Advances toward breaking the wheat yield barrier: IWYP 2015-16 annual report

In addition to incisive background on IWYP, including its model, mission and goals, this report covers first-year activities and advances from thcover-iwyp-ar-2015-16e partnership’s Science Program and how research outputs are uses to generate added value.

Dr. Richard Flavell FRS, CBE, who chairs the Science Impact and Executive Board of IWYP, states: “Being a part of such a worthy endeavor as IWYP that seeks to impact global food and nutritional security by seeking solutions with cutting-edge science is exhilarating. This is a unique opportunity to employ and validate a new way of working together internationally to achieve common goals that address critical needs. We are confident that we have laid the necessary groundwork and will remain focused and committed to realize our collective success.”

To view or download a copy of the IWYP Annual Report follow the link:

Iran and CIMMYT join forces to boost wheat farming productivity

Heat- and drought-tolerant varieties and improved practices will raise farmers’ incomes, offer more affordable food and reduce costly imports

Wheat farm in Moghan, Caspian Region, northern Iran. Photo: J.Kamali/CIMMYT

Wheat farm in Moghan, Caspian Region, northern Iran. Photo: J.Kamali/CIMMYT


The government of Iran signed a momentous 6-year agreement with The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center(CIMMYT) for joint work to raise the productivity of the country’s wheat farms on some 2.5 million hectares—roughly 13 percent of the nation’s cultivated area.

Researchers of Iran and CIMMYT will develop and share improved varieties, draw on wild grasses of Iran as sources of resilience in breeding, improve policies and seed production/distribution systems and spread the use of conservation agriculture practices.

“I’m extremely pleased about this agreement with a long-time, valued partner,” said Martin Kropff, director general of CIMMYT. “It bespeaks Iran’s serious focus on providing affordable food and generating income for farmers. It also comes at a time when agri-food systems everywhere face daunting challenges, like more frequent droughts and less available irrigation water.”

To read more about the agreement between CIMMYT and Iran, read the full news release here.


Available Now: The 2015 WHEAT Annual Report

High returns to global wheat research

Building on more than a half-century of proven impacts, the global wheat improvement system led by CGIAR centers continues to be the chief source for wheat farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America of critical traits such as high yields, disease resistance and enhanced nutrition and quality.

A recently-published study found that CGIAR-derived varieties – nearly all traceable to CIMMYT and ICARDA breeding programs – cover more than 100 million of 220 million hectares worldwide and bring economic benefits of as much as $3.1 billion each year. To achieve impacts in wheat agri-food systems, CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on national partnerships in over 100 countries and critical support from CGIAR Fund Donors and other contributors, whom we sincerely thank on behalf of the world’s wheat farmers and consumers.

A critical juncture

Consumers in particular are benefiting from current low wheat grain prices, thanks in part to the success of WHEAT, but many studies foreshadow a future of rising demand and food price instability that could wreak havoc, particularly among poor consumers.

The unfolding scenario implies a yearly growth in wheat demand of 1.4 percent to 2030, at constant prices. But yield gains in wheat remain below 1 percent per year over the last decade, mainly because the easiest gains in wheat have already been achieved and more dramatic progress will require new approaches.

To ensure the affordable availability of wheat – a food staple that provides around 20 percent of protein and calories consumed worldwide – researchers need to expand field testing for disease resistance and heat and drought tolerance and to significantly raise wheat’s genetic yield potential.

Ethiopia 2015

Photo: Peter Lowe

For their part, during 2015 CIMMYT and ICARDA made excellent progress in merging their wheat programs to ensure partners and farmers’ quick and effective access to high-yielding, climate-resilient breeding lines, productive and resource-conserving cropping practices and knowledge needed to face the future of wheat, the vital grain of civilization and food security.

Hans-Joachim Braun

Director, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat

Read the full version of the 2015 WHEAT Annual Report here.

Assessing the impact of CIMMYT on capacity development in China

A study recently published byChina-Group-Portrait the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Science showed that the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has provided an increasing number of training opportunities for Chinese scholars in the past four decades. 350 Chinese researchers had taken part in CIMMYT wheat training programs since 1970, of which 15 percent were female during 1980-1990; rising to 35 percent female during 2000-12. Since the 1990s, there was an increasing focus on young scientists.

The study is the first attempt at assessing the impact of CIMMYT’s training programs on Chinese scholars. The significant hidden value of CIMMYT’s training programs for Chinese trainees’ academic performance revealed by this study should have important implications for major international donors who are interested in improving NARS research capacity. The study stated that the trainees performed better after training. On average, trainees’ annual total numbers of publications, patents, awards and wheat varieties were higher in the post-training period. In addition, the trainees’ ability to obtain research projects and funding was higher than the average level of all scientists at their institutions.China training

According to the study, “the majority of trainees highly appreciated the effect CIMMYT training had on their careers. Most of them claimed that the training helped them obtain new scientific knowledge and technology, improve their research and work experiences, access more germplasm resources and develop a better research network. Moreover, most of the respondents also believe that the training programs have largely contributed to wheat technological changes in China. They suggest that CIMMYT can play a more important role by expanding its training programs and conducting more collaborative work in China in the future.”

The training impacts report is the second of two studies by CCAP-CAS on the achievements of the China-CIMMYT wheat research partnership. The first study showed that 10.7 million tons of grain — worth US $3.4 billion — were added to China’s wheat output, as well as genetic diversity that significantly enhanced key traits in China’s wheat varieties, through three decades of shared research.

To view or download a pdf of the report on training impacts, click here.


Annual meeting in Ciudad Obregón fosters international research partnerships

Katie Lutz
Each year, hundreds of wheat researchers from across the globe gather in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico to participate in the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program (GWP) Visitor’s Week at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB.) This year 220 guests from 31 nations attended visitor’s week during 14-18 March, ending just one week before what would have been 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former CIMMYT wheat breeder, Norman E. Borlaug’s, 102nd birthday.

The events held in Obregón help to foster a relationship between wheat researchers and facilitate partnerships worldwide. Participants are invited to attend the GWP Field Day at CENEB during the peak of the Obregón wheat growing season to learn more about CIMMYT programs and hear updates on the latest research.

In addition to Field Day this year, numerous meetings were held with the collective goal to contributing to the improvement of wheat research across the globe. Meetings held during visitor’s week included discussions based on exploring priority research areas in wheat.

A brainstorming session discussing future collaborations between the UK and CIMMYT, included dialogue on breeding for tolerance to high ambient temperatures, durable disease resistance, input use efficiency in nitrogen and quality and nutrition. Future collaborations between CIMMYT- Australia were also explored with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Exchange group (CAIGE).  2Blades, a US-based organization supporting the development of durable disease resistances in crop plants and their deployment in agriculture also joined the conversation expressing the need for the use of safe, sustainable strategies for crop production.

Visitor 8x12

Additionally in exploring international collaborations, the second meeting of the Expert Working Group on Nutrient Use Efficiency in wheat aimed to improve international coordination on NUE (nitrogen and other nutrients) research between Australia, UK, France, Mexico, Italy, Spain and Germany.  During the NUE meeting an executive committee was appointed, Malcolm Hawksford, Head of Plant Biology and Crop Science at Rothamsted as Chair and Jacques Le Gouis, of INRA as Vice Chair.

Amidst the meetings and international collaborations, the International Wheat Yield Partnership held their first official program conference. During the IWYP conference, program director Jeff Gwyn, discussed outcomes and objectives for the next 20 years.

With the large audience of global wheat researchers, The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative used this platform to launch their new project, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat, after announcements of the $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were made. DGGW will mitigate serious threats to wheat brought about by climate change and develop and deploy new strains of wheat that are heat tolerant as well as resistant to wheat rusts and other diseases.

With the hope of increasing data and information sharing, the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN) awarded Mehmet Nazım Dincer of Turkey the IWIN Cooperator Award for his contribution of data to the international nurseries. Dincer was selected from a lottery of researchers who provided data to IWIN for the international nurseries in the last year. Dincer was congratulated for his collaborative efforts with a one week paid travel to Obregón for GWP Visitor’s Week and honored with an award during the festivities. The next winner will be selected in a lottery in November among co-operators who had returned 2016 International Nursery data. As Hans Braun stated, he is not aware of other lotteries with so few participants in which the jackpot is a trip to Obregón. So IWIN co-operators, return the data and win.

This week is not only an important time for international collaborations and brainstorming, but also for capacity development and training early career scientists. Coinciding with visitor’s week is the GWP Basic Wheat Improvement Course, a three month training course that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field. In addition to attending Visitor’s Week events, trainees were offered special courses with guest lecturers. Joining the BWIC at this time were winners of the Women in Triticum 2016 Award. WIT winners and female trainees joined women across CIMMYT in a “Women in Agriculture” discussion led by Jeannie Borlaug, daughter of Norman Borlaug, to discuss difficulties and successes as women in science and agriculture.



CIMMYT scientist R.K. Malik wins Crawford Fund’s Derek Tribe Award for improving livelihoods of farmers in India

Photo RK Malik 2

Ram Kanwar Malik, a senior agronomist in the Sustainable Intensification Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Bihar, India, is the winner of the 2015 Derek Tribe Award for his outstanding contributions to making a food secure world by improving and sustaining the productivity of the rice-wheat system of the northwestern and eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.

The Derek Tribe Award, given by the Australia-based Crawford Fund, is made biennially to a citizen of a developing country in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the application of research in agriculture in a developing country.

The prestigious award recognizes Malik’s more than 30 years of work in agricultural research and development dedicated to improving the livelihoods of millions of small-scale and marginal farmers in India. Malik was a pioneer promoter of zero tillage to sow wheat, in rice-wheat cropping zones of northern India—initially to control infestations of the weed, Phalaris minor. The approach, which involves seeding wheat directly into residues of the preceding rice crop, is used on 2 million hectares throughout South Asia’s rice-wheat cropping belt and in a recent report was shown to increase the annual incomes of farmers in Bihar, India, by an average of 6 percent.

Malik’s collaborative work with national and international partners and farmer participatory approaches have also fostered the adoption of climate-resilient technologies such as precision land leveling and direct-seeded rice, as well as policy changes in support of these and other resource-conserving practices.

Malik currently serves as the country coordinator for India for the CIMMYT-led sustainable intensification project, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA). He continues to raise productivity and smallholders’ incomes in the eastern states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, areas where rural poverty, food insecurity and yield gaps of cereal staples are among the most severe in South Asia.

Highlighting his life-long passion for understanding the needs of farmers and for ensuring farmers’ participation in research, Malik said, “For developing countries like India where farmers are small and marginalized and investment in research is low, the development of new technologies and the process of delivery are inseparable. In fact, a top-down approach could put up barriers to the adoption of new technologies. Listening to farmers and tailoring technologies to serve their needs thus become paramount.”

Read the full announcement from The Crawford Fund here.

Read the full announcement from CIMMYT here.


Wheat global impacts 1994-2014: Published report available

Just published by CIMMYT and WHEAT, the report “Impacts of International Wheat Improvement Research 1994-2014,” shows that varieties on nearly half the world’s wheat lands overall — as well as 70 to 80 percent of all wheat varieties released in our primary target regions (South Asia, Central and West Asia and North Africa)Cover_Page_01 — are CGIAR related. Other key findings include the following:

  • Fully 63 percent of the varieties featured CGIAR genetic contributions. This means they are either direct releases of breeding lines from CIMMYT and ICARDA or have a CGIAR line as a parent or more distant ancestor.
  • Yearly economic benefits of CGIAR wheat breeding research ranged from $2.2 to $3.1 billion (in 2010 dollars), and resulted from annual funding of just $30 million, representing a benefit-cost ratio of between 73:1 and 103:1, even by conservative estimates.
  • In South Asia, for example, which is home to more than 300 million undernourished people and whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat a year, 92 percent of the varieties carried CGIAR ancestry.

Released to coincide with CIMMYT’s 50th anniversary this year, the new study analyzes the pedigrees of 4,604 wheat varieties released worldwide during 1994-2014, based on survey responses from public and private breeding programs in 66 countries.

Started in the 1950s by Norman Borlaug, the global wheat improvement pipeline coordinated by CIMMYT and ICARDA has constituted national breeding programs’ main source of new genetic variation for wheat yield increases, adaptation to climate change, and resistance to crop pests and diseases. In 2014 alone, CIMMYT distributed free of charge more than 12 tons of seed of experimental lines for testing and other research by 346 partners in public and private breeding programs of 79 countries.

CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on generous donor assistance and national partnerships to achieve meaningful farm-level impacts. On behalf of the farmers and consumers who have benefited through more productive and profitable agriculture and enhanced food security from the use of CGIAR wheat lines, we would like to recognize and thank these donors and partners and ask for their continued support.

Deadly disease wheat blast reaches South Asia

Blast wheat Duveiller Brazil 2009 (2)

Diseased wheat spikes carry shriveled or no grain at all.

One of the most fearsome and intractable wheat diseases in recent decades is wheat blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae.

First sighted in Brazil in 1985, blast is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as much as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s and seriously limiting the potential for wheat cropping on the region’s vast savannas.

The pathogen can be spread by seed and also survives on crop residues. Currently, most varieties being planted are susceptible and fungicides have not been effective in controlling the disease.

Experts had feared the possible spread of blast from Latin America to regions of Africa and Asia where conditions are similar. A severe outbreak of blast in key wheat districts of southwestern Bangladesh in early 2016 has confirmed the truth of these predictions. The consequences of a wider outbreak in South Asia could be devastating to a region of 300 million undernourished people, whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year.

For more detail regarding wheat blast disease, suggested control measures, and links to selected scientific literature, click here.

Scientists harness genetics to develop more “solar”- and structurally-productive wheat

By Mike Listman

In early outcomes, partners in the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) are finding evidence that increased photosynthesis, through high biomass, improvements in photosynthetic efficiency, and improved plant architecture, can help make wheat more productive, as the Partnership progresses toward meeting its aim of raising the crop’s genetic yield potential by up to 50% over the next 20 years.

This and other work, and particularly partners’ roles and operating arrangements, were considered at the first official annual IWYP Program Conference. This was held at the Norman E. Borlaug Experiment Station near Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, 8-10 March 2016, following the funding and commencement of the Partnership’s first eight projects, according to Jeff Gwyn, IWYP Program Director.

“The aim of the conference was for participants to learn about everyone else’s work and to integrate efforts to realize synergies and added value,” said Gwyn, noting that some 35 specialists from nearly 20 public and private organizations of the Americas, Europe, Oceania, and South Asia took part.

“Upgrading wheat productivity is a bit like building a race car,” Gwyn explained. “One person is working on the tires and suspension, another team is putting together the motor, and someone else is designing and assembling the interiors. Instead of working in isolation, how about if everyone coordinates to make sure the pieces fit and function together at high performance when the car is finished?”


Jeff Gwyn (right), IWYP Program Director, was excited by conference participants’ enthusiasm and commitment. “Everyone embraced this unique opportunity to link and do things together from the start,” said Gwyn, pictured here with Richard Trethowan, University of Sydney wheat researcher and former CIMMYT breeder. “They really took control and started bringing the IWYP vision to fruition, with minimal encouragement.” (Photo: MListman/CIMMYT)

Wheat’s time has come
IWYP was launched in 2014 by UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its launch was in response to the urgent need to boost world wheat output by between 30 and 60 percent to meet expanding global demand for wheat-based foods by mid-century — particularly in developing countries, whose populations are rapidly rising and urbanizing.

Involving research teams from Argentina, Australia, India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, the first IWYP projects were chosen from research proposals submitted in 2015. They are on track to find and use traits and genes that enhance photosynthesis and increase its efficiency, boost spike development, optimize wheat’s canopy architecture, and increase wheat’s biomass and harvest index—that is, the ratio of grain to other plant parts.

According to Richard B. Flavell, Chair of the IWYP Science and Impact Executive Board, the time for advanced science to boost wheat’s genetic yield potential has arrived. “It’s timely for real,” Flavell said, crediting hundreds of biotech companies and bioinformatics entrepreneurs worldwide with laying critical groundwork. “The molecular genetics of plants, including wheat, started in the 1970s and people knew it would be applicable to plant breeding one day, but because breeding involves thousands of genes located over the whole genome, it’s taken this long to develop gene detection tools that can be used genome-wide and that are cheap enough to deploy at scale to aid breeding directly.”

Vital grain of civilization and food security

Gwyn said that IWYP has partnered with CIMMYT to lead the IWYP development platform (IWYP Hub), designed to deliver research findings and outputs to breeding programs worldwide as quickly as possible, and that public-private partnerships are a key feature of the IWYP Program.

“Private sector experts are advising and providing valuable strategic guidance and can carry out projects if they choose and also help with delivery,” Gwyn added. “Their participation is helping to keep IWYP relevant and they gain early insights on results.”

Wheat provides approximately 20 percent of humanity’s protein and calories. The rate of yearly genetic gain for yield has slowed in recent decades to less than 1 percent, according to Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program. “To avoid grain shortages and price hikes that most sorely hurt poor consumers, who spend a large portion of their income just to eat each day, we need to achieve an annual yield growth rate of at least 1.7 percent,” said Braun.

IWYP research outputs are building on and will amplify physiological breeding approaches, according to Matthew Reynolds, CIMMYT wheat physiologist. “We’ve implemented these approaches recently in our wheat breeding programs and results from international trials already show a boost in genetic yield gains,” he said.

A long-term, global collaboration, IWYP brings together funding from public and private research organizations of many countries. Currently, this includes Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), BBSRC, CIMMYT, the Department of Biotechnology of India (DBT), the Grains Research and Development Corporation of Australia (GRDC), the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique of France (INRA), SAGARPA, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and USAID. Over the first five years, the growing list of partners aims to invest up to US $100 million. Further details can be found at

Knight of the Order of Agricultural Merit bestowed on WHEAT Independent Steering Committee Member

Katie Lutz

PrDrJohnPorterJohn R. Porter of The University of Copenhagen, the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, UK, and member of the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, was granted Knight of the French Order of Agriculture Merit at a ceremony on 1 March.

The Order of Agricultural Merit is awarded to those that have made extraordinary contributions to agriculture, via research or practice. The Order, which was established in July 1883 by the then French Ministry of Agriculture, is one of the most important recognitions awarded in France.

To become a knight, a person must be at least 30 years of age and have dedicated at least 15 years of service to the agricultural community, covering both developed and developing country farming.

“France has had an extremely important role in the development of agriculture and food production in Europe and the world. The production of food serves one of the most basic human needs, and this award and its history recognizes that fact,” said Porter in an acceptance speech at the French Embassy in Denmark. “I was extremely honored and surprised when I learned that I would be bestowed with this honor.”

Porter is best known for his pioneering work in the development of crop simulation models that are now regarded as being central to guiding research identifying new crop phenotypes, the impacts of and adaptation to climate change and carbon mitigation to the benefit of agriculture globally. He has also made major contributions to agriculture via his multi-disciplinary work in the response to arable crops, energy crops and complex agro-ecosystems to their environment with an emphasis on climate change, agronomy and ecosystem services.

Focusing on agriculture in the developing world, Porter took the initiative to bring the secretariat and hub of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), to his university in Copenhagen. He has also collaborated with European pasta manufacturers to develop methods to identify high quality sources of durum wheat prior to harvest by using a combination of models and remote sensing technologies.

Porter has published more than 140 papers in reviewed journals and has won three international prizes for his research and teaching. Apart from serving on the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee, he was appointed by the French Ministry of Agriculture and serves as a member of the Science Council of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and previously served as the president of the European Society for Agronomy.

Most recently, Porter led the writing of a critically important chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on food production systems and food security for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, which was the scientific bedrock of the COP21 agreement, signed December 2015.

Congratulations to Professor Dr John R. Porter on this prestigious award!