By Mike Listman
Nearly 10,000 smallholder farmers in marginal, far-flung areas of Pakistan are harvesting more, eating better, and earning cash from their wheat crops, as a result of a partnership that is working to offer widespread access to improved wheat seed and farming practices.
“The extra grain from the new varieties will be enough for my family for three additional months,” said farmer Khan Said of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, as he surveyed his tawny, sun-kissed wheat field. He also hoped the extra straw from his crop would earn him about US $140.
In autumn-2014, participating farmers in 63 moderately-to-highly-food-insecure districts received a 25-kilogram bag of seed of the new varieties—enough to sow a quarter hectare and compare their performance with that of traditional varieties, as well as helping to grow more seed for redistribution. The new varieties are high-yielding and resist wheat rust, a fungal disease whose three forms—stem, leaf, and yellow rust—are found on as much as half of Pakistan’s wheat area and which constitute a rising threat to the crop.
“Our results show a yield advantage of more than 100% in harsh environments for the new varieties and, after just one season, farmers are attesting to significant improvements in their food security and livelihoods,” said Krishna Dev Joshi, CIMMYT wheat improvement specialist who is coordinating the contributions of 27 partners with this aim. “This proves how, with better access to seed of new varieties and technical support, Pakistani farmers can benefit from the latest wheat science and replace older, rust-susceptible varieties.”
According to Joshi, if half of the harvest from the new varieties were saved as seed, this could be sown on at least 30,000 hectares, producing enough additional seed to cover 1 million hectares in the third year with no extra costs, through farmer-to-farmer seed flow networks, and ultimately creating visible impacts in the project area. The follow-up surveys indicated an overwhelming acceptance of new wheat varieties, as over 87% of participating farmers saved their seeds to expand area under the varieties.