Author Archive

Harnessing the potential of state-of-the-art genomic technologies for accelerating the rate of genetic gain in wheat

This blog by Philomin Juliana was originally published on the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative website.

Genomic breeding technologies offer exciting opportunities for wheat improvement amidst escalating challenges like changing climates, unpredictable temperatures, reduced precipitation and biotic stresses. Recognizing the need for accelerating the rate of genetic gain in wheat, the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat and the USAID Feed the Future projects have contributed extensively to the phenotyping and genotyping of an impressive number of 74,403 CIMMYT wheat breeding lines, generating more than a million phenotyping datapoints and 3 billion marker datapoints. These big datasets have been leveraged for evaluating state-of-the-art genomic technologies like genomic selection, genome-wide association mapping, and genomic fingerprinting that have empowered the CIMMYT wheat breeding program to efficiently deliver high-yielding, climate resilient and disease resistant varieties.

Genomic selection, a genomics-based selection strategy where genomic-estimated breeding values obtained from genome-wide molecular markers are used for the selection of individuals has gained burgeoning interest in recent years and is advocated as an approach that can dramatically accelerate genetic gains and change the role of phenotyping in breeding. Since it can be beneficial for CIMMYT and other wheat breeding programs, particularly in developing countries that are constrained in their ability to evaluate a large number of breeding lines due to limited resources, we have done a comprehensive evaluation of genomic selection for 35 key traits in wheat evaluated by CIMMYT and national partners.

Our results have provided strong evidence that genomic selection will be a very powerful tool for end-use quality related traits like alveograph, mixing time, grain protein, flour yield, flour sedimentation, loaf volume etc. and some diseases, that were well predicted using historic training populations. Hence, genomic estimated breeding values for these traits have been routinely integrated into selection decisions and selections have been scaled up to un-phenotyped early-generations using predicted values. This has led to a paradigm shift in integrating genomic breeding tools into CIMMYT’s wheat breeding pipeline and has resulted in better selection efficiency and high phenotyping cost-savings to the program.

We have also explored several genomic selection implementation scenarios for grain yield and determined the prospects of using genomic selection for minimizing the number of lines, years and sites tested by borrowing information from relatives, correlated years and sites. For this, we leveraged a large dataset of 61,064 grain yield observations from 1,974 yield trials evaluated by CIMMYT and national partners at 100 locations in 34 countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We also applied a quantitative genetics framework to explore the relationships between grain yield predictabilities and estimated heritabilities, variance components, phenotypic and genetic correlations for grain yield evaluated in different environments, all of which provided substantial insights into the challenges of predicting grain yield and the prospects for designing future genomic selection schemes.

We also performed a large genome-wide association study that led to a significant breakthrough in understanding the genetic-architecture of key traits like phenology, plant height, lodging, resistance to rusts and other foliar diseases, grain color, kernel weight, dough strength, bread-making quality, protein content and grain yield in wheat. We have identified hundreds of significant marker-trait associations and delineated 142 unique linkage-based QTLs, among which 55.6% were novel. One of the extremely intriguing and novel co-locations identified in our study was the association of the 2NS translocation from Aegilops ventricosa with grain yield in 10 different environments, stem rust seedling resistance to many races, stripe rust in Mexico, wheat blast, and lodging, demonstrating its remarkable value for wheat breeding. We also anchored about 542 significant trait-associated markers and 118 previously reported genes in proximity to the significant markers onto a powerful reference phenotype-genotype map aligned to the refence genome of bread wheat, which is a valuable resource providing new opportunities for accelerating genomics-assisted wheat breeding through a targeted selection of desired regions.

We have fingerprinted 44,624 wheat lines for 195 traits-associated markers, generating over 7.6 million data-points, which is a phenomenal resource to the global wheat community for enhancing productivity and stress-resilience in wheat. The fingerprinted panel comprises several key varieties cultivated worldwide, parents from CIMMYT’s crossing blocks 2009-2018 and is a quantum leap in understanding the genetic basis of traits in superior varieties. For example, a benchmark high-yielding CIMMYT-derived Mexican variety, BORLAUG100 F2014 was found to be rich in grain yield favorable alleles and a key stem rust QTL against the Ug99 lineage was traced back to old Kenyan (Kenya Fahari, Kenya Swara) and Ethiopian (FH6-1-7) varieties.

Furthermore, we also examined the marker allele frequency dynamics for key traits over 15 years to characterize the role of selection at CIMMYT in shaping patterns of allelic variation over time. While there was a spectacular increase in favorable allele frequencies for many traits over years due to selection, the results also emphasized the need for a continued effort to introduce novel sources of favorable alleles and the importance of integrating genomic tools in achieving accelerated enrichment of favorable alleles. Overall, our research has facilitated extending the frontiers of genomics-assisted breeding in wheat and will be very beneficial for future diagnostic marker development, gene discovery, marker-assisted selection and genomic selection in wheat.

Philomin Juliana’s 5 May 2020 seminar is here.

BGRI-led coalition protects world’s wheat crop

This story by Matt Hayes was originally published on the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative website.

When a novel strain of a wheat pathogen first emerged in East Africa in 1998, Norman Borlaug knew the world faced a dire threat to food security.

The virulent race of stem rust that became known as Ug99 was deadly to nearly all wheat varieties, threatening to cause epidemic losses in wheat fields around the globe. To combat the disease, the Borlaug and a team of committed scientists at Cornell, CIMMYT, ICARDA, FAO and other organizations sounded the global alarm in 2005. Those pioneers launched the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) to protect the global wheat supply against the spread of Ug99 and other challenges.

In a keynote speech delivered June 25 during the BGRI’s second virtual workshop, Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI, described those early efforts and the long-running scientific work to combat wheat disease.

The virtual “Take It to the Farmer” event featured videos and discussion with farmers and experts from around the wheat-growing world. Six wheat growers from five countries focused on the challenges they face — Felix Austin of F1 Seed in the UK, Hajo Mergo from Ethiopia, Deviprasad Aryal and Ramchandra Adhikari from Nepal, Esther Chelule from Kenya, Gurjeet Singh Mann from India, and Jesús Larraguibel Artola from Mexico. While wheat panelists discussed possible solutions  — Bill Angus from Angus Wheat in the UK; Hans Braun from CIMMYT, in Mexico; Anne Cichangi from KALRO, in Kenya; Bedada Girma, from EIAR, Ethiopia; Chhavi Tiwari from Shri Vaishnav Institute of Agriculture in India, and Vijay Vijayaraghavan from Sathguru Management Consultants in India.

According to Coffman, the world averted disaster thanks to the coordinated global effort led by Cornell’s BGRI with more than $100 million in funding for the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK aid from the British people.

The BGRI and the projects it managed was essential to protecting one of the world’s most important crops, according to Coffman.

Crucial outcomes from the DRRW and DGGW projects noted by Coffman include vast increases in land area planted to rust-resistant varieties, global expansion of a wheat pathogen surveillance network, more young wheat scientists in countries around the world — especially women — trained to be wheat breeders, pathologists, gender experts and project leaders, and the establishment of a global wheat community dedicated to the improvement of one of the world’s most important crops.

“For 12 years, through the DRRW and the DGGW projects, the BGRI has focused on delivering rust-resistant varieties of wheat to the farmers around the world who depend on agriculture and wheat production for their livelihoods,” said Coffman. “We have been especially dedicated to smallholder farmers in wheat-producing countries in Africa and Asia. Men and women who do not always have the access to new technologies — like improved seed — that they need.”

During the past 12 years, BGRI scientists have released more than 270 new varieties of wheat with greater resistance to diseases and environmental stresses such as climate change, working with national programs in 11 at-risk countries.

“These varieties have contributed enormously to improving the livelihoods of the farmers who adopted them,” Coffman said.

Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for DGGW, said that the successes were only possible by building a network of global researchers working in tandem with farmers on a common goal to secure the world’s wheat.

“Science and agriculture are forever linked in our enduring quest to feed the world,” Acevedo said. “The BGRI is committed to making sure scientific innovations help the world’s farmers prosper.”

One element of those efforts is robust surveillance of wheat pathogens. To track the spread of rust and other diseases, the BGRI expanded the international monitoring network from two countries in 2007 to 43 today. By utilizing precise location tagging equipment and mobile devices, “our partners now operate the world’s largest international crop disease monitoring system in the world,” said Coffman.

Mobile plant disease diagnostic technologies allow researchers to identify individual strains of complex fungal pathogens directly in the field, making it easier for farmers to quell outbreaks quickly. 

The projects also helped establish facilities needed to monitor and respond to diseases. Investments in greenhouses, irrigation systems, laboratories, field equipment and communications technology gave global partners the tools needed to collaborate with other wheat scientists around the world to breed more rust resistant wheat, and help farmers stay ahead of epidemics caused by evolving races of rust. At nursery facilities built in Ethiopia and Kenya, scientists are able to test elite wheat varieties from national wheat breeding programs around the world against various strains of rust.  

Long-term sustainability and durability depend on knowledgeable and dedicated scientists, according to Coffman. Since 2008, more than 1000 wheat scientists from countries around the world have been trained with funding from the projects, Coffman said.

“As we move forward, to 2030 and beyond, we must rededicate ourselves to understanding farmers’ needs because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of our work,” said Coffman.

“We will continue to build this coalition of great scientists committed to the big, big task of increasing food security one wheat field at a time,” said Acevedo, in her closing remarks.

The next BGRI Virtual Workshop will take place in October.

Watch Take It to the Farmer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSOdFDZUZrY&feature=youtu.be

CIMMYT Annual Report 2019 launched

This post was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Read the web version of the Annual Report 2019

Download the Annual Report 2019 in PDF format 

Download the financial report 2019

In 2019, CIMMYT continued to perform groundbreaking crop research and forge powerful partnerships to combat hunger and climate change, preserve maize and wheat biodiversity, and respond to emerging pests and diseases.  

Bill Gates spoke about the “essential role of CGIAR research centers in feeding our future” and together with other stakeholders urged us to “do even better.” In his Gates Notes blog, he highlighted the great example of CIMMYT’s drought-tolerant maize, which helps resource-poor farmers withstand increasing climate risks. 

Over the course of the year, we supported our national partners to release 82 maize and 50 wheat varieties. More than 14,000 farmers, scientists, and technical workers across the world took part in over 900 training and capacity development activities. CIMMYT researchers published 386 peer-reviewed journal articles. 

In 2019, CIMMYT also marked the end of a decade of achievements in seed security. CIMMYT celebrated being the largest depositor at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with 173,779 accessions from 131 countries. The most recent deposit included 15,231 samples of wheat and 332 samples of maize. 

Innovative solutions like DNA fingerprinting – a method used to identify individual plants by looking at unique patterns in their genome – brought state of the art research into farmer’s fields, providing valuable insights into the diversity of wheat varieties grown in Afghanistan and Ethiopia.   

CIMMYT also continued to play a key role in the battle against fall armyworm, coordinating a global research-for–development consortium to build an evidence-based response against the pest in both Africa and Asia. 

Through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), CIMMYT helped women find business opportunities and empowered female entrepreneurship with the help of mechanization solutions. 

The year 2019 showed us that while CIMMYT’s work may begin with seeds, our innovations support farmers at all stages of the value chain. The year ahead will be a challenging one as we continue to adjust to the “new normal” of life under COVID-19.  We hope you enjoy this Annual Report as we look back on the exciting year that was 2019.   

Read the web version of the Annual Report 2019

Download the Annual Report 2019 in PDF format 

Download the financial report 2019

African small-scale mechanization project winds down after strong results

This story by Vanessa Meadu was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Demonstration of a minitiller, Naivasha, Kenya. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have embraced small-scale mechanization thanks to an innovative CIMMYT-led project, which is now drawing to a close. Since 2013, the Farm Mechanization and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification (FACASI) project has helped farmers access and use two-wheel tractors that significantly reduce the time and labor needed to grow, harvest and process their crops. To ensure long-term sustainability, the project and its partners helped support and develop local enterprises which could supply, service and operate the machines, and encouraged the development of supportive government policies. The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), as well as the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat.

“Mechanization is a system not a technology

From its inception, FACASI went beyond simply providing machinery to farmers, and instead envisioned mechanization as a way out of poverty. “Mechanization is a system, not only a technology,” said Bisrat Getnet, the project’s national coordinator in Ethiopia and director of the Agricultural Engineering Research Department at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. “Mechanization needs infrastructure such as roads, fuel stations, spare part dealerships, maintenance centers, training centers and appropriate policies. This project assessed which measures are needed to sustain a new technology and addressed these with direct interventions,” he explained.

The FACASI project worked to introduce and develop new small-scale machines, including two-wheel tractors, small shellers and threshers, and small pumps, in African rural settings, collaborating with local engineers, farmers and manufacturers. This included adapting a range of attachments that could be used to mechanize on-farm tasks such as planting, harvesting, transporting and shelling. In parallel, the project developed local business opportunities around the supply, maintenance and use of the machines, to ensure that users could access affordable services and equipment in their communities.

The project initially worked in four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Researchers saw significant potential for mechanization to reduce the labor intensity associated with smallholder farming, while encouraging application of conservation agriculture techniques and developing rural service provision businesses. In its second phase, which began in 2017, the project focused on strengthening its efforts in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

“In my view the most innovative aspect enabling FACASI’s success was the concept of combining engineering and business modelling, with an understanding of the political, legislative and policy situations in the four countries,” said Professor John Blackwell, an Adjunct Professor at Charles Sturt University who reviewed FACASI and also invented and helped commercialize several successful machines in South Asia, including the famous Happy Seeder.

“FACASI has proven that small mechanization is viable in smallholder settings,” said CIMMYT scientist and project coordinator Frédéric Baudron. “It has shown smallholders that they don’t have to consolidate their farms to benefit from conventional machines, but that machines can instead be adapted to their farm conditions. This, to me, defines the concept of ‘appropriate mechanization’,” he said.

Conservation agriculture planter manufacturing in Arusha, Tanzania. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Benefits to local communities

During its course, the project improved the efficiency and productivity of smallholder farming, reducing labor requirements and creating new pathways for rural women and youth.

The reduction in the labor and drudgery of farming tasks has opened many doors. Farmers can save the costs of hiring additional labor and reinvest that money into their enterprises or households. With a small double-cob sheller producing one ton of kernels in an hour compared to up to 12 days by hand, women can do something else valuable with their time and energy. Entrepreneurs offering mechanization services — often young people who embrace new technologies — can earn a good income while boosting the productivity of local farms.

Mechanization has shown to sustainably improve yields. In Ethiopia, farmers using two-wheel tractors were able to reduce the time needed to establish a wheat crop from about 100 hours per hectare to fewer than 10 hours. In trials, maize and wheat respectively yielded 29% and 22% more on average, compared with using conventional crop establishment methods.

Local female artisan, Hawassa, Ethiopia. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Impacts now and into the future

According to its national partners, FACASI has laid the groundwork for cheap and practical two-wheel tractors to proliferate. In Ethiopia, there are currently 88 service providers whose skills has been directly developed through FACASI project interventions. “This has been a flagship project,” said Ethiopia national coordinator Bisrat Getnet. “It tested and validated the potential for small-scale mechanization and conservation agriculture, it proved that new business models could be profitable, and it opened new pathways for Ethiopian agriculture policy,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, the project has also set the wheels of change in motion. “FACASI demonstrated an opportunity for creating employment and business opportunities through small-scale mechanization,” said Tirivangani Koza, of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement. “With the right funding and policies, there is a very wide and promising scope to scale-up this initiative,” he said.

Read more:
Explore the FACASI Hello Tractor knowledge platform to learn more about conservation agriculture and small-scale mechanization

From working in the fields to taking control

This story by Alison Doody was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Using data from 12 communities across four Indian states, an international team of researchers has shed new light on how women are gradually innovating and influencing decision-making in wheat-based systems.

The study, published this month in The European Journal of Development Research, challenges stereotypes of men being the sole decision-makers in wheat-based systems and performing all the work. The authors, which include researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT)-funded GENNOVATE initiative, show that women adopt specific strategies to further their interests in the context of wheat-based livelihoods.

In parts of India, agriculture has become increasingly feminized in response to rising migration of men from rural areas to cities. An increasing proportion of women, relative to men, are working in the fields. However, little is known about whether these women are actually taking key decisions.

The authors distinguish between high gender gap communities — identified as economically vibrant and highly male-dominant — and low gender gap communities, which are also economically vibrant but where women have a stronger say and more room to maneuver.

The study highlights six strategies women adopt to participate actively in decision-making. These range from less openly challenging strategies that the authors term acquiescence, murmuring, and quiet co-performance (typical of high gender gap communities), to more assertive ones like active consultation, women managing, and finally, women deciding (low gender gap communities).

In acquiescence, for example, women are fully conscious that men do not expect them to take part in agricultural decision-making, but do not articulate any overt forms of resistance.

In quiet co-performance, some middle-income women in high gender gap communities begin to quietly support men’s ability to innovate, for example by helping to finance the innovation, and through carefully nuanced ‘suggestions’ or ‘advice.’ They don’t openly question that men take decisions in wheat production. Rather, they appear to use male agency to support their personal and household level goals.

In the final strategy, women take all decisions in relation to farming and innovation. Their husbands recognize this process is happening and support it.

“One important factor in stronger women’s decision-making capacity is male outmigration. This is a reality in several of the low gender gap villages studied—and it is a reality in many other communities in India. Another is education—many women and their daughters talked about how empowering this is,” said gender researcher and lead-author Cathy Farnworth.

In some communities, the study shows, women and men are adapting by promoting women’s “managerial” decision-making. However, the study also shows that in most locations the extension services have failed to recognize the new reality of male absence and women decision-makers. This seriously hampers women, and is restricting agricultural progress.

Progressive village heads are critical to progress, too. In some communities, they are inclusive of women but in others, they marginalize women. Input suppliers — including machinery providers — also have a vested interest in supporting women farm managers. Unsurprisingly, without the support of extension services, village heads, and other important local actors, women’s ability to take effective decisions is reduced.

“The co-authors, partners at Glasgow Caledonian University and in India, were very important to both obtaining the fieldwork data, and the development of the typology” said Lone Badstue, researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and another co-author of the paper.

The new typology will allow researchers and development partners to better understand empowerment dynamics and women’s agency in agriculture. The authors argue that development partners should support these strategies but must ultimately leave them in the hands of women themselves to manage.

“It’s an exciting study because the typology can be used by anyone to distinguish between the ways women (and men) express their ideas and get to where they want”, concluded Farnworth.

Read the full article in The European Journal of Development Research:
From Working in the Fields to Taking Control. Towards a Typology of Women’s Decision-Making in Wheat in India

Hunger fighters “Take It to the Farmer” in June 25 virtual event from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative

CGIAR Research Program on Wheat Director Hans Braun will join wheat experts from around the world to discuss evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties in a virtual event convened by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) next week.

The BGRI interactive virtual event “Take It to the Farmer: Reflections on Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat” will take place on June 25 from 10-11:30 a.m. EDT.  The event will present a series of reflections on what it means to deliver genetic gain in wheat to farmers and ways to improve the future impact of wheat research.

Wheat researchers and farmers have made significant progress over the past 12 years delivering on the promise of greater food security and nutrition globally. But there is still much work to be done.

“Take It to the Farmer” is the second in a series of virtual events from the BGRI. The June 25 event will feature videos from wheat farmers in the United Kingdom, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, India and Mexico as they discuss particular challenges they face in their countries, as well as discussions with leading wheat experts about the impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects. Both projects received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government.

“Over the last 12 years, wheat researchers have learned that it is not enough to have great research innovations and hope they make their way to farmers’ fields,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the DGGW project. “For agricultural innovations to make it the last mile into farmers’ fields, we have learned that is necessary to talk to the farmers, listen to the farmers, and work directly with the farmers. We are leveraging public-private partnerships, and tracking and exchanging germplasm across international boundaries in the ongoing fight to protect the world’s wheat.”

Bill Angus, principal of Angus Wheat Consultants Ltd and panelist in the June 25 event, said that collaboration is critical as the world engages with growing challenges to wheat production: “The UK is currently a yellow rust hotspot for evolving races of rust. With the BGRI, F1 Seed Ltd and CIMMYT, we are working to transfer resistance genes available in CIMMYT lines to UK germplasm and vice-versa. Our objective is to strengthen the wheat germplasm pool and optimize the use of resistance genes,” he said.

Angus added: “Researchers need a better understanding of what disease resistance genes we are using globally and then develop robust utilization strategies with seed companies to give wheat growers long-term security and options to combat ever-evolving races of rust. This is a great example of how public and private sectors can work together.”

Ronnie Coffman, BGRI vice-chair and director of International Programs in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, will provide the keynote address, “Impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Projects: 12 Years of Research and Variety Adoption.” Coffman is the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and international professor in the Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science.

Acevedo will host a panel discussion on evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties. Panelists include:

  • Bill Angus, owner of Angus Wheat and international wheat consultant (Angus Wheat, UK)
  • Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYT, Mexico)
  • Anne Gichangi, senior research scientist and agricultural economist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organizations (KALRO/Kenya)
  • Bedada Girma, technical coordinator, DGGW-Ethiopia, Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR/Ethiopia)
  • Chhavi Tiwari, assistant professor at Shri Vaishnav Institute of Agriculture, Indore, India, and 2014 WIT awardee
  • Vijay Vijayaraghaven, chairman of Sathguru Management Consultants (Sathguru/India)

Registration information is available here. The event will be livestreamed on Zoom and the BGRI Facebook page.

Small but mighty: The introduction of mung bean has transformed rice-wheat food systems in Nepal

This story by Alison Doody was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A member of a women farmers group serves a platter of mung bean dishes in Suklaphanta, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Nearly 65,000 farmers in Nepal, 40% of which were women, have benefited from the Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling project, according to a comprehensive new report. This project is part of the Cereals Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and supported by USAID.

One of the project’s most recent successes has been in accelerating the adoption of the nutritious and stress-tolerant mung bean in rice-wheat farming systems.

Rice-wheat is the dominant cropping system in the lowland region of Nepal. Farmers typically harvest wheat in March and transplant rice in July, leaving land fallow for up to 100 days. A growing body of evidence shows, however, that planting mung bean during this fallow period can improve soil fertility and rice productivity by as much as 25%.

“The mung bean has multiple benefits for farmers,” says Narayan Khanal, a researcher at CIMMYT. “The first benefit is nutrition: mung beans are very rich in iron, protein and are easily digestible. The second benefit is income: farmers can sell mung beans on the market for a higher price than most other legumes. The third benefit is improved soil health: mung beans fix the nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil as well as improve soil organic content.”

Commonly used in dishes like dahl, soups and sprout, mung beans are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine. However, prior to the project, most farmers in Nepal had never seen the crop before and had no idea how to eat it. Encouraging them to grow the crop was not going to be an easy task.

Thanks to dedicated efforts by CIMMYT researchers, more than 8,000 farmers in Nepal are now cultivating mung bean on land that would otherwise be left fallow, producing over $1.75 million of mung bean per year.

The newfound enthusiasm for growing mung bean could not have been achieved without the help of local women’s farming groups, said Timothy J. Krupnik, CIMMYT senior scientist and CSISA project leader.

Mung bean selection and cleaning process at Poshan Food Product (PFP) Ltd, in Butwal, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Bringing research and innovations to farmers’ fields

Introducing the mung bean crop to farmers’ fields was just one of the successes of Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling, which was an added investment by USAID in the wider CSISA project, which began in 2014. The project aims to move agronomic and crop varietal research into real-world impact. It has helped farmers get better access to improved seeds and machinery and strengthened partnerships with the private sector, according to Khanal.

CSISA support in business mentoring and capacity building of seed companies to popularize newly released, biofortified and stress-tolerant wheat varieties has led to seed sales volumes tripling between 2014 to 2019. The project also led to a 68% increase in the number of new improved wheat varieties since the inception of the project.

Nepal’s National Wheat Research Program was able to fast track the release of the early maturing variety BL 4341, by combining data generated by the project through seed companies and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) research station. Other varieties, including Borlaug 100 and NL 1327, are now in the pipeline.

Empowering women and facilitating women’s groups have been critical components of the project. Nepal has seen a mass exodus of young men farmers leaving the countryside for the city, leaving women to work the farms. CIMMYT worked with women farmer groups to expand and commercialize simple to use and affordable technologies, like precision seed and fertilizer spreaders.

Over 13,000 farmers have gained affordable access to and benefited from precision agriculture machinery such as two-wheel ‘hand tractors’ and ‘mini tillers.’ This is a major change for small and medium-scale farmers in South Asia who typically rely on low horsepower four-wheel tractors. The project also introduced an attachment for tractors for harvesting rice and wheat called the ‘reaper.’ This equipment helps to reduce the costs and drudgery of manual harvesting. In 2019, Nepal’s Terai region had almost 3,500 reapers, versus 22 in 2014.

To ensure the long-term success of the project, CSISA researchers have trained over 2,000 individuals from the private and public sector, and over 1,000 private organizations including machinery manufacturers and agricultural input dealers.

Researchers have trained project collaborators in both the public and private sector in seed systems, resilient varieties, better farming practices and appropriate agricultural mechanization business models. These partners have in turn passed this knowledge on to farmers, with considerable impact.

“The project’s outcomes demonstrates the importance of multi-year and integrated agricultural development efforts that are science-based, but which are designed in such a way to move research into impact and benefit farmers, by leveraging the skills and interests of Nepal’s public and private sector in unison,” said Krupnik.

“The outcomes from this project will continue to sustain, as the seed and market systems developed and nurtured by the project are anticipated to have long-lasting impact in Nepal,” he said.

Download the full report:
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia: Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling. Final report (2014-2019)

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). CSISA is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Engagement with local gender norms key for equitable, sustainable agricultural development, say experts

Agricultural research for development must foster deep, structural and systemic change in gender-based power relations

A provocative new article in the journal Development In Practice uses evidence from the global comparative research initiative GENNOVATE to make a powerful call for changing the way development researchers work to reach greater gender equity in agricultural innovations.

The article authors, including CIMMYT researcher Lone Badstue and CGIAR Research Program Manager Victor Kommerell, point out that gender norms —  the social rules that frame what is considered appropriate for a woman and a man to be and do in their society —  constitute a critical component for improved agricultural livelihoods that has been largely ignored by agricultural research for development (AR4D).

The views expressed by the authors are informed by experience and evidence from GENNOVATE, a collaborative research initiative among eight CGIAR Research Programs, including the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat on how gender norms and agency interact to shape agricultural change at local levels. They advocate for approaches which engage with local gender norms and challenge underlying structures of inequality.

Drawing on research findings from diverse world regions and agri-food systems, the paper argues that gender norms are part of the enabling — or disabling —  environment for agricultural interventions, shaping who is able to learn about, access and benefit from agricultural innovations, and who is not. Agricultural markets, extension services, agricultural development programs and research systems are shaped by and tend to uphold dominating gender norms. The authors argue that for agricultural research for development to contribute seriously towards equitable and sustainable agri-food systems, it must engage with gender norms and power relations to foster deep, structural and systemic change, including within the agricultural research for development system.

The new Gender Social Norms Index released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) confirms the power of gender norms.  The index measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 percent of the world’s population.  It finds that close to 90% of men and women globally hold a pervasive bias and prejudice against women, forming an invisible barrier to women’s equality and progress.

As the process to define and orient One CGIAR moves forward, this paper points to the need for an invigorated research agenda which emphasizes:

  • critical self-reflection and introspection among research institutions on the norms they bring to the research process;
  • partnerships with civil society and other organizations with long-term, trusted local presence; engagement with both women and men from different social groups on the structures and mindsets that hinder and enable equality and local people’s empowerment;
  • sufficient time and resources to accompany a process of social change;
  • and mechanisms to scale advances made using gender transformative approaches.

Read the full article here:

Making room for manoeuvre: addressing gender norms to strengthen the enabling environment for agricultural innovation

Empowering the next generation of wheat breeders

by Emma Orchardson

​In May 2020, two PhD students from India – Rathan ND and Kuldeep Yadav – completed a three-month training program for wheat breeders, which took place at CIMMYT campuses in Mexico.

Both were supervised by Velu Govindan, Itria Ibba and Susanne Dreisigacker, and received financial support from the World Bank-funded NAHEP-CAAST Fellowship Program, which supports training programs outside of India.

“This is a great opportunity for young PhD students,” says Govindan. “There are new advances in wheat breeding, especially in terms of modern genomics tools and technologies, but the crop breeder should be empowered with scientific acumen to decide which tools to use and integrate in their crop improvement program to accelerate development and delivery of climate-resilient nutritious crops.”

The training program – Application of classical breeding and molecular tools for improving wheat quality and yield determining traits – helps to collate and adopt modern-day tools such as genomics and high-throughput phenotyping methods to accelerate the rate of genetic gains and address the issue of food and nutrition security. During their placement the students were exposed to both field-based breeding at CIMMYT’s Obregon site and wheat quality and molecular breeding at the main campus at El Batán.

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Rathan is completing a PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi and hopes to work in the Indian Agricultural Research Service or a CGIAR Center following his degree.

The highlight of his time at CIMMYT was being able to carry out fieldwork in Obregon, where he particularly enjoyed working on individual plant selection. “I also really enjoyed interacting with scientists and technicians who are very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. The working environment and research facilities at CIMMYT helped me to learn research methodologies without any stress or difficulties.”

The only major challenge he faced was returning home at the end of his placement. “My stay was scheduled for three months but because of the COVID-19 situation I ended up staying for four and a half months. Fortunately, I got a special flight to Mumbai and reached home safely,” he explains. “CIMMYT’s support for my whole journey from the date I started my training program till sending me back is highly appreciable and I am very thankful to CIMMYT and my research advisors.”

CGIAR condemns and rejects racism

This post was originally published on the CGIAR website.

We believe that diversity is our strength. It drives better science and innovation. It is what makes us who we are. 

CGIAR unequivocally condemns and rejects racism. As an organization of over 10,000 people across more than 50 countries, we are proud to be multi-color and multi-cultural. We celebrate, respect and promote our diversity. We do not tolerate harassment, discrimination or inequality in our workplaces, and encourage our partners to do the same. 

In this current time of global protests against racism, and in solidarity with our partners around the world who stand against racism and injustice, we agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights  Michelle Bachelet on the need to reflect; to listen and learn; and to take actions that truly tackle inequalities.

We know that racism and related intolerance do not affect all members of victim groups in the same way. And that the intersection of discrimination based on race and gender has the most widespread effects. It is unacceptable in all its forms. 

This is a moment in which CGIAR’s new Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Framework must become a mechanism through which we empower and enable our workforce to identify and address racial inequality and bias in our global workplaces. We must use this opportunity to become better, contributing to a better world.

Across CGIAR, we have consciously gathered people from around the world to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges. We have declared dignity and respect to be part of our core values. We must live our values, challenge ourselves to review practices and reflect on how we can do better. We are stronger together.