New infographics illustrate impact of wheat blast

Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease that threatens food safety and security in the Americas and South Asia.

First officially identified in Brazil in 1984, the disease is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as much as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s.

 In 2016, it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and Bangladesh suffered a severe outbreak. Bangladesh released a blast-resistant wheat variety—developed with breeding lines from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)—in 2017, but the country and region remain extremely vulnerable.

The continued spread of blast in South Asia—where more than 100 million tons of wheat are consumed each year—could be devastating.

Researchers with the CIMMYT-led and USAID-supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) projects partner with national researchers and meteorological agencies on ways to work towards solutions to mitigate the threat of wheat blast and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers in the region. These include agronomic methods and early warning systems so farmers can prepare for and reduce the impact of wheat blast.

This series of infographics shows how wheat blast spreads, its potential effect on wheat production in South Asia and ways farmers can manage it.   

This work is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). CSISA partners include CIMMYT, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

CIMMYT and its partners work to mitigate wheat blast through projects supported by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT, and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.

See more on wheat blast here: https://www.cimmyt.org/wheat-blast/

Madhav Bhatta identifies new unique genes for the use of synthetics in wheat breeding

This profile of PhD student and visiting CIMMYT-Turkey researcher Madhav Bhatta, by Emma Orchardson was originally posted on InSide CIMMYT.

Madhav Bhatta at a IWWIP testing site in Turkey.

“Agriculture has always been my passion. Since my childhood, I’ve been intrigued by the fact that agriculture can provide food for billions of people, and without it, we cannot survive.”   

Wheat is one of the world’s most widely grown cereal crops. Global production between 2017 and 2018 exceeded 700 million tons and fed more than one third of the world’s population. Based on the current rate of population increase, cereal production will need to increase by at least 50 percent by 2030.

However, biotic and abiotic stresses such as crop diseases and drought continue to place significant constraints on agricultural production and productivity. Global wheat yield losses due to diseases such as wheat rust have been estimated at up to $5 billion per year since the 1990s, and rising temperatures are thought to reduce wheat production in developing countries by up to 30 percent.

“The importance of biotic and abiotic stress resistance of wheat to ensuring food security in future climate change scenarios is not disputed,” says Madhav Bhatta. “The potential of wide-scale use of genetic resources from synthetic wheat to accelerate and focus breeding outcomes is well known.”

In his recently completed a PhD project, Bhatta focused on the identification of genes and genomic regions controlling resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses in synthetic hexaploid wheat, that is, wheat created from crossing modern wheat with its ancient grass relatives. His research used rich genetic resources from synthetic wheat to identify superior primary synthetics possessing resistance to multiple stresses. It also aimed to identify the respective genes and molecular markers that can be used for market-assisted transfer of the genes into high-yielding modern wheat germplasm.

“My study sought to evaluate the variation within this novel synthetic germplasm for improved grain yield, quality and mineral content, reduced toxic heavy metal accumulation, and identify the genes contributing to better yield, end-use and nutritional quality.”

“Working in a collaborative environment with other scientists and farmers was the most enjoyable aspect of my research.”

Working under the joint supervision of Stephen Baenziger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Alexey Morgounov, CIMMYT, Bhatta spent two consecutive summers conducting field research at various research sites across Turkey. The research was conducted within the framework of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (Turkey-CIMMYT-ICARDA). Over the course of six months, he evaluated 126 unique synthetic wheat lines developed from two introgression programs, which he selected for their genetic diversity.

“The most fascinating thing was that we were able to identify several lines that were not only resistant to multiple stresses, but also gave greater yield and quality,” says Bhatta. “These findings have a direct implication for cereal breeding programs.”

Bhatta and his collaborators recommended 17 synthetic lines that were resistant to more than five stresses, including rusts, and had a large number of favorable alleles for their use in breeding programs. They also recommended 29 common bunt resistant lines, seven high yielding drought tolerant lines, and 13 lines with a high concentration of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc and low cadmium concentration.

“We identified that the D-genome genetic diversity of synthetics was more than 88 percent higher than in a sample of elite bread wheat cultivars,’ Bhatta explains. “The results of this study will provide valuable information for wheat genetic improvement through the inclusion of this novel genetic variation for cultivar development.”

Madhav Bhatta completed his PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was a Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar. He is now based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, where he recently began a postdoctoral research position in the Cereal Breeding and Genetics program. He is currently working on optimizing genomic selection models for cereal breeding programs and he looks forward to future collaborations with both public and private institutions.

The seeds of the superior synthetics are now available from CIMMYT-Turkey. For more information, contact Alexey Morgounov (a.morgounov@cgiar.org).

Read more about the results of Bhatta’s investigation in the recently published articles listed below:

  1. Bhatta M., P.S. Baenizger, B. Waters, R. Poudel, V. Belamkar, J. Poland, and A. Morgounov. 2018. Genome-Wide Association Study Reveals Novel Genomic Regions Associated with 10 Grain Minerals in Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19 (10), 3237.
  2. Bhatta M., A. Morgounov, V. Belamkar, A. Yorgancilar, and P.S. Baenziger. 2018. Genome-Wide Association Study Reveals Favorable Alleles Associated with Common Bunt Resistance in Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat. Euphytica 214 (11). 200.
  3. Bhatta M, A. Morgounov, V. Belamkar, and P. S. Baenziger. 2018. Genome-Wide Association Study Reveals Novel Genomic Regions for Grain Yield and Yield-Related Traits in Drought-Stressed Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19 (10), 591.
  4. Bhatta M, A. Morgounov, V. Belamkar, J. Poland, and P. S. Baenziger. 2018. Unlocking the Novel Genetic Diversity and Population Structure of Synthetic Hexaploid Wheat. BMC Genomics, 19:591. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-018-4969-2.
  5. Morgunov A., A. Abugalieva, A. Akan, B. Akın, P.S. Baenziger, M. Bhatta et al. 2018. High-yielding Winter Synthetic Hexaploid Wheats Resistant to Multiple Diseases and Pests. Plant genetic resources, 16(3): 273-278.

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.

City dwellers in Africa and Asia increasingly choose wheat, research shows

This blog by Mike Listman was originally posted on CIMMYT.org.

A baker makes the traditional wheat flatbread known as “naan roti” in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. (Photo: S. Mojumder/Drik/CIMMYT)

The developing world’s appetite for wheat is growing swiftly, driven in part by rising incomes, rapid urbanization and the expansion of families where both spouses work outside the house, according to a recent seminar by two international experts.

“Our research is picking up significant shifts in demand among cereals, including the increasing popularity of wheat in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Khondoker Mottaleb, socioeconomist for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), speaking at a seminar at the center on December 11, 2018.

In preliminary results of a study using household data from six countries in Asia and five in sub-Saharan Africa, Mottaleb and his associate, Fazleen Binti Abdul Fatah, senior lecturer at the University of Technology MARA, Malaysia, found that the households of both regions will eat more wheat by 2030, mainly in place of rice in Asia and of maize and other coarse grain cereals in Africa.

Speedy urbanization, higher incomes, population growth, and allied lifestyle changes are all driving this trend, said Fazleen. “Many urban women are working, so families are transitioning to bread and other convenient wheat-based foods and processed foods.”

A typical case according to Mottaleb is that of Bangladesh, a country whose population at 160 million is half that of the United States but with a geographical area equivalent to the US state of Ohio. The per capita GDP of Bangladesh grew from US$360 to US$1,516 during 2000-2017, and more than 35 percent of the country’s inhabitants now live in cities.

Meeting demand for wheat in Bangladesh

A 2018 paper by Mottaleb and fellow CIMMYT researchers shows that wheat consumption will increase substantially in Bangladesh by 2030 and the country needs to expand production or increase imports to meet the growing demand.

“The country purchases nearly 70 percent of its wheat at an annual cost near or exceeding US$1 billion, depending on yearly prices,” said Mottaleb. “Wheat prices are relatively low and wheat markets have been relatively stable, but if yields of a major wheat exporting country suddenly fall, say, from pest attacks or a drought, wheat markets would destabilize and prices would spike, as occurred in 2008 and 2011.”

In a 2018 study, the United Kingdom’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) cautioned that declining wheat cropping area worldwide and significant stockpiling by China — which holds nearly half the world’s wheat stocks but does not export any grain — were masking serious risk in global wheat markets.

A recent report ranked Bangladesh as the world’s fifth largest wheat importer. Since 2014-15 domestic wheat consumption there has increased by 57 percent from 4.9 million metric ton to 7.7 million metric tons. Last December, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations forecast Bangladesh wheat import requirements of 6 million tons for this year — 34 percent above the previous five-year average following steady increases since 2012-13.

“The prevailing narrative has wealthier and more urban consumers shifting from basic foods to higher value foods, and this is doubtless occurring,” said Fazleen, “but our work shows a more nuanced scenario. In the traditional rice consuming economies in Asia, rural households are also eating more wheat, due to rapid dietary transformations.”

For Bangladesh, the researchers propose growing additional wheat on fallow and less-intensively-cropped land, as well as expanding the use of newer, high-yielding and climate-smart wheat varieties.

“Our work clearly shows the rising popularity of wheat across Asia and Africa,” said Mottaleb. “We urge international development agencies and policymakers to enhance wheat production in suitable areas, ensuring food security for the burgeoning number of people who prefer wheat and reducing dependence on risky wheat grain markets.”

In addition to the paper cited above, Mottaleb and colleagues have published recent studies on Bangladesh’s wheat production and consumption dynamics and changing food consumption patterns.

The authors thank the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets for its support for these studies.

Past, present and future of crop modelling for food security

This new publication summary was originally posted on the CIMMYT blog

Resource-poor farmers worldwide stand to gain from developments in the field of crop modelling. Photo: H. De Groote/CIMMYT.

“Crop modelling has the potential to significantly contribute to global food and nutrition security,” claim the authors of a recently published paper on the role of modelling in international crop research. “Millions of farmers, and the societies that depend on their production, are relying on us to step up to the plate.”

Among other uses, crop modelling allows for foresight analysis of agricultural systems under global change scenarios and the prediction of potential consequences of food system shocks. New technologies and conceptual breakthroughs have also allowed modelling to contribute to a better understanding of crop performance and yield gaps, improved predictions of pest outbreaks, more efficient irrigation systems and the optimization of planting dates.

While renewed interest in the topic has led in recent years to the development of collaborative initiatives such as the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, further investment is needed in order to improve the collection of open access, easy-to-use data available for crop modelling purposes. Strong impact on a global scale will require a wide range of stakeholders – from academia to the private sector – to contribute to the development of large, multi-location datasets.

In “Role of Modelling in International Crop Research: Overview and Some Case Studies,” CGIAR researchers, including CIMMYT wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds,  outline the history and basic principles of crop modelling, and describe major theoretical advances and their practical applications by international crop research centers. They also highlight the importance of agri-food systems, which they view as key to meeting global development challenges. “The renewed focus on the systems-level has created significant opportunities for modelers to participant in enhancing the impact of science on developments. However, a coherent approach based on principles of transparency, cooperation and innovation is essential to achieving this.”

The authors call for closer interdisciplinary collaboration to better serve the crop research and development communities through the provision of model-based recommendations which could range from government-level policy development to direct crop management support for resource-poor farmers.

Read the full article in Agronomy 2018, Volume 8 (12).

University of Queensland honors student studies tan spot resistance in wheat at CIMMYT

This story, part of a series on the international agricultural research projects of recipients of the Crawford Fund’s International Agricultural Student Award, was originally posted on the Crawford Fund blog

In 2018, Tamaya Peressini, from The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a research institute of the University of Queensland (UQ), travelled to CIMMYT in Mexico as part of her Honours thesis research focused on a disease called tan spot in wheat.

Tamaya performing disease evaluations 10 days post infection at CIMMYT’s glasshouse facilities

Tan spot is caused by the pathogen Pyrenophora triciti-repentis (Ptr), and her project aimed to evaluate the resistance of tan spot in wheat to global races to this pathogen.

“The germplasm I’m studying for my thesis carries what is known as adult plant resistance (or APR) to tan spot, which has demonstrated to be a durable source of resistance in other wheat pathosystems such as powdery mildew,” said Tamaya.

Symptoms of tan spot on wheat plants

Tan spot is prevalent worldwide, and in Australia causes the most yield loss out of the foliar wheat diseases. In Australia, there is only one identified pathogen race that is prevalent called Ptr Race 1. For Ptr Race 1, the susceptibility gene Tsn1 in wheat is the main factor that results in successful infection in Ptr strains that carry Toxin A. However, globally it is a more difficult problem, as there are seven other pathogen races that consist of different combinations of necrotrophic toxins. Hence, developing cultivars that are multi-race resistant to Ptr presents a significant challenge to breeders as multiple resistant genes would be required for resistance to other pathogens.

“At CIMMYT I evaluated the durability of APR I identified in plant material in Australia by inoculating with a local strain of Ptr and also with a pathogen that shares ToxA: Staganospora nodorum.”

“The benefit of studying this at CIMMYT was that I had access to different strains of the pathogen which carry different virulence factors of disease, I was exposed to international agricultural research, and importantly, I was able to create research collaborations that would allow the APR detected in this population to have the potential to reach developing countries to assist in developing durably resistant wheat cultivars for worldwide deployment,” explained Tamaya.

Recent work in Dr Lee Hickey’s laboratory in Queensland has identified several landraces from the Vavilov wheat collection that exhibited a novel resistance to tan spot known as adult plant resistance (APR). APR has proven to be a durable and broad-spectrum source of resistance in wheat crops; namely with the Lr34 gene which confers resistance to powdery mildew and leaf stem rust of wheat.

“My research is focussed on evaluating this type of resistance and identifying whether it is resistant to multiple pathogen species and other races of Ptr. This is important to the Queensland region, as the northern wheat belt is significantly affected by tan spot disease. Introducing durable resistance genes to varieties in this region would be an effective pre-breeding strategy because it would help develop crop varieties that would have enhanced resistance to tan spot should more strains reach Australia. Furthermore, it may provide durable resistance to other necrotrophic pathogens of wheat,” said Tamaya.

The plant material Tamaya studied in her honours thesis was a recombinant inbred line (RIL) population, with the parental lines being the APR landrace (carries Tsn1) and the susceptible Australian cultivar Banks (also carries Tsn1). To evaluate the durability of resistance in this population to other strains of Ptr, this material along with the parental lines of the population and additional land races from the Vavilov wheat collection were sent to CIMMYT for Tamaya to perform a disease assay.

“At CIMMYT I evaluated the durability of APR identified in plant material in Australia by inoculating with a local strain of Ptr and also with a pathogen that shares ToxA: Staganospora nodorum. After infection, my plant material was kept in 100 per cent humidity for 24 hours (12 hours light and 12 hours dark) and then transferred back to regular glasshouse conditions. At 10 days post infection I evaluated the resistance in the plant material.”

From the evaluation, the APR RIL line demonstrated significant resistance compared to the rest of the Australian plant material against both pathogens. The results are highly promising, as they demonstrate the durability of the APR for both pre-breeding and multi-pathogen resistance breeding. Furthermore, this plant material is now available for experimental purposes at CIMMYT where further trials can validate how durable the resistance is to other necrotrophic pathogens and also be deployed worldwide and be tested against even more strains of Ptr.
“During my visit at CIMMYT I was able to immerse myself in the Spanish language and take part in professional seminars, tours, lab work and field work around the site. A highlight for me was learning to prepare and perform toxin infiltrations for an experiment comparing the virulence of different strains of spot blotch.”

“I also formed valuable friendships and research partnerships from every corner of the globe and had valuable exposure to the important research underway at CIMMT and insight to the issues that are affecting maize and wheat growers globally. Of course, there was also the chance to travel on weekends; where I was able to experience the lively Mexican culture and historical sites – another fantastic highlight to the trip!”

Visiting the Sun and Moon temples of Teotihuacan

“I would like to thank CIMMYT and Dr Pawan Singh for hosting me and giving the opportunity to learn, grow and experience the fantastic research that is performed at CIMMYT and opportunities to experience parts of Mexico. The researchers and lab technicians were all so friendly and accommodating. I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Lee Hickey for introducing this project collaboration with CIMMYT. Lastly, I would like to thank the Crawford Fund Queensland Committee for funding this visit; not only was I able to immerse myself in world class plant pathology research, I have been given valuable exposure to international agricultural research that will give my research career a boost in the right direction,” concluded Tamaya.

The saving grace of a hefty investment

By Md. Ashraful Alam, Sultana Jahan and M. Shahidul Haque Khan

Bangladesh farmer Raju Sarder rests his sickle and sits happily on a recently acquired reaper. Photo: iDE/Md. Ikram Hossain

A man in his early 20s walked the winding roads of Sajiara village, Dumuria upazila, Khulna District in Bangladesh. His head hanging low, he noticed darkness slowly descending and then looked up to see an old farmer wrapping up his own daily activities. With traditional tools in hand, the farmer looked exhausted. The young man, Raju Sarder, considered that there had to be a better way to farm while alleviating his drudgery and that of others in the community.

Determined to act, Raju set out to meet Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) officials the very next day. They informed him about the Mechanization and Irrigation project of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA MI). They also introduced him to the project’s most popular technologies, namely the power tiller operated seeder, reaper and axial flow pumps, all of which reduce labor costs and increase farming efficiency.

Raju found the reaper to be the most interesting and relevant for his work, and contacted CSISA SI to acquire one.

The first challenge he encountered was the cost — $1,970 — which as a small-scale farmer he could not afford. CSISA MI field staff assured him that his ambitions were not nipped in the bud and guided him in obtaining a government subsidy and a loan of $1,070 from TMSS, one of CSISA MI’s micro financing partners. Following operator and maintenance training from CSISA MI, Raju began providing reaping services to local smallholder rice and wheat farmers.

He noticed immediately that he did not have to exert himself as much as before but actually gained time for leisure and his production costs dwindled. Most remarkably, for reaping 24 hectares Raju generated a profit of $1,806; a staggering 15 times greater than what he could obtain using traditional, manual methods and enough to pay back his loan in the first season.

“There was a time when I was unsure whether I would be able to afford my next meal,” said Raju, “but it’s all different now because profits are pouring in thanks to the reaper.”

As a result of the project and farmers’ interest, field labor in Raju’s community is also being transformed. Gone are the days when farmers toiled from dawn to dusk bending and squatting to cut the rice and wheat with rustic sickles. Laborious traditional methods are being replaced by modern and effective mechanization.

Through projects such as CSISA MI, CIMMYT is helping farmers like Raju to become young entrepreneurs with a bright future. Once poor laborers disaffected and treated badly in their own society, these youths now walk with dignity and pride as significant contributors to local economic development.

CSISA MI is a partnership involving the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and iDE, a non-governmental organization that fosters farmers’ entrepreneurial development, with funding from the USAID mission in Bangladesh under the Feed the Future Initiative.

Pakistan wheat seed makeover: More productive, resilient varieties for thousands of farmers

Munfiat, a farmer from Nowshera district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, is happy to sow and share seed of the high-yielding, disease resistant Faisalabad-08 wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

Munfiat, a farmer from Nowshera district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, is happy to sow and share seed of the high-yielding, disease resistant Faisalabad-08 wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

Nearly 3,000 smallholder wheat farmers throughout Pakistan will begin to sow seed of newer, high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties and spread the seed among their peers in 2019, through a dynamic initiative that is revitalizing the contribution of science-based innovation for national agriculture.

Some 73 tons of seed of 15 improved wheat varieties recently went out to farmers in the provinces of Baluchistan, Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, as part of the Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP), an initiative led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Our main goal is to help farmers replace outdated, disease-susceptible wheat varieties,” said Muhammad Imtiaz, CIMMYT scientist and country representative for Pakistan who leads the AIP. “Studies have shown that some Pakistan farmers grow the same variety for as long as 10 years, meaning they lose out on the superior qualities of newer varieties and their crops may fall victim to virulent, rapidly evolving wheat diseases.”

With support from CIMMYT and partners, participating farmers will not only enjoy as much as 20 percent higher harvests, but have agreed to produce and share surplus seed with neighbors, thus multiplying the new varieties’ reach and benefits, according to Imtiaz.

He said the new seed is part of AIP’s holistic focus on better cropping systems, including training farmers in improved management practices for wheat.

Wheat is Pakistan’s number-one food crop. Farmers there produce over 25 million tons of wheat each year — nearly as much as the entire annual wheat output of Africa or South America.

Annual per capita wheat consumption in Pakistan averages over 120 kilograms, among the highest in the world and providing over 60 percent of Pakistanis’ daily caloric intake.

The seed distributed includes varieties that offer enhanced levels of grain zinc content. The varieties were developed by CIMMYT in partnership with HarvestPlus, a CGIAR research program to study and deliver biofortified foods.

According to a 2011 nutrition survey, 39 percent of children in Pakistan and 48 percent of pregnant women suffer from zinc deficiency, leading to child stunting rates of more than 40 percent and high infant mortality.

The road to better food security and nutrition seems straighter for farmer Munsif Ullah and his family, with seed of a high-yielding, zinc-enhanced wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

The road to better food security and nutrition seems straighter for farmer Munsif Ullah and his family, with seed of a high-yielding, zinc-enhanced wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

“I am very excited to be part of Zincol-16 seed distribution, because its rich ingredients of nutrition will have a good impact on the health of my family,” said Munsif Ullah, a farmer from Swabi District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Other seed distributed includes that of the Pakistan-13 variety for rainfed areas of Punjab, Shahkar-13 for the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan, Ehsan-16 for rainfed areas in general, and the Umeed-14 and Zardana varieties for Baluchistan.

All varieties feature improved resistance to wheat rust diseases caused by fungi whose strains are mutating and spreading quickly in South Asia.

CIMMYT and partners are training farmers in quality seed production and setting up demonstration plots in farmers’ fields to create awareness about new varieties and production technologies, as well as collecting data to monitor the varieties’ performance.

They are also promoting resource-conserving practices such as balanced applications of fertilizer based on infrared sensor readings, ridge planting, and zero tillage. These innovations can save water, fertilizer, and land preparation costs, not to mention increasing yields.

“CIMMYT’s main focus in Pakistan is work with national wheat researchers to develop and spread better wheat production systems,” Imtiaz explained. “This includes improved farming practices and wheat lines that offer higher yields, disease resistance, and resilience under higher temperatures and dry conditions, as well as good end-use quality.”

CIMMYT’s partners in AIP include the National Rural Support Program (NRSP), the Lok Sanjh Foundation, the Village Friends Organization (VFO), the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) Wheat Program, the Wheat Research Institute (WRI) Faisalabad and Sakrand centers, AZRI-Umarkot, Kashmala Agro Seed Company, ARI-Quetta, BARDC-Quetta, and Model Farm Services Center, KP.

(Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

(Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

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.

A wheat self-sufficiency roadmap for Ethiopia’s future

Mechanization could boost Ethiopian wheat production and provide youth with new job opportunities. (Photo: Gerardo Mejía/CIMMYT)

This blog by Jérôme Bousset was originally posted on CIMMYT.org.

The Ethiopian government announced recently that the country should become wheat self-sufficient over the next four years. Why is boosting domestic wheat production important for this country in the Horn of Africa, and could wheat self-sufficiency be attained in the next four years? The Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), with the support of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), gathered agriculture and food experts from the government, research and private sectors on November 23, 2018, to draw the first outlines of this new Ethiopian wheat initiative.

The low-tech domestic wheat farming and price support issue

Despite a record harvest of 4.6 million metric tons in 2017, Ethiopia imported 1.5 million tons of wheat the same year, costing US$600 million. Population growth, continuous economic growth and urbanization over the last decade has led to a rapid change in Ethiopian diets, and the wheat sector cannot keep up with the growing demand for pasta, dabo, ambasha and other Ethiopian breads.

The majority of Ethiopia’s 4.2 million wheat farmers cultivate this cereal on an average of 1.2-hectare holdings, with three quarters produced in Arsi, Bale and Shewa regions. Most prepare the land and sow with draft animal power equipment and few inputs, dependent on erratic rainfall without complementary irrigation. Yields have doubled over the last 15 years and reached 2.7 tons per hectare according to the latest agricultural statistics, but are still far from the yield potential.

According to data from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), wheat is preferred by wealthier, urban families, who consume 33 percent more wheat than rural households. Ethiopia needs to rethink its wheat price support system, which does not incentivize farmers and benefits mostly the wealthier, urban consumers. Wheat price support subsidies could, for instance, target bakeries located in poor neighborhoods.

 

Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Eyasu Abraha, welcomes conference participants. (Photo: Jérôme Bossuet/CIMMYT)

Where to start to boost wheat productivity?

Ethiopia, especially in the highlands, has an optimum environment to grow wheat. But to make significant gains, the wheat sector needs to identify what limiting factors to address first. The Wheat initiative, led by Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), has targeted 2,000 progressive farmers across 41 woredas (districts) between 2013 and 2018, to promote the use of improved and recommended inputs and better cropping techniques within their communities. A recent IFPRI impact study showed a 14 percent yield increase, almost enough to substitute wheat imports if scaled up across the country. It is, however, far from the doubling of yields expected initially. The study shows that innovations like row planting were not widely adopted because of the additional labor required.

Hans Braun, WHEAT CGIAR research program and CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program director, believes Ethiopian farmers can achieve self-sufficiency if they have the right seeds, the right agronomy and the right policy support.

One priority is to increase support for wheat improvement research to make wheat farmers more resilient to new diseases and climate shocks. Drought and heat tolerance, rust resistance and high yields even in low-fertility soils are some of the factors sought by wheat farmers.

International collaboration in durum wheat breeding is urgently needed as the area under durum wheat is declining in Ethiopia due to climate change, diseases and farmers switching to more productive and resilient bread wheat varieties. Braun advises that Ethiopia set up a shuttle breeding program with CIMMYT in Mexico, as Kenya did for bread wheat, to develop high-yielding and stress-resistant varieties. Such a shuttle breeding program between Ethiopia and Mexico would quickly benefit Ethiopian durum wheat farmers, aiming at raising their yields similar to those of Mexican farmers in the state of Sonora, who harvest more than 7 tons per hectare under irrigation. This would require a policy reform to facilitate the exchange of durum germplasm between Ethiopia and Mexico, as it is not possible at the moment.

Ethiopia also needs to be equipped to respond quickly to emerging pests and diseases. Five years ago, a new stem rust (TKTTF, also called Digalu race) damaged more than 20,000 hectares of wheat in Arsi and Bale, as Digalu — the popular variety used by local farmers — was sensitive to this new strain. The MARPLE portable rust testing lab, a fast and cost-effective rust surveillance system, is now helping Ethiopian plant health authorities quickly identify new rust strains and take preventive actions to stop new outbreaks.

CIMMYT’s representative in Ethiopia, Bekele Abeyo, gives an interview for Ethiopian media during the conference. (Photo: Jérôme Bossuet/CIMMYT)

Invest in soil health, mechanization and gender

In addition to better access to improved seeds and recommended inputs, better agronomic practices are needed. Scaling the use of irrigation would certainly increase wheat yields, but experts warn not to dismiss adequate agronomic research — knowing the optimal water needs of the crop for each agroecological zone — and the underlying drainage system. Otherwise, farmers are at risk of losing their soils forever due to an accumulation of salt.

‘’2.5 billion tons of topsoil are lost forever every year due to erosion. A long-term plan to address soil erosion and low soil fertility should be a priority,” highlights Marco Quinones, adviser at ATA. For instance, large-scale lime application can solve the important issue of acid soils, where wheat does not perform well. But it requires several years before the soil can be reclaimed and visible yield effects can be seen.

Mechanization could also boost Ethiopian wheat production and provide youth with new job opportunities. Recent research showed smallholder farmers can benefit from six promising two-wheel tractor (2WT) technologies. Identifying the right business models and setting up adapted training programs and financial support will help the establishment of viable machinery service providers across the country.

Better gender equity will also contribute significantly to Ethiopia becoming self-sufficient in wheat production. Women farmers, especially female-headed households, do not have the same access to trainings, credit, inputs or opportunities to experiment with new techniques or seed varieties because of gender norms. Gender transformative methodologies, like community conversations, can help identify collective ways to address such inequalities, which cost over one percent of GDP every year.

‘’With one third better seeds, one third good agronomy and one third good policies, Ethiopia will be able to be wheat self-sufficient,” concluded Braun. A National Wheat Taskforce led by EIAR will start implementing a roadmap in the coming days, with the first effects expected for the next planting season in early 2019.

The consultative workshop “Wheat Self-Sufficiency in Ethiopia: Challenges and Opportunities” took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 23, 2018.