This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.
The wheat curl mite, a pesky wheat pest which can cause up to 100% yield losses, is a significant threat to wheat crops worldwide. The pest has been confirmed in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and parts of South America. Almost invisible to the naked eye, the microscopic pest is one of the most difficult pests to manage in wheat due to its ability to evade insecticides.
We caught up with Punya Nachappa, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, at this year’s International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop to discuss wheat curl mites and how to fight them. She explains how the mite cleverly avoids insecticides, how climate change is leading to increasing populations and why breeding for host plant resistance is the main defense against outbreaks.
This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.
Insect resistance in plants is needed now more than ever. The UN, which has named 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost annually due to plant pests and diseases.
Earlier this month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 24th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
We caught up with Mustapha El-Bouhssini, principal scientist at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to discuss insect pests and climate change. He explains how pests such as the Hessian fly — a destructive wheat pest which resembles a mosquito — and the chickpea pod borer are extending their geographical ranges in response to rising temperatures.
This story by Emma Orchardson was originally published on the CIMMYT website.
The most recent dietary guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and other international food and nutrition authorities recommend that half our daily intake of grains should come from whole grains. But what are whole grains, what are their health benefits, and where can they be found?
What are whole grains?
The grain or kernel of any cereal is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
Each part of the grain contains different types of nutrients.
The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It is fiber-rich and also supplies antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and phytochemicals — natural chemical compounds found in plants that have been linked to disease prevention.
The germ is the core of the seed where growth occurs. It is rich in lipids and contains vitamin E, as well as B vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
The largest portion of the kernel is the endosperm, an interior layer that holds carbohydrates, protein and smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals.
A whole grain is not necessarily an entire grain.
The concept is mainly associated with food products — which are not often made using intact grains — but there is no single, accepted definition of what constitutes a whole grain once parts of it have been removed.
Generally speaking, however, a processed grain is considered “whole” when each of the three original parts — the bran, germ and endosperm — are still present in the same proportions as when the original one. This definition applies to all cereals in the Poaceae family such as maize, wheat, barley and rice, and some pseudocereals including amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.
Wholegrain vs. refined and enriched grain products
Refined grain products differ from whole grains in that some or all of the outer bran layers are removed by milling, pearling, polishing, or degerming processes and are missing one or more of their three key parts.
For example, white wheat flour is prepared with refined grains that have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. Similarly, if a maize kernel is degermed or decorticated — where both the bran and germ are removed — it becomes a refined grain.
The main purpose of removing the bran and germ is technological, to ensure finer textures in final food products and to improve their shelf life. The refining process removes the variety of nutrients that are found in the bran and germ, so many refined flours end up being enriched — or fortified — with additional, mostly synthetic, nutrients. However, some components such as phytochemicals cannot be replaced.
Are wholegrain products healthier than refined ones?
There is a growing body of research indicating that whole grains offer a number of health benefits which refined grains do not.
Bran and fiber slow the breakdown of starch into glucose, allowing the body to maintain a steady blood sugar level instead of causing sharp spikes. Fibers positively affect bowel movement and also help to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, the incidence of type 2 diabetes, the risk of stroke, and to maintain an overall better colorectal and digestive health. There is also some evidence to suggest that phytochemicals and essential minerals — such as copper and magnesium — found in the bran and germ may also help protect against some cancers.
Despite the purported benefits, consumption of some wholegrain foods may be limited by consumer perception of tastes and textures. The bran in particular contains intensely flavored compounds that reduce the softness of the final product and may be perceived to negatively affect overall taste and texture. However, these preferences vary greatly between regions. For example, while wheat noodles in China are made from refined flour, in South Asia most wheat is consumed wholegrain in the form of chapatis.
Popcorn is another example of a highly popular wholegrain food. It is a high-quality carbohydrate source that, consumed naturally, is not only low in calories and cholesterol, but also a good source of fiber and essential vitamins including folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6, A, E and K. One serving of popcorn contains about 8% of the daily iron requirement, with lesser amounts of calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Boiled and roasted maize commonly consumed in Africa, Asia and Latin America are other sources of wholegrain maize, as is maize which has been soaked in lime solution, or “nixtamalized.” Depending on the steeping time and method of washing the nixtamalized kernels, a portion of the grains used for milling could still be classed as whole.
Identifying wholegrain products
Whole grains are relatively easy to identify when dealing with unprocessed foods such as brown rice or oats. It becomes more complicated, however, when a product is made up of both whole and refined or enriched grains, especially as color is not an indicator. Whole wheat bread made using whole grains can appear white in color, for example, while multi-grain brown bread can be made primarily using refined flour.
In a bid to address this issue, US-based nonprofit consumer advocacy group the Whole Grains Council created a stamp designed to help consumers identify and select wholegrain products more easily. As of 2019, this stamp is used on over 13,000 products in 61 diﬀerent countries.
However, whether a product is considered wholegrain or not varies widely between countries and individual agencies, with a lack of industry standardization meaning that products are labelled inconsistently. Words such as “fiber,” “multigrain” and even “wholegrain” are often used on packaging for products which are not 100% wholegrain. The easiest way to check a product’s wholegrain content is to look at the list of ingredients and see if the flours used are explicitly designated as wholegrain. These are ordered by weight, so the first items listed are those contained more heavily in the product.
As a next step, an ad-hoc committee led by the Whole Grain Initiative is due to propose specific whole grain quantity thresholds to help establish a set of common criteria for food labelling. These are likely to be applied worldwide in the event that national definitions and regulations are not standardized.
This article was originally posted on the CGIAR website.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread rapidly. Since its start in China in December, the outbreak has spread to more than 100 countries, endangering the health and livelihoods of millions. To contain the pandemic, many cities and regions across the world have been shut down, putting a halt to day-to-day activities.
As Western economies struggle with difficult decisions – it is those in the global South that are most at risk. Economies that are dependent on tourism, trade and foreign investment have fewer options at their disposal.
An urgent and coordinated global response is needed – from the global to the local level to protect populations – and especially the most vulnerable. Food security is fragile under normal circumstances and must not be ignored as part of a One Health strategy.
CGIAR, as the world’s largest public research network on food systems, provides evidence to help understand and address threats to food and nutrition security from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:
The food system has been significantly affected, and these impacts will grow if processing enterprises cannot restart production in a near future;
Production of staple food crops such as wheat, rice, and vegetables will be affected if the outbreak continues into critical planting periods;
Domestic and international trade disruptions may trigger food price panics;
Restrictions on mobility may lead to labor shortages.
CGIAR will make available its latest research and analysis on COVID-19 to support authorities and the public in making informed decisions during the current crisis. In the research and news featured below, CGIAR scientists provide evidence-based advice and recommendations on:
Introducing enabling policies for spring planting and increasing support for production entities;
Ensuring the smooth flow of trade and making full use of the international market as a vital tool to secure food supply and demand;
Ensuring smooth logistical operations of regional agricultural and food supply chains;
Monitoring food prices and strengthening market supervision;
Protecting vulnerable groups and providing employment services to migrant workers;
Regulating wild food markets to curb the source of the disease;
Measuring impact on small and medium-sized businesses;
Analyzing how much global poverty will increase because of COVID-19.
This story by Emma Orchardson was originally published on the CIMMYT website.
International agricultural research has come a long way since the Green Revolution of the 1970s – from a tight focus on crop improvement to a wider quest for sustainable food systems. Our original objective, as the founders of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and other CGIAR Research Centers were fond of saying, was to increase the pile of grain. Now, we strive to achieve food and nutritional security in ways that also enhance rural livelihoods, reduce environmental degradation, and boost agriculture´s resilience.
In 2009, state governments in Northwest India implemented a policy designed to reduce groundwater extraction by prohibiting the usual practice of planting rice in May and moving it to June, nearer the start of monsoon rains.
Although the policy did succeed in alleviating pressure on groundwater, it also had the unexpected effect of worsening already severe air pollution. The reason for this, according to a recent study published in Nature Sustainability, is that the delay in rice planting narrowed the window between rice harvest and sowing of the subsequent crop — mainly wheat — leaving farmers little time to remove rice straw from the field and compelling them to burn it instead.
Even though burning crop residues is prohibited in India, uncertainty about the implementation of government policy and a perceived lack of alternatives have perpetuated the practice in Haryana and Punjab states, near the nation’s capital, New Delhi, where air pollution poses a major health threat.
Decades of research for development have enabled researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other partners to identify potential solutions to this problem.
One particularly viable option focuses on the practice of zero tillage, in which wheat seed is sown immediately after rice harvest through the rice straw directly into untilled soil with a single tractor pass.
This op-ed by Martin Kropff, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, was originally published by SciDevNet.
Last year, droughts devastated staple food crops across the developing world, cutting production by about half in some countries. A stream of reports from Central America, Eastern and Southern Africa as well as the Asia-Pacific region painted a grim picture of suffering and upheaval.
Poor harvests subjected tens of millions to chronic hunger, prompting various governments to declare states of emergency. In Central America, survey results, including some from the US government, cited climate-induced food shortages as the main reason for emigration from drought-hit areas.
Extreme weather, with its appalling consequences, demands an extraordinary response. Redoubled efforts must focus on building resilience into the developing world´s major food systems.
Fortunately, agricultural science has already provided a wide range of solutions and continues to generate more.
Conservation agriculture and drought-tolerant crops
New technologies from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) suggest how developing countries can work toward a better future.
Drought-tolerant cereals show promise for helping stabilise maize and wheat production. Through many years of conventional plant breeding, researchers have developed more than 160 maize varieties for sub-Saharan Africa that yield 25-30 percent more than farmers’ standard varieties under drought, while performing at least equal to these under normal rainfall.
According to a study in Zimbabwe, farmers growing the drought-tolerant maize harvested up to 600 kilograms more grain per hectare in drought years – enough to feed a family of six for nine months. The improved varieties are already grown on 2.5 million hectares, benefitting around 54 million people. Researchers are also poised to develop wheat lines with tolerance to drought and heat, having identified genes for these traits though cutting-edge collaborative science.
“Extreme weather, with its appalling consequences, demands an extraordinary response. Fortunately, agricultural science has already provided a wide range of solutions and continues to generate more.”
Martin Kropff, director general, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
To provide maximum benefits, drought-tolerant crop varieties need to form part of smart farming systems that capture and conserve moisture. One such system – conservation agriculture – combines diverse crops with reduced or no ploughing, and the practice of leaving stalks and other crop residues on the ground after harvest. Already widely applied in South America´s Southern Cone, this system has also made inroads in the predominant rice-wheat system of South Asia´s Indo-Gangetic Plain, a major breadbasket for the region. Conservation agriculture is being widely promoted in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico and elsewhere.
Globally, around 80 per cent of food production depends on increasingly erratic rainfall. To ensure better water supplies, many farmers have purchased their own small pumps for irrigation, often using water from aquifers underground. One drawback to this practice is that it can lead to groundwater depletion, which is already a serious problem in Northwest India, for example. In searching for solutions, researchers there have recently shown how farmers can grow just as much rice and wheat using only about half the water normally needed, through conservation agriculture combined with the use of a drip irrigation system that delivers just the right amount of water, plus fertiliser to crop roots through underground pipes.
Scaling-up drought solutions
The challenge now is to mainstream the growing portfolio of drought solutions – a task demanding not only technical acumen, but institutional vision. Partnerships between private seed companies and public crop breeding programs, for example, played a vital role in getting drought-tolerant maize into farmers’ fields. But the people benefitting from this innovation today still constitute only a fraction of the 300 million Africans whose diets depend on maize. Clearly, such partnerships must be expanded.
Innovation platforms are rapidly becoming the tool of choice for refining and scaling out more complicated innovations, such as conservation agriculture. Transitioning to new production practices can be a daunting experience for farmers, especially smallholders. By bringing together networks of farmers, extension specialists, researchers, private companies and policymakers, innovation platforms offer the knowledge, services and products needed for change.
In order for improved technologies to have the desired effect, government and partner organisations must get their policies and decisions right. Recent research in Bangladesh, for example, has identified new policy measures for enhancing the efficiency of irrigation services. In addition, organisations must base their decisions and planning before and during droughts on information from new systems that use remote sensing and climate data analysis for drought monitoring and early warning.
Science-based climate projections tell us that drought will become even worse in the decades ahead. Only by implementing drought solutions on an unprecedented scale, will countries be able to avoid a future that leaves millions of people at the mercy of a hostile climate.
Agriculture is the largest employer of women in the MENA region and the female share of the agricultural workforce increased from 30% in 1980 to almost 45% in 2010, exceeding 60% in Jordan, Libya, Syria and the occupied Palestinian Territory. However, women in the region still face significant challenges accessing land and benefitting from technologies and decent, equitable working conditions.
In the fall of 2019, a group of experts, including London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) professor of Gender and Development Naila Kabeer, came together to discuss the persistent limited access to labor market opportunities for women in South Asia and MENA, despite an increase in women’s education and access to fertility planning. The workshop organized by LSE discussed barriers, opportunities and policy challenges.
We share some of the expert panel’s key recommendations for the MENA region, which featured research funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.
1. Recognize women as workers not helpers
According to the World Bank, agriculture employs 36% of women and 22% of men in Egypt. However, research shows that women who work in agriculture are widely categorized as “helpers” to male workers rather than workers in their own right. What’s more, women are listed as “housewives” on their national ID cards, while men are listed as “agricultural workers.” As a result, these women are unable to even access opportunities to bargain for better wages and working conditions.
Legally and socially recognizing these women as workers is a first step to introducing equal pay legislation for men and women in agriculture. It would also justify their inclusion in agricultural extension services and strengthen social protection measures.
2. Change perceptions of property ownership
The MENA region has the lowest level of women’s landownership in the world, at just 5%. Our research findings indicate completely different perceptions of ownership among women and men.
Research in Egypt shows that women tend to identify land officially owned solely by themselves as belonging to themselves and their husbands. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to consider their wives as co-owners, identifying male relatives instead.
In the New Lands — lands irrigated after the building of the High Aswan Dam in Egypt — there are land distribution quotas to encourage more land ownership among women. This has enabled some women to gain significant economic, social and political power. Despite this, these women still prefer to bequeath their land to their sons rather than their daughters due to social pressure and the expectation that their sons will provide for them in their old age.
To mitigate these low levels of women’s land ownership, policy change on its own is not enough. Changing perceptions of land and property ownership needs to go hand in hand with changes at a policy level.
3. Enforce legislation for equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment
In Morocco, female employment in agriculture has jumped from 29% in 1980 to 48% in 2010. However, women’s wages, working conditions and bargaining power have not risen with it.
Research shows that women are designated lower paid and more time-consuming tasks, and are systemically paid less than men, even for the same tasks. Women agricultural workers also face high levels of sexual harassment and have limited bargaining power.
Moroccan legislation already stipulates equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. However, enforcement remains extremely weak. Enforcing existing pro-active legislation is an essential step towards equality for women in agriculture.
4. Revitalize agriculture as a valuable and necessary occupation in society
Much of the world sees agriculture as an occupation of last resort. When surveyed, men and women in Morocco both complained about agricultural work being an unstable and unreliable way of making a living. Women were found to be hired more easily but only because they were paid less than men.
To shift how agriculture is viewed and rebrand it as an important and respected occupation, it needs to be reformed as a safer, more equal and respectful space for both women and men.
A key overall take-away message from the expert panel is that supportive policies alone are not enough. Rather, in order to tackle the institutionalization of harmful gender norms and stimulate actual change in practice at all levels, policy interventions need to go hand in hand with strong consciousness-raising, critical reflection and behavior change initiatives.
This story by Lone Badstue and Patti Petesch was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.
Although the conventional wisdom in South Asian rural villages is that men are principally responsible for pulling their families out of poverty, our recent study showed the truth to be more subtle, and more female.
In our new paper we dig into focus groups and individual life stories in a sample of 32 farming villages from five countries of South Asia. Although we asked about both men’s and women’s roles, focus groups of both sexes emphasized men in their responses — whether explaining how families escaped poverty or why they remained poor.
“Women usually cannot bring a big change, but they can assist their men in climbing up,” explains a member of the poor men’s focus group from Ismashal village (a pseudonym) of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The focus group testimonies presented rich examples of the strong influence of gender norms: the social rules that dictate differential roles and conducts for men and women in their society. These norms significantly influenced how local people conceived of movements in and out of poverty in their village and in their own lives.
According to the women’s focus group from Rangpur district in Bangladesh, women “cannot work outside the home for fear of losing their reputation and respect.”
However, in these same communities, men’s and women’s productive roles proved far more variable in the mobility processes of their families than conveyed by the focus groups. We encountered many households with men making irregular or very limited contributions to family maintenance. This happens for a number of reasons, including men’s labor migration, disability, family conflict and separations, aging and death.
What’s more, when sharing their life stories in individual interviews, nearly every woman testified to her own persistent efforts to make a living, cover household expenses, deal with debts, and, when conditions allowed, provide a better life for their families. In fact, our life story sample captured 12 women who testified to making substantial contributions to moving their families out of poverty.
Movers and shakers
We were especially struck by how many of these women “movers” were employing innovative agricultural technologies and practices to expand their production and earnings.
“In 2015, using zero tillage machines I started maize farming, for which I had a great yield and large profit,” reports a 30-year-old woman and mother of two from Matipur, Bangladesh who brought her family out of poverty.
Another 30-year-old mover, a farmer and mother of two from the village of Thool in Nepal, attests to diversification and adoption of improved cultivation practices: “I got training on vegetable farming. In the beginning the agriculture office provided some vegetable seeds as well. And I began to grow vegetables along with cereal crops like wheat, paddy, maize, oats. […] I learnt how to make soil rows.”
Among the women who got ahead, a large majority credited an important man in their life with flouting local customs and directly supporting them to innovate in their agricultural livelihoods and bring their families out of poverty.
Across the “mover” stories, women gained access to family resources which enabled them to step up their livelihood activities. For example, three quarters of the women “movers” spoke of husbands or brothers supporting them to pursue important goals in their lives.
Sufia, from a village in the Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, describes how she overcame great resistance from her husband to access a farm plot provided by her brother. The plot enabled Sufia to cultivate betel leaves and paddy rice, and with those profits and additional earnings from livestock activities, she purchased more land and diversified into eggplant, chilies and bitter gourd. Sufia’s husband had struggled to maintain the family and shortly after Sufia began to prosper, he suffered a stroke and required years of medical treatments before passing away.
When Sufia reflects on her life, she considers the most important relationship in her life to be with her brother. “Because of him I can now stand on my two feet.”
We also studied women and their families who did not move out of poverty. These “chronic poor” women rarely mentioned accessing innovations or garnering significant benefits from their livelihoods. In these life stories, we find far fewer testimonies about men who financially supported a wife or sister to help her pursue an important goal.
The restrictive normative climate in much of South Asia means that women’s capacity to enable change in their livelihoods is rarely recognized or encouraged by the wider community as a way for a poor family to prosper. Still, the life stories of these “movers” open a window onto the possibilities unlocked when women have opportunities to take on more equitable household roles and are able to access agricultural innovations.
The women movers, and the men who support them, provide insights into pathways of more equitable agricultural change. What we can learn from these experiences holds great potential for programs aiming to relax gender norms, catalyze agricultural innovation, and unlock faster transitions to gender equality and poverty reduction in the region. Nevertheless, challenging social norms can be risky and can result in backlash from family or other community members. To address this, collaborative research models offer promise. These approaches engage researchers and local women and men in action learning to build understanding of and support for inclusive agricultural change. Our research suggests that such interventions, which combine social, institutional and technical dimensions of agricultural innovation, can help diverse types of families to leave poverty behind.
The Wheat Initiative, through the Expert Working Groups on Wheat Phenotyping and Wheat Information Systems and in collaboration with Elixir Europe, is organizing a two-day training workshop on data management for wheat phenotyping data. The workshop is open to non wheat scientists and data managers willing to attend on their own budget.
Attendees will be provided with an overview of current practices and methods for plant phenotyping data. Genomic Open-source Breeding informatics initiative (GOBii), http://gobiiproject.org/, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed open-source genotype data management and marker- and genomic-assisted breeding tools and are working on integrating these with adjacent data management systems and tools.
This workshop will focus on GOBii data management and tools. For the wheat community training, GOBii will provide a cloud-based GOBii system and examples of wheat use cases and datasets for demonstration and hands-on training. All training will be given in English.