$20 million in grants for research to boost wheat yield potential

Wheat Remote Sensing-flip

Photo Alfredo Saénz/CIMMYT.

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) will recommend around US $20 million in grants awards from its funders for a selection of 8 research projects by leading institutes to increase wheat’s photosynthetic and energy-use efficiency and harness the genetics behind key components of yield.

Resulting from a January 2015 call for competitive research proposals, the projects fit the IWYP goal of raising the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50% in the coming 20 years.

To read more about the projects, IWYP, and the Initiative’s funders, click here.

Kenya wheat breeders win the 2015 BGRI Gene Stewardship Award

20991723643_2abe26f9c4_k

From left to right: Sridhar Bhavani, CIMMYT; Godwin Macharia and Ruth Wanyera, KALRO; Jeanie Borlaug Laube and Ronnie Coffman, BGRI.

Plant pathologist Ruth Wanyera and wheat breeders
Godwin Macharia and Peter Njau of the Kenya Agriculture
and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) received the 2015 Gene Stewardship Award at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Workshop (BGRI) in Sydney, Australia.

“The KALRO team has done an outstanding job – their work has had significant global impact by accelerating the capacity of developing countries to protect themselves against this swift-moving and devastating disease,” said Sridhar Bhavani, a wheat breeder who leads the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) stem-rust screening nurseries in East Africa and nominated the team for the award.

Since 1998, Ug99, which reduces grain to useless papery chaff, has been creeping across Africa to the Middle East from its origin in Uganda. Altogether, 11 confirmed races in the Ug99 lineage have been detected in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe, showing that the pathogen has evolved and expanded widely, according to new research.

Scientists fear the disease could decimate the global wheat supply if it spreads to the major Asian wheat growing areas of India and China.

The KALRO team has facilitated the testing of wheat lines from all over the world, screening close to 400,000 accessions since the project started in 2008, and currently able to screen some 50,000 lines a year, all under the frequent and severe natural infections of stem rust that occur at the team’s Njoro, Kenya, research station.

The team has also managed CIMMYT-Kenya “shuttle breeding,” whereby over the last decade lines developed in CIMMYT programs in Mexico and elsewhere are tested at Njoro. “Several new breeding lines from this effort combine high yields with resistance to Ug99 stem rust and to yellow rust and are included in international nurseries sent to partners worldwide,” said Bhavani.

“The KALRO team generates reliable phenotypic data to identify and characterize new resistance genes,” he said. “They also develop, release, and multiply seed of resistant varieties for Kenya, while conducting surveillance, training, and extension and promotion activities.”

Bhavani cited the release of seven new varieties that yield 30-40% more than older cultivars, contributing to an increase average wheat yields in Kenya from 2.4 to 3.0 tons per hectare in the last 5 years.

What is gene stewardship?
The BGRI Gene Stewardship Award recognizes a researcher or team of researchers in a national breeding program or other institution who demonstrate excellence in the development and spread of rust resistant wheat varieties, while encouraging the genetic diversity and complexity of disease resistance and furthering BGRI’s goal of responsible gene deployment and stewardship.

Together with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Cornell University, CIMMYT helped initiate BGRI in 2008. BGRI is fostered by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, a collaborative effort among 22 research institutions and led by Cornell University.

Zero-till Wheat Raises Farmers’ Incomes in Eastern India, Research Shows

By Anuradha Dhar

Large-scale adoption of zero tillage wheat production could play a major role in making the eastern Indian state of Bihar self-sufficient in wheat, according to a new study published by CIMMYT agricultural scientists.Farmer with wheat harvest (2)

In a study published last month in Food Security, CIMMYT researchers reported that wheat farmer’s total annual income increased by 6% on average with the introduction of zero tillage (ZT) in Bihar. While studies done in the past in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) have shown ZT impacts in field trials or controlled environments, this research is believed to be the first that studied actual impacts in farmers’ fields.

ZT allows direct planting of wheat without plowing, sowing seeds directly into residues of the previous crop on the soil surface, thus saving irrigation water, increasing soil organic matter and suppressing weeds.

“We found that the prevailing ZT practice, without full residue retention, used by farmers in Bihar has led to an average yield gain of 498 kilogram per hectare (19%) over conventional tillage wheat, which is in contrast to the results of a recent global meta-analysis” says Alwin Keil, Senior Agricultural Economist, CIMMYT and the lead author of this study.

The global meta-analysis published last year compared crop yields in ZT and conventionally tilled production systems across 48 crops in 63 countries. It reported that ZT is only profitable in rainfed systems and when it is combined with full residue retention and crop rotation. “However, in Bihar, marginal and resource-poor farmers cannot afford to leave the full residue in the field as they use the rice straw to feed their livestock,” says Keil.

According to Keil, the divergent findings of the meta-analysis may be caused by the fact that most of the reviewed studies were conducted in moderate climatic zones (U.S., Canada, Europe, China) and results were aggregated across various crops.

Bringing a Wheat Revolution to Eastern India

Compared to the prosperous northwestern states, the eastern IGP is characterized by pervasive poverty and high population density, and its resource-poor farmers are more prone to the risks of climate change. Bihar has the lowest wheat yields in the IGP with an average of 2.14 tons per hectare.

To feed a growing wheat-consuming population, Bihar currently imports wheat largely from Punjab, where yields have stagnated over the last five years due to an over-exploitation of resources, especially water.

While ZT is widespread on the mechanized farms of Punjab and Haryana, seat of the first Green Revolution in India, farmers in the eastern IGP are yet to benefit. “There is also evidence that the positive effect of ZT is larger in areas with low agricultural productivity (generally low yields, such as Bihar) than in areas with higher productivity (such as Punjab, for instance),” remarks Keil.

Increasing Access among Smallholders

The study concludes that ZT users reap substantial benefits, and that this technology could help close the growing yield gap between production and consumption of wheat in Bihar. A 19% yield increase would translate into a production increase of 950,000 MT, which exceeds the total wheat imports into Bihar (868,000 MT in 2011).

However, with low ownership of tractors and ZT drills, large-scale adoption of ZT in eastern India hinges on an expansion of the network of service providers, who can custom-hire these kinds of services to smallholder farmers.

With public and private sector partners, the CIMMYT-led Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has supported the development of ZT service providers among tractor owners by facilitating the purchase of ZT drills and providing technical trainings and know-how since 2009. Consequently, the number of ZT service providers in Bihar increased from 17 in 2011 to 1,624 in 2014, servicing a total of approximately 44,700 acres.

“Furthermore, we found that only 32% of non-users of ZT in our sample were aware of the technology. Hence, increasing the number of service providers to enhance farmer’s access to ZT has to go hand-in-hand with large-scale information campaigns to raise their awareness of the technology,” says Keil.

 

 

Strengthening Results-based Management in the MAIZE and WHEAT CRPs

By Michelle Guertin

Recognizing the importance of managing for results and learning from experience, the MAIZE and WHEAT CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) have been taking steps to strengthen results-based management (RBM) within the CRPs. In the last several months, both CRPs held multiple participatory workshops (see details below) to develop theories of change (ToCs) for their diverse research areas. These ToCs map out how and why a given research area will lead to specific results. ToCs are often used as a framework for testing hypotheses, where evidence is collected to validate the pathway of change.

The participatory nature of these workshops allowed the research teams to come together and develop consensus-based and aligned theories of change. This process was important to build buy-in and ownership. It was also recognized that change maps can support the development of research strategies and contribute to strengthening proposal development and results reporting by ensuring alignment and consistency across projects and programs.

Alignment is important not only at the project and program levels. Theories of change were clearly linked to attaining higher and global level results from the new CGIAR Strategy and Results Framework 2016-2030 and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. It was important for both CRPs to demonstrate how their programs contribute to global issues of poverty reduction, food security, improved nutrition, promotion of sustainable agriculture, and the achievement of gender equality.

In preparation for phase II of the CGIAR research programs, both CRPs will be looking to these theories of change to show how they intend to manage for results. In addition, other measures, such as monitoring plans, evaluation strategies and learning actions, will be initiated as part of their RBM framework.

The MAIZE and WHEAT CRPs are also committed to working with their colleagues from other CRPs to build harmonized platforms, approaches, methods and tools to better manage for results and build strong evidence for learning and improving research programs. In line with this approach, both CRPs hosted a three-day Cross-CRP Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (ME&L) Workshop in Paris (30 June to July 2) with colleagues from the other Agri-food System CRPs and a number of Integrating CRPs. The objectives of the workshop were to exchange information on each CRP’s proposed ME&L approach for phase II, identify areas of commonality for joint work, and develop a joint action plan to support the CGIAR CRP phase II.

During the workshop, a number of exercises and discussions took place, where participants exchanged views on key questions and issues and shared best practices and lessons learned from various ME&L initiatives. This will help them in their role of supporting CRPs to achieve solid results.

Participants also received advice and recommendations from John Mayne, a globally recognized expert in the field of results-based management, to support the development of their respective RBM framework. John Mayne’s participation was possible thanks to the generous contribution of the CGIAR Consortium Office.

At the end of the workshop, the participants made a strong commitment to work together on a variety of initiatives, the first of which is to create a formal community of practice dedicated to monitoring, evaluating and learning across the CGIAR. This voluntary network would allow for continued exchange and development of consistent and aligned CRP RBM frameworks.

Reflections of a Wheat Trainee: Zaki Afshar, Afghanistan

Zaki Afshar in the field at CIMMYT Afghanistan after the 2015 Basic Wheat Improvement Course

Zaki Afshar in the field at CIMMYT Afghanistan
Photo Courtesy of Zaki Afshar/ CIMMYT

By Katie Lutz

Zaki Afshar grew up in the small city of Puli Khumri in Northern Afghanistan, visiting his father’s seven-hectare (ha) farm every weekend. Growing up in a farming community where the staple crops are wheat and rice, Afshar saw the impact agriculture could have on a community.

“A big part of why I chose agriculture was because I saw how hard the farmers worked and still suffered,” said Afshar. “I wanted to know how I could help them. Why were they not using the advanced technologies I saw available in other parts of the world?”

According to The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 60 percent of Afghan citizens rely on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods and families. Wheat is the chief crop in Afghanistan, covering 2.5 million ha and providing about 60 percent of daily calorie intake for an average Afghan.

“We have a very basic agriculture system,” explained Afshar. “You will only see machinery used for plowing and trashing, not for sowing or even harvesting.”

Afshar attended Balkh University in Mazari Sharif, receiving a degree in Agricultural Plant Science. He currently works at the CIMMYT Afghanistan office as a project associate as in the Wheat Improvement Program.

The CIMMYT- Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) joint wheat breeding program in Afghanistan is relatively small and new. Afshar’s dream upon starting at CIMMYT was eventually to join the wheat breeding team. Last March, Afshar was able to make this dream a reality, by participating in the CIMMYT 2015 Basic Wheat Improvement Course.

The course is comprised of a three-month intensive program at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico. It targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field.

“On my first field visit after returning home, I realized how different things were in Kabul than in Obregón,” said Afshar “Because our program is very new, we have fewer breeders, and need more training. I am excited to share with them everything I learned in Mexico.”

In Obregón, Afshar was able to meet scientists from all over the world and learn about breeding methods used in various regions worldwide. For Afshar it was extremely important to come to Mexico to receive his training. At the end of the BWIC, Afshar was honored with the most improved wheat trainee award.

“Through this course I learned how to be a breeder, how different breeders work and new information in wheat breeding,” said Afshar. “The most exciting moment was when I joined my team back in Afghanistan and it was easy for me to score and differentiate between different types of rust, and when I realized that everyone in the field was paying attention to what I had to say.”

Available Now: The WHEAT Wire!

wheatwire2.2The WHEAT Wire is a quarterly newsletter designed to keep you informed of important events and outcomes in WHEAT, with a special focus on our national and international research and development partners.

This volume features information regarding the next generation of CRPs, the results of the WHEAT Independent Evaluation and updates from CIMMYT and ICARDA. Read more in latest version of The WHEAT Wire.

 

Durum Wheat Production in Pakistan: Keeping up with Changing Demands

Krishna Dev Joshi, Mike Listman, Katelyn Roett, Attiq Ur Rehman, Tariq Saleem and Akhter Ali

durumwheatinpakistan

Photo: Attiq Ur Rehman/CIMMYT

In response to rapidly-changing food preferences in Pakistan, including a latent unmet demand for pasta products, CIMMYT-Pakistan has been working to develop the country’s durum wheat market and varieties that satisfy the required grain quality attributes, in addition to high yields and disease resistance.

According a 2014 study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Pakistan is urbanizing at an annual rate of 3 percent—the fastest pace in South Asia. “More Pakistanis are living in cities than ever before,” said Krishna Dev Joshi, CIMMYT wheat improvement specialist. “As a result, demand for durum wheat products like macaroni or spaghetti is rising. But farmers are not growing durum wheat because there is no a clear price advantage or assured markets. At the same time, private investors will not develop new milling facilities or markets without guarantees of durum wheat grain supplies from farmers.”

To help break the impasse, CIMMYT has been testing and evaluating 925 durum wheat lines in Pakistan since 2011, and identified 40 durum wheat lines as having appropriate combinations of high yield, protein, yellowness and sedimentation. The yield stability of lines across locations and years indicates that durum wheat could be grown in environments similar to those of the trial sites, increasing the chances for uptake of this new crop. “One challenge, though,” said Joshi, “is that durum yields were only slightly higher than those of bread wheat, posing a challenge for the uptake by farmers of durum wheat.”

Activating Durum Markets from the Ground Up

The Center also led a 2014 durum value chain study involving 85 respondents including farmers, millers, the processing industry, restaurants, seed companies, grain dealers and consumers across five locations. They were queried regarding their awareness of durum wheat, as well its production, usage and future prospects in Pakistan. “A complete lack of durum milling technology is the main obstacle to commercializing this crop,”  Joshi said.

Value chain actors themselves were only marginally aware of durum wheat and associated technologies. However, 60% of millers stated they would be willing to invest in durum wheat if it became an openly-traded commodity, policies fostered market price premiums, durum milling machinery could be acquired at subsidized rates and local and foreign manufacturers were linked.

For durum wheat production to take hold in Pakistan, milling technology would have to be adapted or farmers would have to find a niche in the international market. Government support is necessary in either case.

Despite these challenges, the durum wheat market is slowly being developed. The first national durum wheat workshop in Pakistan last September brought together farmers, millers, processing industries, dealers, seed companies, extension professionals, researchers and policy makers to share knowledge, experiences and ideas for a durum wheat value chain. The 10 best durum wheat lines are being evaluated in wheat trials across 9 locations right now.

From Seed to Pasta

With the change in behaviors regarding durum wheat, CIMMYT representatives including Joshi will take part 31 May-2 June, 2015 in the international conference “From Seed to Pasta and Beyond: a Sustainable Durum Wheat Chain for Food Security and Healthy Lives.”

The international conference brings together leading experts from the durum wheat/pasta production chain to exhibit their research in durum wheat production in relation to agronomy, physiology, genetic resources, breeding, genomics, marker-assisted selection, tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses and technological quality and nutritional aspects related to milling and pasta production. The conference will highlight how multidisciplinary science and technology contributes to the current and future challenges faced by the durum wheat-pasta production chain, in relation to the main themes of EXPO 2015 in Milan: food security, sustainability, nutrition and climate change.

Forty Years of Wheat Training at CIMMYT

Katie Lutz

IMG_0469

“After three months, you will be a part of the CIMMYT family,” said Amor Yahyaoui, Global Wheat Program (GWP) Training Officer, as he addressed the 30 participants in the Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC) on their first day at CIMMYT Headquarters, El Batán.

The 2015 wheat trainees hail from 14 countries, and have varying degrees of experience and different backgrounds. “These scientists come in from all different spectrums, but this course puts them all on the same level, with one objective: to learn,” explained Yahyaoui.

The BWIC is a three-month intensive program at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field.

Borlaug’s Vision

With the introduction of semi-dwarf wheats in South Asia during the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug saw the need for training. He realized that if modern wheats and new technologies were distributed but scientists were not trained to use them, this would result in failure and the new, improved varieties’ anticipated yield potential would not be realized.

“Training was the cornerstone of the Green Revolution; training was equal in importance to germplasm development,” said Jesse Dubin, retired CIMMYT plant pathologist who has spent the last several years as a consultant for the GWP training program.

As years have passed, scientists are even more interested in coming to train where the Green Revolution began. In many ways, the BWIC mirrors the approach Borlaug used when developing the first training course in 1968.

Borlaug’s philosophy was to take trainees from the comfort of their own countries, and put them in the fields in Mexico to learn. “We only deal with science here; regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or age,” said Yahyaoui.

This year, trainees came in from China, Sudan, Afghanistan, USA, Pakistan, Tunisia, Georgia, Egypt, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Japan, Mexico and Morocco. The program is designed so that trainees will build an international network of scientists.

“We all come from different cultures, countries and religions. I don’t know how old everyone is, but it feels like we’re all the same age, even though most have much more experience and education than me,” said Nino Katcharava of Georgia about her fellow 2015 trainees. “After just a week, these people became my friends and family. I have learned so much from them, they are my everything in Mexico.”
Group Trainees Shot

 

Impact on National Programs

The GWP training program has benefited national research programs since its inception. The increasing number of wheat scientists in major wheat producing countries reflects the great need and interest of national programs in training young scientists. One of the most frequent requests from countries and national programs is for more trained scientists.

Since 1968, over 1000 scientists from 106 countries have participated in GWP training courses in Mexico. The training program has helped form positive bonds between CIMMYT and the trainees’ countries of origin. Course alumni have gone on to lead national programs, receive advanced degrees and contribute nationally and internationally to wheat improvement.

Becoming Alumni

The current trainees have concluded their time in Obregon. And at the end of the week, the 2015 BWIC participants will have finished their training and will join this prestigious group of alumni.

“I am very lucky to be here. I think this is my first time learning what science really is. I realize I have been working without all of the knowledge, but I have learned now how to apply science and bring change,” said Girum Kifle of Ethiopia. “At CIMMYT I have learned to think globally. I didn’t know people thought about everyone else around the world. My goal will always be to help Ethiopia, but I want to go further, I also want to help the world.”

WHEAT and CIMMYT Remember Vital Legacy of Gender Specialist Paula Kantor

EL AIP MWG_ Paula_2-cropBATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) CIMMYT is sad to announce the tragic death of our friend and respected colleague, gender and development specialist Paula Kantor.

Paula died on May 13, in the aftermath of an attack on the hotel where she was staying in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues,” said Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT’s director general.

“Paula’s desire to help people and make lasting change in their lives often led her into challenging settings. Her dedication and bravery was much admired by those who knew her and she leaves a lasting legacy upon which future research on gender and food security should build.”

Click here to read more about Paula’s exciting and valuable life and legacy.

CSISA Aids Female Farmers in India

Female farmers in India are not only responsible for managing the farm work and household chores, but have increasingly become a part of the sowing, weeding and harvesting of crops. The Cereal Systems for South Asia (CSISA) project is working with female farmers in Bihar to ensure that women are learning and developing new skills and getting information on improved farming technologies and practices.

In 2014, more than 100 female farmers in Muzaffarpur district planted their wheat using zero tillage technology. Watch the video above to learn more about the initiatives implemented by CSISA in India.