working to support innovation by women. Photo: CIMMYT/Mike Listman

Moges Bizuneh helps lead an agricultural office in Basona District, home to more than 10,000 female-headed households, and is working to support innovation by women. Photo: CIMMYT/Mike Listman

One was the Graduation with Resilience to Achieve Sustainable Development (GRAD) initiative. As an outcome of Drucza’s presentation, CARE is refining the way it records certain social data, according to Elisabeth Farmer, Deputy Chief of Party for the CARE’s Feed the Future Ethiopia–Livelihoods for Resilience Activity project, which emerged from GRAD.

“Our baseline study protocol and questionnaire for the new project hadn’t been finalized yet,” Farmer said. “We were thinking through the difference between using a scale that scores responses along a range, such as a Likert scale, versus asking respondents “yes or no”-type questions, for instance regarding women’s access to information or equitable decision-making in the household.

“As Drucza explained, when it comes to gender norms, you may not get all the way from a “no” to a “yes”, but only from a “2” to “3”, and we want to make sure that we are capturing these smaller shifts, so we incorporated scales with ranges into our baseline and will ensure that these are used in future assessments to track transformations in social norms.”

According to Drucza, who leads the CIMMYT project “Understanding gender in wheat-based livelihoods for enhanced WHEAT R4D impact in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ethiopia,” funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, research must be relevant and useful.

“I’m happy to learn that our results are useful to a diverse range of actors, from development partners to policy makers and local agricultural officers,” she said.

Improved wheat helps reduce women’s workload in rural Afghanistan

Afghan women from wheat farming villages in focus-group interviews as part of Gennovate, a global study on gender and agricultural innovation. Photo: CIMMYT archives

by Katelyn Roett, Mike Listman / October 12, 2017

New research shows improved wheat raises the quality of life for men and women across rural communities in Afghanistan.

recent report from Gennovate, a major study about gender and innovation processes in developing country agriculture, found that improved wheat varieties emerged overwhelmingly among the agricultural technologies most favored by both men and women.

In one striking example from Afghanistan, introducing better wheat varieties alone reduced women’s work burden, showing how the uptake of technology – whether seeds or machinery – can improve the quality of life.

“Local varieties are tall and prone to falling, difficult to thresh, and more susceptible to diseases, including smuts and bunts, which requires special cleaning measures, a task normally done by women,” said Rajiv Sharma, a senior wheat scientist at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and country liaison officer for CIMMYT in Afghanistan. “Such varieties may comprise mixes of several seed types, including seed of weeds. They also give small harvests for which threshing is typically manual, with wooden rollers and animals, picking up sticks, stones, and even animal excrement that greatly complicates cleaning the grain.”

Both women and men spoke favorably about how improved wheat varieties have eased women’s wheat cleaning work.  “Improved seeds can provide clean wheat,” said an 18-year old woman from one of the study’s youth focus groups in Panali, Afghanistan. “Before, we were washing wheat grains and we exposed it to the sun until it dried. Machineries have [also] eased women’s tasks.”

Finally, Sharma noted that bountiful harvests from improved varieties often lead farmers to use mechanical threshing, which further reduces work and ensures cleaner grain for household foods.

Gennovate: A large-scale, qualitative, comparative snapshot

Conceived as a “bottom-up” idea by a small gender research team of CGIAR in 2013, Gennovate involves 11 past and current CGIAR Research Programs. The project collected data from focus groups and interviews involving more than 7,500 rural men and women in 26 countries during 2014-16.

Some 2,500 women and men from 43 rural villages in 8 wheat-producing countries of Africa and Asia participated in community case studies, as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

“Across wheat farm settings, both men and women reported a sense of gradual progress,” said Lone Badstue, gender specialist at the CIMMYT and Gennovate project leader. “But women still face huge challenges to access information and resources or have a voice in decision making, even about their own lives.”

According to estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), if women farmers, who comprise 43 per cent of the farm labor force in developing countries, had the same access to resources as men, agricultural output in 34 developing countries would rise by an estimated average of as high as 4 percent.

“Gender-related restrictions such as limitations on physical mobility or social interactions, as well as reproductive work burden, also constitute key constraints on rural women’s capacity to innovate in agriculture,” Badstue explained.

Gender equity drives innovation

The Gennovate-wheat report identified six “positive outlier communities” where norms are shifting towards more equitable gender relations and helping to foster inclusiveness and agricultural innovation. In those communities, men and women from all economic scales reported significantly higher empowerment and poverty reductions than in the 37 other locations. Greater acceptance of women’s freedom of action, economic activity, and civic and educational participation appears to be a key element.

“In contexts where gender norms are more fluid, new agricultural technologies and practices can become game-changing, increasing economic agency for women and men and rapidly lowering local poverty,” Badstue said.

The contributions and presence of CIMMYT in Afghanistan, which include support for breeding research and training for local scientists, date back several decades. In the last five years, the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) of the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL) has used CIMMYT breeding lines to develop and make available to farmers seed of 15 high-yielding, disease resistant wheat varieties.

Read the full report “Gender and Innovation Processes in Wheat-Based Systems” here.

GENNOVATE has been supported by generous funding from the World Bank; the CGIAR Gender & Agricultural Research Network; the government of Mexico through MasAgro; Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ); numerous CGIAR Research Programs; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

Asian scientists join cross-continental training to restrain wheat blast disease

Gary Peterson (center), explaining wheat blast screening to trainees inside the USDA-ARS Level-3 Biosafety Containment facility. Photo: CIMMYT archives

With backing from leading international donors and scientists, nine South Asia wheat researchers recently visited the Americas for training on measures to control a deadly and mysterious South American wheat disease that appeared suddenly on their doorstep in 2016.

Known as “wheat blast,” the disease results from a fungus that infects the wheat spikes in the field, turning the grain to inedible chaff. First sighted in Brazil in the mid-1980s, blast has affected up to 3 million hectares in South America and held back the region’s wheat crop expansion for decades.

In 2016, a surprise outbreak in seven districts of Bangladesh blighted wheat harvests on some 15,000 hectares and announced blast’s likely spread throughout South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares and nearly a billion inhabitants eat wheat.

“Most commercially grown wheat in South Asia is susceptible to blast,” said Pawan Singh, head of wheat pathology at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), an organization whose breeding lines are used by public research programs and seed companies in over 100 countries. “The disease poses a grave threat to food and income security in the region and yet is new and unknown to most breeders, pathologists and agronomists there.”

As part of an urgent global response to blast and to acquaint South Asian scientists with techniques to identify and describe the pathogen and help develop resistant varieties, Singh organized a two-week workshop in July. The event drew wheat scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Mexico, taking them from U.S. greenhouses and labs to fields in Bolivia, where experimental wheat lines are grown under actual blast infections to test for resistance.

The training began at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, where participants learned about molecular marker diagnosis of the causal fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT). Sessions also covered greenhouse screening for blast resistance and blast research conducted at Kansas State University. Inside Level-3 Biosafety Containment greenhouses from which no spore can escape, participants observed specialized plant inoculation and disease evaluation practices.

The group then traveled to Bolivia, where researchers have been fighting wheat blast for decades and had valuable experience to share with the colleagues from South Asia.

“In Bolivia, workshop participants performed hands-on disease evaluation and selection in the field—an experience quite distinct from the precise lab and greenhouse practicums,” said Singh, describing the groups time at the Cooperativa Agropecuaria Integral Colonias Okinawa (CAICO), Bolivia, experiment station.

Other stops in Bolivia included the stations of the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF), Asociación de Productores de Oleaginosas y Trigo (ANAPO), Centro de Investigación Agrícola Tropical (CIAT), and a blast-screening nursery in Quirusillas operated by INIAF-CIMMYT.

“Scientists in South Asia have little or no experience with blast disease, which mainly attacks the wheat spike and is completely different from the leaf diseases we normally encounter,” said Prem Lal Kashyap, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). “To score a disease like blast in the field, you need to evaluate each spike and check individual spikelets, which is painstaking and labor-intensive, but only thus can you assess the intensity of disease pressure and identify any plants that potentially carry genes for resistance.”

After the U.S.A. and Bolivia, the South Asia scientists took part in a two-week pathology module of an ongoing advanced wheat improvement course at CIMMYT’s headquarters and research stations in Mexico, covering topics such as the epidemiology and characterization of fungal pathogens and screening for resistance to common wheat diseases.

The knowledge gained will allow participants to refine screening methods in South Asia and maintain communication with the blast experts they met in the Americas, according to Carolina St. Pierre who co-ordinates the precision field-based phenotyping platforms of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

“They can now also raise awareness back home concerning the threat of blast and alert farmers, who may then take preventative and remedial actions,” Singh added. “The Bangladesh Ministry of Agriculture has already formed a task force through the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) to help develop and distribute blast resistant cultivars and pursue integrated agronomic control measures.”

The latest course follows on from a hands-on training course in February 2017 at the Wheat Research Center (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Dinajpur, in collaboration with CIMMYT, Cornell University, and Kansas State University.

Participants in the July course received training from a truly international array of instructors, including Kerry Pedley and Gary Peterson, of USDA-ARS, and Christian Cruz, of Kansas State University; Felix Marza, of Bolivia’s Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF); Pawan Singh and Carolina St. Pierre, of CIMMYT; Diego Baldelomar, of ANAPO; and Edgar Guzmán, of CIAT-Bolivia.

Funding for the July event came from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), CIMMYT, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.