The video below is the first part in a six-part series examining the scourge of Ug99, a type of fungus that causes disease in wheat crops — one that scientists worry could threaten global food supplies.
EL BATAN, Mexico (8 November 2017) – Professor Dr. John R. Porter, from the Agropolis/Montpellier Supagro/INRA/CIRAD conglomeration in Montpellier, France, has been elected as Chair of the Independent Steering Committee that advises the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (known as WHEAT) on research strategy, priorities and program management. In this appointment, Porter succeeds Dr Tony Fischer, Honorary Research Fellow, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia.
An internationally recognized researcher and teacher in crop ecology and physiology, biological modelling, and agricultural ecology, Porter’s contributions have focused on climate change, agronomy, and ecosystem services.
“I am very proud and pleased to be elected as chair of the WHEAT Steering Committee. This CGIAR research program connects over 300 partners into a global alliance for climate-resilient and profitable wheat agri-food systems,” Porter said.
“Accounting for a fifth of the world’s food, wheat is the main source of protein in the developing world and is second only to rice as a source of calories for consumers there,” Porter explained. “The challenge for WHEAT is no less than to raise the crop’s productivity and keep wheat affordable for today’s 2.5 billion resource-poor consumers in 89 countries and for a world population that will surpass 9 billion around mid-century.”
Porter observed that this must be done while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil health, in wheat-based cropping systems. “As WHEAT moves into its 2nd Phase,” he said, “I would like the Independent Steering Committee to continue the work pioneered by my predecessor Tony Fischer and look at some new areas, such as human capacity development and innovation in wheat-based food production systems.”
Meeting wheat demand, protecting food and farming from worsening climate impacts
According to Porter, WHEAT is actively catalyzing the efforts of CGIAR and partner institution scientists, farmers, governments and private companies in lower and middle-income countries, to develop and share climate-smart innovations that increase farm resilience and productivity, while reducing the climate footprint.
Technology such as high-yielding wheat varieties that tolerate drought and high temperatures, as well as resisting new or modified strains of deadly crop diseases spawned in rapidly warming environments, are the outputs from WHEAT research that lead to positive outcomes for farmers and consumers.
Developing such technologies requires that WHEAT also invest in human capacity development.
“Varieties derived from WHEAT breeding lines are already sown on nearly half of the world’s wheat lands and which bring economic benefits of about $3.1 billion each year,” Porter said, citing a 2016 analysis of WHEAT impacts.
Resource-conserving cropping practices from WHEAT, such as more targeted use of nitrogen fertilizers or sowing wheat into untilled soils and crop residues, can raise wheat farmers’ incomes while curbing greenhouse gas emissions, if widely adopted, he added. “Zero tillage is already being used to sow wheat on 1.8 million hectares in South Asia’s extensive rice-wheat rotations, and state government officials in India are implementing policies to support more widespread adoption.”
A member of the WHEAT Independent Steering Committee since 2014, Porter has published more than 140 papers in reviewed journals, won four international prizes for research and teaching, and served as president of the European Society for Agronomy and was Chief Editor of the European Journal of Agronomy for many years. He led the writing of the chapter on food production and security for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment. Porter was elected as both a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy for Agriculture and Forestry and the European Academy of Sciences in 2014 and was knighted by the French government via the Order of Agriculture Merit in March 2016. Porter is an emeritus professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich UK and an honorary professor at Lincoln University, New Zealand. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and currently consulting professor at Montpellier SupAgro, France on a project for Capacity Building in Crop Modelling financed by the Agropolis Foundation and Labex Agro.
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DHAKA, Bangladesh (CIMMYT) — As wheat farmers in Bangladesh struggle to recover from a 2016 outbreak of a mysterious disease called “wheat blast,” the country’s National Seed Board (NSB) released a new, high-yielding, blast-resistant wheat variety, according to a communication from the Wheat Research Centre (WRC) in Bangladesh.
Called “BARI Gom 33,” the variety was developed by WRC using a breeding line from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), a Mexico-based organization that has collaborated with Bangladeshi research organizations for decades, according to Naresh C. Deb Barma, Director of WRC, who said the variety had passed extensive field and laboratory testing. “Gom” means “wheat grain” in Bangla, the Bengali language used in Bangladesh.
“This represents an incredibly rapid response to blast, which struck in a surprise outbreak on 15,000 hectares of wheat in southwestern Bangladesh just last year, devastating the crop and greatly affecting farmers’ food security and livelihoods, not to mention their confidence in sowing wheat,” Barma said.
Caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum, wheat blast was first identified in Brazil in 1985 and has constrained wheat farming in South America for decades. Little is known about the genetics or interactions of the fungus with wheat or other hosts. Few resistant varieties have been released in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the countries most affected by wheat blast.
The Bangladesh outbreak was its first appearance in South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares and over a billion inhabitants eat wheat as main staple.
Many blast fungal strains are impervious to fungicides, according to Pawan Singh, a CIMMYT wheat pathologist. “The Bangladesh variant is still sensitive to fungicides, but this may not last forever, so we’re rushing to develop and spread new, blast-resistant wheat varieties for South Asia,” Singh explained.
The urgent global response to blast received a big boost in June from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which funded an initial four-year research project to breed blast resistant wheat varieties and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which also provided grant to kick-start the work in South Asia. Led by CIMMYT, the initiative involves researchers from nearly a dozen institutions worldwide.
Chemical controls are costly and potentially harmful to human and environmental health, so protecting crops like wheat with inherent resistance is the smart alternative, but resistance must be genetically complex, combining several genes, to withstand new mutations of the pathogen over time.
Key partners in the new project are the agricultural research organizations of Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), and the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal in Bolivia, which will assist with large-scale field experiments to select wheat lines under artificial and natural infections of wheat blast.
Other partners include national and provincial research organizations in India, Nepal and Pakistan, as well as Kansas State University (KSU) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS). The U.S. Agency for International Agricultural Development (USAID) has also supported efforts to kick-start blast control measures, partnerships and upscaling the breeding, testing and seed multiplication of new, high-yielding, disease resistant varieties through its Feed the Future project.
BARI Gom 33 was tested for resistance to wheat blast in field trials in Bolivia and Bangladesh and in greenhouse tests by the USDA-ARS laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. International partnerships are critical for a fast response to wheat blast, according to Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program.
“Worldwide, we’re in the middle of efforts that include blast surveillance and forecasting, studies on the pathogen’s genetics and biology, integrated disease management and seed systems, as well as raising awareness about the disease and training for researchers, extension workers, and farmers,” said Braun.
With over 160 million people, Bangladesh is among the world’s most densely populated countries. Wheat is Bangladesh’s second most important staple food, after rice. The country grows more than 1.3 million tons each year but consumes 4.5 million tons, meaning that imports whose costs exceed $0.7 billion each year comprise more than two-thirds of domestic wheat grain use.
WRC will produce tons of breeder’s seed of BARI Gom 33 each year. This will be used by the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) and diverse non-governmental organizations and private companies to produce certified seed for farmers.
“This year WRC will provide seed to BADC for multiplication and the Department of Agricultural Extension will establish on-farm demonstrations of the new variety in blast prone districts during 2017-18,” said Barma.
As an added benefit for the nutrition of wheat consuming households, BARI Gom 33 grain features 30 percent higher levels of zinc than conventional wheat. Zinc is a critical micronutrient missing in the diets of many of the poor throughout South Asia and whose lack particularly harms the health of pregnant women and children under 5 years old.
With funding from HarvestPlus and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition, CIMMYT is leading global efforts to breed biofortified wheat with better agronomic and nutritional quality traits. The wheat line used in BARI Gom 33 was developed at CIMMYT, Mexico, through traditional cross-breeding and shared with Bangladesh and other cooperators in South Asia through the Center’s International Wheat Improvement Network, which celebrates 50 years in 2018.
Stable window 1 and 2 (W1W2) funding from CGIAR enabled CIMMYT and partners to react quickly and screen breeding lines in Bolivia, as well as working with KSU to identify sources of wheat blast resistance. The following W1 funders have made wheat blast resistance breeding possible: Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, France, India, Japan, Korea, New Zeland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the World Bank. The following funders also contributed vital W2 funding: Australia, China, the United Kingdom (DFID) and USAID.
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.
A 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.
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.
by Katelyn Roett / September 26, 2017
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.
Learn more about wheat stem rust and its impact on food security below:
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.
The hottest on record, 2016 also marked another year that ICARDA has been on the frontlines of agricultural sustainability and innovation. The 2016 annual report highlights the organization’s efforts to provide farmers throughout the drylands with the latest tools, resources, and training to ensure that their livelihoods — and food security — are resilient to the increasing onslaught of climate change.
Click here to view or download a copy of the full report.
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.
The challenge for WHEAT is no less than to raise the productivity, affordability and quality of wheat and wheat-based foods for 2.5 billion resource-poor consumers in 89 countries today, as well as meeting rising demand from a world population expected to surpass 9 billion by mid-century.
Click here to see how 2016 activities and advances in science and partnerships are empowering farmers and catalyzing wheat value chains, amid political instability, fragile food markets and warmer and erratic weather.