Afghanistan scientists assess achievements of Australia-funded wheat research

Scientists take readings of rust disease incidence on experimental wheat lines at the Shishambagh research station, Nangarhar, of the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan. Photo: Raqib

With generous funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) over the last 15 years, Afghanistan research organizations and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have helped supply Afghan farmers with improved varieties and farming practices to boost production of maize and wheat.

“As of 2012, the start of the most recent phase of ACIAR-funded work, Afghanistan partners have developed and released 12 high-yielding and disease resistant bread wheat varieties, as well as 3 varieties of durum wheat, 2 of barley and 3 of maize,” said Rajiv Sharma, a senior wheat scientist at CIMMYT and country liaison officer for CIMMYT in Afghanistan.

Sharma spoke at a workshop, which took place on August 28, with partners from the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) of the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL). The event was organized to review accomplishments and facilitate MAIL’s takeover of all activities, when the project ends in October 2018.

“The pedigrees of all new varieties feature contributions from the breeding research of CIMMYT and the International Winter Wheat Improvement Programme based in Turkey, both responsible for introducing more than 9,000 new wheat and maize lines into the country since 2012,” Sharma added. The International Winter Wheat Improvement Programme (IWWIP) is operated by Turkey, CIMMYT, and ICARDA (the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas).

Sharma noted that CIMMYT’s presence in Afghanistan, which includes support for breeding research and training for local scientists, dates back several decades and that the latest achievements with ARIA and other partners and ACIAR support include:

  • The delineation of wheat agro-climatic zones.
  • Forecasting climate change impacts on the Afghan wheat crop.
  • Strategizing to raise wheat production.
  • Characterization of Afghanistan’s wheat genetic resource collection.
  • Training abroad for 64 Afghan researchers and in-country for 4,000.
  • Launching research on wheat hybridization.
  • In direct partnership with farmers, more than 1,800 farmer field demonstrations, 80 field days, and introduced machinery like seed drills and mobile seed cleaners.
  • Shared research on and promotion of conservation agriculture, genomic selection, wheat bio-fortification, quality protein maize, climate change, crop insurance and wheat blast resistance and control.

In good years Afghan farmers harvest upwards of 5 million tons of wheat, the country’s number-one food crop, but in some years annual wheat imports exceed 1 million tons to satisfy domestic demand, which exceeds 5.8 million tons.

Multiple partners map avenues to fortify cereal farming

The workshop attracted 45 participants representing ARIA, MAIL, ICARDA, CIMMYT, Michigan State University, ACIAR, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Embassy of Australia, and several provincial Directorates of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (DAIL) of Afghanistan.

Among other participants, Mahboobullah Nang, Director of Seed Certification, and Akbar Waziri, Director of the Cereal Department, both from MAIL, offered the Ministry’s support for the continuation of CIMMYT’s longstanding efforts in Afghanistan, particularly in breeding and varietal testing and promotion.

Representing ACIAR, Syed Mousawi commended capacity development activities organized by CIMMYT since the 1970s, which have raised the quality of crop research in Afghanistan and provided a vital link to the global science community over the years.

Participants also recommended extending CIMMYT outreach work, offering training in extension, introducing advanced technologies, and support for and training in varietal maintenance, conservation agriculture, experimental designs, research farm management, data analysis and data management.

Yemen identified as “stepping stone” to wheat stem rust’s global spread

September 26, 2017

A new study reports Yemen as a particular tipping point for stem rust’s global spread. Photo: Petr Kosina/ CIMMYT

 

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – New research reveals the most likely routes for the spread of new wheat stem rust strains, identifying Yemen as a critical transmission area for the disease’s global spread.

In the Nature Plants study, scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the University of Cambridge and the UK Met Office adapted modeling systems previously used to forecast ash dispersal from erupting volcanoes and radiation from nuclear accidents to predict the spread of stem rust strains.

The study quantifies for the first time the circumstances – routes, timings and outbreak sizes –  under which dangerous strains of stem rust pose a threat, detailing potential scenarios of the disease spreading from Africa through the Middle East and beyond.

Yemen is highlighted as a particular tipping point for stem rust’s global spread, with one scenario estimating a 30 percent chance for transmission to occur in Pakistan or India – home to some of the world’s most critical “breadbasket” regions – if the disease spreads to eastern Yemen.

“From our work, we now believe that if we start to see Ug99 or other new wheat rust strains take hold in Yemen in early spring then action must be taken immediately to mitigate the risk of further spread,” according to the study’s senior author Chris Gilligan, professor at Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences.

However, the researchers found that the airborne transmission of the disease from East Africa directly to South Asia is highly unlikely, with transmission events possible only on less than one day a year.

The modelling framework created in the study can also be used to analyze any potential new disease strains that might emerge in other geographic areas. The study’s researchers are currently developing an Early Warning System to forecast rust risk in Ethiopia, East Africa’s largest wheat producing country.

Read the full study “Quantifying airborne dispersal routes of pathogens over continents to safeguard global wheat supply” here.

 

Learn more about wheat stem rust and its impact on food security below:

Likely scenarios for global spread of devastating crop disease

CIMMYT scientist cautions against new threats from wheat rust diseases

RustTracker.org | A Global Wheat Rust Monitoring System

Stem rust in Western Siberia

Prof . Vladimir Shaminin (Omsk Agrarian State University) inspecting wheat plots at Omsk Agrarian State University with Dr Alexey Morgunov (CIMMYT) and Prof. Mogens Hovmøller (GRRC, Aarhus University).

An Aug 2017 field trip organized by Alexey Morgunov (CIMMYT-Turkey) to the Omsk, Novosibirsk and the Altai Krai regions of Western Siberia, Russian Federation, with the Global Rust Reference Center and Aarhus University, Denmark, aimed to get more information on 2015-16 stem rust outbreaks that affected millions of hectares in the region (Shamanin et al. 2016).

With approximately 7 million hectares of short season, high-latitude spring wheat and increasing areas of winter wheat and some durum wheat, the region is an extremely important wheat production area.

The visit highlighted the importance of wheat in this region and the strength of the research programs, but also the vulnerability of grown varieties to stem rust.

Significant changes appear to have occurred in recent years, making stem rust an emerging disease of economic concern. Further research is urgently needed, both to understand the pathogen dynamics and to increase farmers’ use of resistant varieties.

Click here to read the full blog on the Global Rust Reference Center web page.

CIMMYT 2016 annual report ‘Maize and wheat for future climates’

The 2016 CIMMYT Annual Report details the strong partnerships and science through which CIMMYT creates and shares innovations for farmers to grow more, earn more and reduce environmental impacts, now and in the future. Highlights include:

  • Maize and wheat breeding speeds up to equip farmers with varieties for dryer, hotter climates, and to resist evolving pathogens and pests.
  • Scientists refute trendy claims disparaging wheat and promote the nutritional benefits of this vital food grain.
  • Growing partnerships, including the joint launch with Henan Agricultural University, China, of a new maize and wheat research center.
  • Dramatically expanded maize seed markets for Mexican farmers.
  • Use of zero tillage and other sustainable agriculture practices in southern Africa and South Asia.

In 2016, CIMMYT marked and celebrated 50 years of applying excellence in maize and wheat science to improve the livelihoods of the disadvantaged. With the commitment and continuous support of dedicated staff, partners and donors, the Center will continue contributing to a food- and nutrition-secure future for all.

Click here TO VIEW OR DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE REPORT.

Australia funds worldwide project to restrain wheat blast disease

The grain in this blast-blighted wheat head has been turned to chaff (Photo: CKnight/ DGGW/ Cornell University)

EL BATAN, Mexico (July 1, 2017) — The urgent global response to wheat blast, a little understood fungal disease that appeared suddenly and blighted wheat crops in Bangladesh in 2016, has received a big boost from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which is funding an initial four-year research project to breed blast resistant wheat varieties.

The wheat blast pathogen, which can move on air currents or ride infected grain, is likely to spread soon throughout South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares and nearly a billion inhabitants eat wheat.

Under the initiative led by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), researchers from nearly a dozen institutions worldwide will join forces to develop high-yielding varieties with resistance to blast, reducing the risk of catastrophic crop losses.

“This research project aims to identify sources of resistance, characterize the resistance genes, and develop DNA markers to create resistant, locally-adapted wheat varieties and make them available to farmers,” said Pawan Singh, head of wheat pathology at CIMMYT, an organization whose breeding lines are used by public research programs and seed companies in over 100 countries. “The work could not be more critical, given the likelihood of blast’s spread and its deadly virulence for wheat varieties worldwide.”

Caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), wheat blast was first identified in Brazil in 1985 and has threatened and constrained wheat farming in South America for decades.

Fungicides offer only partial control of blast, according to N.C.D. Barma, director at Bangladesh’s Wheat Research Centre (WRC). “Under the right conditions, the fungus can develop with lightning speed, blanching and withering the grain,” Barma said. “By that time the farmer’s losses are near total.”

Wheat experts and government officials in Bangladesh, in collaboration with CIMMYT, sounded the alarm last year, when a surprise blast outbreak struck 15,000 hectares of wheat fields near the country’s border with India.

Farmers in Pakistan benefit from new zinc-enriched high-yielding wheat

Hans-Joachim Braun (left, white shirt), director of the global wheat program at CIMMYT, Maqsood Qamar (center), wheat breeder at Pakistan’s National Agricultural Research Center, Islamabad, and Muhammad Imtiaz (right), CIMMYT wheat improvement specialist and Pakistan country representative, discussing seed production of Zincol. Photo: Kashif Syed/CIMMYT.

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (June 30, 2017) – Farmers in Pakistan are eagerly adopting a nutrient-enhanced wheat variety offering improved food security, higher incomes, health benefits and a delicious taste.

Known as Zincol and released to farmers in 2016, the variety yields harvests as high as other widely grown wheat varieties, but its grain contains 20 percent more zinc, a critical micronutrient missing in the diets of many poor people in South Asia.

Due to these benefits and its delicious taste, Zincol was one of the top choices among farmers testing 12 new wheat varieties in 2016.

“I would eat twice as many chappatis of Zincol as of other wheat varieties,” said Munib Khan, a farmer in Gujar Khan, Rawalpindi District, Punjab Province, Pakistan, referring to its delicious flavor.

Khan has been growing Zincol since its release. In 2017, he planted a large portion of his wheat fields with the seed, as did members of the Gujar Khan Seed Producer Group to which he belongs.

The group is one of 21 seed producer associations established to grow quality seed of new wheat varieties with assistance from the country’s National Rural Support Program (NRSP) in remote areas of Pakistan. The support program is a key partner in the Pakistan Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Over the 2016 and 2017 cropping seasons, 400 tons of seed of Zincol has been shared with farmers, seed companies and promotional partners,” said Imtiaz Muhammad, CIMMYT country representative in Pakistan and a wheat improvement specialist.

ICARDA researchers receive Olam Prize for innovation in food security

MONTPELLIER, France (June 5, 2017) – The 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security was awarded to the “Adapting durum wheat varieties to the Senegal Basin for food security” project led by Filippo Maria Youssef Bassi, durum wheat breeder at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Area (ICARDA).

Moving zinc-enriched wheat into the mainstream

By Matthew O’Leary/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (May 30,2017)– In an effort to stamp out hidden hunger, scientists are calling for support to make zinc-biofortification a core trait in the world’s largest wheat breeding program.

At least 2 billion people around the world suffer from micronutrient deficiency, or hidden hunger, which is characterized by iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin A and zinc deficiency.

Zinc deficiency remains a crucial health issue in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. As a key nutrient in red meat, zinc deficiency is prevalent in areas of high cereal and low animal food consumption.

Nitrogen-efficient crops on the horizon: Can we grow more with fewer emissions?

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (May 17, 2017) – Through a natural, affordable alternative to farmers’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers, science now offers an option to boost crop productivity and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the authors of a report that will appear this week in the journal Plant Science.

The new study describes certain plants that possess a trait known as biological nitrification inhibition (BNI), by which they suppress the loss of nitrogen (N) from the soil and improve the efficiency of its uptake and use by themselves and other plants.

The authors, who form part of a new BNI research consortium, propose transferring the BNI trait from those plants to critical food and feed crops, such as wheat, sorghum and Brachiaria range grasses.

“Nearly a fifth of the world’s fertilizer, for example, is deployed each year to grow wheat and the crop only uses about 30 percent of the nitrogen applied,” according to Guntur Subbarao, a researcher with Japan’s International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) and lead author of the study.

New CGIAR Research Portfolio tackles growing complexity of agricultural development challenges

MONTPELLIER, France (May 15, 2017) – CGIAR has launched a new portfolio of research programs designed to reduce by 150 million the number of people who do not have enough food to eat in developing nations. By transforming agricultural and food systems, the CGIAR Portfolio 2017-2022 is the second generation of CGIAR’s Research Programs and Platforms aimed at reducing rural poverty, improving food and nutrition security and improving natural resources and ecosystem services.