Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Scientists in Afghanistan set new program to raise wheat harvests

February 17, 2017

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

Photo: Masud Sultan/CIMMYT

KABUL (CIMMYT) – Inadequate access to new disease-resistant varieties and short supplies of certified seed are holding back wheat output and contributing to rising food insecurity in Afghanistan, according to more than 50 national and international wheat experts.

Wheat scientists and policymakers discussed challenges to the country’s most-produced crop during a two-day meeting at Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) headquarters in Kabul, as part of the 5th Annual Wheat Researchers’ Workshop in November 2016. They took stock of constraints to the 2017 winter wheat crop, including dry autumn weather and rapidly-evolving strains of the deadly wheat disease known as yellow rust.

“Old wheat varieties are falling prey to new races of rust,” said Qudrat Soofizada, director for Adaptive Research at ARIA, pointing out that the country’s 2016 wheat harvest had remained below 5 million tons for the second year in a row, after a record harvest of more than 5.3 million tons in 2014.

The workshop was attended by 51 participants belonging to several ARIA research stations and experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and World Bank’s Afghanistan Agriculture Input Project (AAIP).

Afghanistan has been importing around 2.5 million tons of cereal grain — mainly wheat — in the last two years, with most of that coming from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, according to recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

“Most wheat farmers save grain from prior harvests and use that as seed, rather than sowing certified seed of newer, high-yielding and disease resistant varieties,” said Rajiv Sharma, CIMMYT senior scientist and representative at the center’s office in Afghanistan. “This is holding back the country’s wheat productivity potential.”

Sharma explained that CIMMYT has been supporting efforts of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) to boost supplies of certified seed of improved varieties and of critical inputs like fertilizer.

“CIMMYT has worked with Afghanistan wheat scientists for decades and more than 90 percent of the country’s certified wheat varieties contain genetic contributions from our global breeding efforts,” Sharma explained.

Since 2012, the center has organised more than 1,700 wheat variety demonstrations on farmers’ fields and trained over 1,000 farmers. CIMMYT scientists are also conducting field and DNA analyses of Afghan wheats, which will allow faster and more effective breeding.

The FAO reports showed that the government, FAO and diverse non-governmental organizations had distributed some 10,000 tons of certified seed of improved wheat varieties for the current planting season. With that amount of seed farmers can sow around 67,000 hectares, but this is only some 3 percent of the country’s approximately 2.5 million-hectare wheat area.

“We have been informing the National Seed Board about older varieties that are susceptible to the rusts,” said Ghiasudin Ghanizada, head of wheat pathology at MAIL/ARIA, Kabul, adding that efforts were being made to take such varieties out of the seed supply chain.

After discussions, Ghanizada and MAIL/ARIA associates M. Hashim Azmatyar and Abdul Latif Rasekh presented the technical program for breeding, pathology and agronomy activities to end 2016 and start off 2017.

Zubair Omid, hub coordinator, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, presented results of wheat farmer field demonstrations, informing that grain yields in the demonstrations ranged from 2.8 to 7.6 tons per hectare.

T.S. Pakbin, former director of ARIA, inaugurated the meeting and highlighted CIMMYT contributions to Afghanistan’s wheat improvement work. M.Q. Obaidi, director of ARIA, thanked participants for traveling long distances to attend, despite security concerns. Nabi Hashimi, research officer, CIMMYT-Afghanistan, welcomed participants on behalf of CIMMYT and wished them good luck for the 2016-17 season.

Wheat breeding trial results were presented by Zamarai Ahmadzada from Darulaman Research Station, Kabul; Aziz Osmani from Urad Khan Research Station, Herat; Shakib Attaye from Shisham Bagh Research Station, Nangarhar; Abdul Manan from Bolan Research Station, Helmand; Said Bahram from Central Farm, Kunduz; Najibullah Jahid from Kohkaran Research Station, Kandahar; and Sarwar Aryan from Mulla Ghulam Research Station, Bamyan.

Agronomy results from the research stations of Badakhshan, Herat, Kabul, Kunduz, Helmand and Bamyan were also presented and summarized by Abdul Latif Rasikh, head of Wheat Agronomy, ARIA headquarters, Badam Bagh, Kabul

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.”

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.

Men’s Roles and Attitudes: Key to Gender Progress

PaulaKantor-mrMike Listman

Gender research and outreach should engage men more effectively, according to Paula Kantor, CIMMYT gender and development specialist who is leading an ambitious new project to empower and improve the livelihoods of women, men and youth in wheat-based systems of Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

“Farming takes place in socially complex environments, involving individual women and men who are embedded in households, local culture and communities, and value chains — all of which are colored by expectations of women’s and men’s appropriate behaviors,” said Kantor, who gave a brownbag presentation on the project to an audience of more than 100 scientists and other staff and visitors at El Batán on 20 February. “We tend to focus on women in our work and can inadvertently end up alienating men, when they could be supporters if we explained what we’re doing and that, in the end, the aim is for everyone to progress and benefit.”

Funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the new project will include 14 village case studies across the three countries. It is part of a global initiative involving 13 CGIAR research programs (CRPs), including MAIZE and WHEAT. Participants in the global project will carry out 140 case studies in 29 countries; WHEAT and MAIZE together will conduct 70 studies in 13 countries. Kantor and Lone Badstue, CIMMYT’s strategic leader for gender research, are members of the Executive Committee coordinating the global initiative, along with Gordon Prain of CIP-led Roots, Tubers and Bananas Program, and Amare Tegbaru of the IITA-led Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, with expert advisement from specialist Patti Petesch, who contributed to World Bank studies such as “On Norms and Agency” and “Voices of the Poor.

“The cross-CRP gender research initiative is of unprecedented scope,” said Kantor. “For WHEAT, CIMMYT, and partners, understanding more clearly how gendered expectations affect agricultural innovation outcomes and opportunities can give all of our research more ‘ooomph’, helping social and biophysical scientists to work together better to design and conduct socially and technically robust agricultural R4D, and in the end achieve greater adoption and impact.”

Seeking Out Unusual Partners

To that end, outcomes will include joint interpretation of results with CRP colleagues and national stakeholders, scientific papers, policy engagement and guidelines for integrating gender in wheat research-for-development, according to Kantor. “The research itself is important, but can’t sit on a shelf,” she explained. “We will devise ways to communicate it effectively to partners in CGIAR and elsewhere.”

Another, longer-term goal is to question and unlock gender constraints to agricultural innovation, in partnership with communities. Kantor said that male migration and urbanization are driving fundamental, global changes in gender dynamics, but institutional structures and policies must keep pace. “The increase in de facto female-headed households in South Asia, for example, would imply that there are more opportunities for women in agriculture,” she explained, “but there is resistance, and particularly from institutions like extension services and banks which have not evolved in ways that support and foster the empowerment of those women.”

“To reach a tipping point on this, CGIAR and the CGIAR Research Programs need to work with unusual partners — individuals and groups with a presence in communities and policy circles and expertise in fostering social change,” said Kantor. “Hopefully, the case studies in the global project will help us identify openings and partners to facilitate some of that change.”

Working in Challenging Settings

Kantor has more than 15 years of experience in research on gender relations and empowerment in economic development, microcredit, rural and urban livelihoods, and informal labor markets, often in challenging settings. She served four years as Director and Manager of the gender and livelihoods research portfolios at the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) in Kabul. “AREU has influenced policy, for example, through its work on governance structures at the provincial and district levels,” Kantor said. “They will be a partner in the Afghan study.”

She added that working well in challenging contexts requires a complex combination of openness about study aims and content in communities, sensitivity and respect for relationships and protocol, careful arrangements for logistics and safety, diverse and well-trained study teams and being flexible and responsive. “Reflections on doing gender research in these contexts will likely be an output of the study.”

After her first month at CIMMYT, Kantor, who will be based in Islamabad, Pakistan, said she felt welcome and happy. “My impression is that people here are very committed to what they do and that research is really a priority. I also sense real movement and buy-in on the gender front. An example is the fact that, of all the proposals that could’ve been put forward for funding from BMZ, CIMMYT chose one on gender. That’s big.”