Author Archive

Scaling to new heights in agriculture

How to scale? This question frequently comes up as projects look to expand and replicate results. In order to sustain enduring impacts for projects after their lifetime, agricultural programs are turning to scaling strategies. These strategies look beyond the numbers that are reached within a project and include sustainability and transformation beyond the project context. Methods and tools exist that help anticipate realistic and responsible scaling pathways.

The Scaling team at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), led by Lennart Woltering, drives the initiative to incorporate scaling principles into existing and developing projects to maximize impact.

Maria Boa recently joined the team as Scaling Coordinator. Last year, Boa and Woltering participated in regional meetings on scaling in Morocco, Tunisia and Vietnam, which highlighted the need for better dissemination of information on how to approach scaling, in addition to its benefits.

Participants of the Tunisia workshop collaborate on a group exercise.

According to Boa, one of the key messages highlighted throughout these events was that in order for scaling to take hold and be integrated into projects, “…there needs to be a shift in mindset to accept that change is complex and that most projects only address a fraction of the problem.” This is essential in using scaling to effectively support long-term results.

At a workshop in Tunisia organized by ICARDA, IFAD and CIMMYT in November 2018, many participants expressed interest in scaling strategy tools, but were puzzled on how to integrate them into their specific projects. Many determined that they were stuck developing scaling strategies in an outdated framework, or one that strictly focused on using technological innovations. One participant admitted that she was skeptical of scaling perspectives because many did not lie in her field of expertise.

The November 2018 CCAFS SEA Conference on Scaling in Vietnam provided a platform for the sharing and learning of experiences in the scaling world. Some of the key messages from the event included the importance of scaling agricultural innovations taking place in complex systems of agricultural transformation, and the necessity of joint cooperation from all involved stakeholders and their openness to taking on challenges as a way to support sustainable system change.

According to Boa, scaling is a process that heavily relies on strategic collaboration for lasting impact. “Projects often don’t take into account how they’re a part of a larger chain of potential change,” she says.

Already recognized as a sustainable leader within scaling, CIMMYT is looking to strengthen scaling efforts in order to foster a more enduring impact within CIMMYT projects and beyond.

Lennart Woltering presents at the CCAFS SEA Conference in Vietnam.

Currently, the Scaling team at CIMMYT is conducting research on the “science of scaling” as it continues to function as a “help desk,” providing support integrating scaling principles in proposals and projects. Its primary role is to consider a project’s scaling needs and guide the development of an informed strategy to leverage efforts and resources. Boa hopes that by integrating responsible scaling approaches early on, projects can better balance the trade-offs associated with change.

Success in scaling is measured by a project’s enduring impact. However, stakeholders need more experience and capacity to see programs through to their end and be willing to monitor them beyond that lifespan. CIMMYT is developing and collecting the tools to support stakeholders with these specific capacities.

Developing a scaling strategy can also bring additional benefits: a discussion about scaling opens the door for raising awareness and fostering actions among different stakeholders towards system change and sustainable impact.

New publication: Climate change impact and adaptation for wheat protein

This announcement by Courtney Brantley was originally posted on CIMMYT.org

An improved wheat variety grows in the field in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo: A. Yaqub/CIMMYT)

Globally, wheat provides around 20 percent of the calories and protein in human diets. By mid-century, crop production must increase by 60 percent to meet global food demand and help reduce hunger, a challenge made even harder by climate change. “Climate Change Impact and Adaptation for Wheat Protein,” a study published in Global Change Biology in September 2018, examines why wheat grain protein concentration — a determinant of grain quality — is often overlooked in relation to improving global crop production in the face of climate change challenges.

“The impact of climate change on crops typically focuses on productivity; however, there are nutritional implications too,” says key contributor to the study Matthew Reynolds, wheat physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “Since wheat also provides a significant proportion of protein in the diets of millions of resource-poor people, the negative impact of increased atmospheric CO2 on protein concentration in the grain is a disturbing fact,” stated Reynolds. “If not addressed, it could have a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods especially of marginalized people who cannot easily afford diverse sources of protein in their diet.”

Multi-location field trials, in addition to model testing, were used to systematically analyze the effects of increasing temperature, heat shocks, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen, water deficiency and the combination of these factors on yield and wheat grain protein in the world’s main wheat producing regions. This study marked the first time that heat shock and high temperature interaction with elevated CO2 concentration was tested through an impact model. As noted in the study, “This is the most comprehensive study ever done of the effect of climate change on yield and the nutritional quality of one of the three major sources of human food security and nutrition.”

Read the full study here.

New index gauges seed companies’ progress reaching smallholders in Asia

Sowing rice seed in Nepal. (Photo: CIMMYT/P. Lowe)

The Access to Seeds Index, an initiative to measure and compare the efforts of global seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers, recently released the Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia. The Index details what 24 of the leading seed companies are doing—and what they are failing to do—to provide quality seed to smallholder farmers in the region. It is the first time a tool has shed light on how companies are reaching smallholder farmers in the region.

Crucial partners for achieving food and nutritional security, seed companies can directly help boost smallholder farmer productivity through the distribution of improved seed. To date, however, they only reach 20 percent of the smallholder farmers in the region.

To evaluate the 24 seed companies, the Index uses scorecards to outline the portfolio and strengths of each company. The Index also assesses company performance based on 59 indicators across four categories: commitment, performance, transparency and leadership. The companies who scored highly on the Index are characterized by having sustainable strategies aimed at improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers in the region.

In South and Southeast Asia, small-scale farming is the predominate form of agricultural activity. To raise agricultural productivity while simultaneously confronting climate change, seed companies and their shared successes in plant breeding are beneficial, but only when they reach smallholder farmers. The Index provides a resource to help close that gap.

In the months to come, the Access to Seeds Index will also publish indexes covering global seed industry benchmarks.

Read the full Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia here.

IWYP annual report highlights new wheat lines, product development

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), a partnership of public sector agencies and private industry focusing on innovations in wheat breeding for significant yield increases, recently released its 2017-2018 Annual Report.  Many new research discoveries have been recorded over the last year, from germplasm with traits to improve genetic yield potential to molecular genetic markers associated with a target trait and new methods and technology to improve screening of individual wheat lines.

Accomplishments include making wheat lines with higher biomass and grain yields available for release in national programs, validating the hypothesis that combining parents with high biomass and good harvest index can boost genetic gains.  IWYP researchers have also made publicly available new wheat lines with increased grain size and spike morphology, which several breeding companies in the UK, Europe and Brazil have requested. Yield trials have also led to the discovery of several physiological trait lines that outperform the best local and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) check varieties in over 27 environments.

The Partnership, which includes 30 projects in more than 50 laboratories in 12 countries, is now in its third year. Outputs from its earliest projects are currently being validated and integrated in a prebreeding pipeline at the IWYP Hub at CIMMYT for development into pre-products. This ensures the best “toolbox” of new traits, genetics, and technology to reach its critical challenge of raising genetic wheat yield potential 50 percent by 2035.

Read the full report here.

Borlaug 100 wheat in Australia

In a quest for high-yielding wheat to use in the feedlot sector, growers in Queensland, Australia, have released the variety Borlaug 100, developed by breeders at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “The fact that the variety has been released in other countries, and that its excellence is contributing as parental material for crosses in many, many other countries, is further proof of our global contribution to multiple stakeholders and farmers,” says Thomas Payne, Head of Wheat Genetic Resources and the Wheat Germplasm Bank at CIMMYT. The Australian growers, who are also the founders of Rebel Seeds, sought to grow wheat without protein requirements to sell to feedlots, a void that needed filling in Australia at the time of the company’s founding in 2015. Since being brought to the country shortly afterwards via the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA-Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project as a solution to this problem, Borlaug 100 is now set to be commercially released by Rebel Seeds into the niche feedlot market. Grown as milling wheat in Mexico, Borlaug 100 is thought to be a suitable replacement for the wheat currently marketed by Rebel Seeds as a source of feed grain for livestock. As a result, Borlaug 100 will make its debut in Australia’s National Variety Trials Guide in 2019. Richard Trethowan, a former CIMMYT wheat breeder and now a professor at the University of Sydney, consulted Rebel Seeds throughout their acquisition of Borlaug 100.

See full story published by Grain Central, found here.

New study confirms the nutritional and health benefits of zinc-biofortified wheat in India

A recent study by India and US scientists shows that when vulnerable young children in India consume foods with wheat-enriched zinc, the number of days they spend sick with pneumonia and vomiting significantly diminishes.

Velu Govindan (CIMMYT) inspects zinc-fortified wheat. Photo: CIMMYT files.

An estimated 26 percent of India’s population lacks adequate micronutrients in their diets. Developed through biofortification — the breeding of crop varieties whose grain features higher levels of micronutrients — high-zinc wheat can help address micronutrient deficiencies.

The results of the study, which took place over six months, confirm zinc-enhanced wheat’s potential to improve the diets and health of disadvantaged groups who consume wheat-based foods, but the authors conclude that longer-term studies are needed.

In partnership with HarvestPlus and partners in South Asia, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has bred and fostered the release in the region of six zinc-enhanced varieties that are spreading among farmers and seed producers.

Click here to read the full study.

Available now: The 2017 WHEAT annual report

 

In a highly readable format, the 2017 annual report of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat presents achievements and an overview of Program finances.

In 2017, national research agencies in 19 countries released 63 new wheat varieties, derived all or in part from the research of CIMMYT and its principal WHEAT partner, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

We thank WHEAT’s numerous partners and funders for these and many other exciting achievements. In particular, stable CGIAR Window 1 and 2 funding enables WHEAT to react quickly to urgent needs, as well as to improve program level coordination and learning, ensuring impact. The following countries and organizations are Window 1 funders of CGIAR: Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, France, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank. Funding agencies of Australia, the United Kingdom (DFID), USA (USAID), and China contribute vital Window 2 funding.

To read the full report, please click here.

See also a detailed, technical report on 2017 WHEAT activities, finances and achievements submitted to CGIAR.