Afghanistan scientists assess achievements of Australia-funded wheat research

Scientists take readings of rust disease incidence on experimental wheat lines at the Shishambagh research station, Nangarhar, of the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan. Photo: Raqib

With generous funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) over the last 15 years, Afghanistan research organizations and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have helped supply Afghan farmers with improved varieties and farming practices to boost production of maize and wheat.

“As of 2012, the start of the most recent phase of ACIAR-funded work, Afghanistan partners have developed and released 12 high-yielding and disease resistant bread wheat varieties, as well as 3 varieties of durum wheat, 2 of barley and 3 of maize,” said Rajiv Sharma, a senior wheat scientist at CIMMYT and country liaison officer for CIMMYT in Afghanistan.

Sharma spoke at a workshop, which took place on August 28, with partners from the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) of the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL). The event was organized to review accomplishments and facilitate MAIL’s takeover of all activities, when the project ends in October 2018.

“The pedigrees of all new varieties feature contributions from the breeding research of CIMMYT and the International Winter Wheat Improvement Programme based in Turkey, both responsible for introducing more than 9,000 new wheat and maize lines into the country since 2012,” Sharma added. The International Winter Wheat Improvement Programme (IWWIP) is operated by Turkey, CIMMYT, and ICARDA (the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas).

Sharma noted that CIMMYT’s presence in Afghanistan, which includes support for breeding research and training for local scientists, dates back several decades and that the latest achievements with ARIA and other partners and ACIAR support include:

  • The delineation of wheat agro-climatic zones.
  • Forecasting climate change impacts on the Afghan wheat crop.
  • Strategizing to raise wheat production.
  • Characterization of Afghanistan’s wheat genetic resource collection.
  • Training abroad for 64 Afghan researchers and in-country for 4,000.
  • Launching research on wheat hybridization.
  • In direct partnership with farmers, more than 1,800 farmer field demonstrations, 80 field days, and introduced machinery like seed drills and mobile seed cleaners.
  • Shared research on and promotion of conservation agriculture, genomic selection, wheat bio-fortification, quality protein maize, climate change, crop insurance and wheat blast resistance and control.

In good years Afghan farmers harvest upwards of 5 million tons of wheat, the country’s number-one food crop, but in some years annual wheat imports exceed 1 million tons to satisfy domestic demand, which exceeds 5.8 million tons.

Multiple partners map avenues to fortify cereal farming

The workshop attracted 45 participants representing ARIA, MAIL, ICARDA, CIMMYT, Michigan State University, ACIAR, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Embassy of Australia, and several provincial Directorates of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (DAIL) of Afghanistan.

Among other participants, Mahboobullah Nang, Director of Seed Certification, and Akbar Waziri, Director of the Cereal Department, both from MAIL, offered the Ministry’s support for the continuation of CIMMYT’s longstanding efforts in Afghanistan, particularly in breeding and varietal testing and promotion.

Representing ACIAR, Syed Mousawi commended capacity development activities organized by CIMMYT since the 1970s, which have raised the quality of crop research in Afghanistan and provided a vital link to the global science community over the years.

Participants also recommended extending CIMMYT outreach work, offering training in extension, introducing advanced technologies, and support for and training in varietal maintenance, conservation agriculture, experimental designs, research farm management, data analysis and data management.

Asian scientists join cross-continental training to restrain wheat blast disease

Gary Peterson (center), explaining wheat blast screening to trainees inside the USDA-ARS Level-3 Biosafety Containment facility. Photo: CIMMYT archives

With backing from leading international donors and scientists, nine South Asia wheat researchers recently visited the Americas for training on measures to control a deadly and mysterious South American wheat disease that appeared suddenly on their doorstep in 2016.

Known as “wheat blast,” the disease results from a fungus that infects the wheat spikes in the field, turning the grain to inedible chaff. First sighted in Brazil in the mid-1980s, blast has affected up to 3 million hectares in South America and held back the region’s wheat crop expansion for decades.

In 2016, a surprise outbreak in seven districts of Bangladesh blighted wheat harvests on some 15,000 hectares and announced blast’s likely spread throughout South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares and nearly a billion inhabitants eat wheat.

“Most commercially grown wheat in South Asia is susceptible to blast,” said Pawan Singh, head of wheat pathology at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), an organization whose breeding lines are used by public research programs and seed companies in over 100 countries. “The disease poses a grave threat to food and income security in the region and yet is new and unknown to most breeders, pathologists and agronomists there.”

As part of an urgent global response to blast and to acquaint South Asian scientists with techniques to identify and describe the pathogen and help develop resistant varieties, Singh organized a two-week workshop in July. The event drew wheat scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Mexico, taking them from U.S. greenhouses and labs to fields in Bolivia, where experimental wheat lines are grown under actual blast infections to test for resistance.

The training began at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, where participants learned about molecular marker diagnosis of the causal fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT). Sessions also covered greenhouse screening for blast resistance and blast research conducted at Kansas State University. Inside Level-3 Biosafety Containment greenhouses from which no spore can escape, participants observed specialized plant inoculation and disease evaluation practices.

The group then traveled to Bolivia, where researchers have been fighting wheat blast for decades and had valuable experience to share with the colleagues from South Asia.

“In Bolivia, workshop participants performed hands-on disease evaluation and selection in the field—an experience quite distinct from the precise lab and greenhouse practicums,” said Singh, describing the groups time at the Cooperativa Agropecuaria Integral Colonias Okinawa (CAICO), Bolivia, experiment station.

Other stops in Bolivia included the stations of the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF), Asociación de Productores de Oleaginosas y Trigo (ANAPO), Centro de Investigación Agrícola Tropical (CIAT), and a blast-screening nursery in Quirusillas operated by INIAF-CIMMYT.

“Scientists in South Asia have little or no experience with blast disease, which mainly attacks the wheat spike and is completely different from the leaf diseases we normally encounter,” said Prem Lal Kashyap, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). “To score a disease like blast in the field, you need to evaluate each spike and check individual spikelets, which is painstaking and labor-intensive, but only thus can you assess the intensity of disease pressure and identify any plants that potentially carry genes for resistance.”

After the U.S.A. and Bolivia, the South Asia scientists took part in a two-week pathology module of an ongoing advanced wheat improvement course at CIMMYT’s headquarters and research stations in Mexico, covering topics such as the epidemiology and characterization of fungal pathogens and screening for resistance to common wheat diseases.

The knowledge gained will allow participants to refine screening methods in South Asia and maintain communication with the blast experts they met in the Americas, according to Carolina St. Pierre who co-ordinates the precision field-based phenotyping platforms of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

“They can now also raise awareness back home concerning the threat of blast and alert farmers, who may then take preventative and remedial actions,” Singh added. “The Bangladesh Ministry of Agriculture has already formed a task force through the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) to help develop and distribute blast resistant cultivars and pursue integrated agronomic control measures.”

The latest course follows on from a hands-on training course in February 2017 at the Wheat Research Center (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Dinajpur, in collaboration with CIMMYT, Cornell University, and Kansas State University.

Participants in the July course received training from a truly international array of instructors, including Kerry Pedley and Gary Peterson, of USDA-ARS, and Christian Cruz, of Kansas State University; Felix Marza, of Bolivia’s Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF); Pawan Singh and Carolina St. Pierre, of CIMMYT; Diego Baldelomar, of ANAPO; and Edgar Guzmán, of CIAT-Bolivia.

Funding for the July event came from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), CIMMYT, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

Stem rust in Western Siberia

Prof . Vladimir Shaminin (Omsk Agrarian State University) inspecting wheat plots at Omsk Agrarian State University with Dr Alexey Morgunov (CIMMYT) and Prof. Mogens Hovmøller (GRRC, Aarhus University).

An Aug 2017 field trip organized by Alexey Morgunov (CIMMYT-Turkey) to the Omsk, Novosibirsk and the Altai Krai regions of Western Siberia, Russian Federation, with the Global Rust Reference Center and Aarhus University, Denmark, aimed to get more information on 2015-16 stem rust outbreaks that affected millions of hectares in the region (Shamanin et al. 2016).

With approximately 7 million hectares of short season, high-latitude spring wheat and increasing areas of winter wheat and some durum wheat, the region is an extremely important wheat production area.

The visit highlighted the importance of wheat in this region and the strength of the research programs, but also the vulnerability of grown varieties to stem rust.

Significant changes appear to have occurred in recent years, making stem rust an emerging disease of economic concern. Further research is urgently needed, both to understand the pathogen dynamics and to increase farmers’ use of resistant varieties.

Click here to read the full blog on the Global Rust Reference Center web page.

Agricultural researchers forge new ties to develop nutritious crops and environmental farming

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (January 25, 2017)—Scientists from two of the world’s leading agricultural research institutes will embark on joint research to boost global food security, mitigate environmental damage from farming, and help to reduce food grain imports by developing countries.

At a recent meeting, 30 scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Rothamsted Research, a UK-based independent science institute, agreed to pool expertise in research to develop higher-yielding, more disease resistant and nutritious wheat varieties for use in more productive, climate-resilient farming systems.

Advice for India’s rice-wheat farmers: Put aside the plow and save straw to fight pollution

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT 

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The Turbo Happy Seeder allows farmers to sow a rotation crop directly into the residues of a previous crop—in this case, wheat seed into rice straw—without plowing, a practice that raises yields, saves costs and promotes healthier soil and cleaner air.

EL BATAN, Mexico (November 28,2016) – Recent media reports show that the 19 million inhabitants of New Delhi are under siege from a noxious haze generated by traffic, industries, cooking fires and the burning of over 30 million tons of rice straw on farms in the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab.

However, farmers who rotate wheat and rice crops in their fields and deploy a sustainable agricultural technique known as “zero tillage” can make a significant contribution to reducing smog in India’s capital, helping urban dwellers breathe more easily.

Since the 1990s, scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been working with national partners and advanced research institutes in India to test and promote reduced tillage which allows rice-wheat farmers of South Asia to save money, better steward their soil and water resources, cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop the burning of crop residues.

The key innovation involves sowing wheat seed directly into untilled soil and rice residues in a single tractor pass, a method known as zero tillage. Originally deemed foolish by many farmers and researchers, the practice or its adaptations slowly caught on and by 2008 were being used to sow wheat by farmers on some 1.8 million hectares in India.

Click here to read more about how scientists and policymakers are promoting the technique as a key alternative for residue burning and to help clear Delhi’s deadly seasonal smog.

 

 

2015 ICARDA annual report: Towards Dynamic Drylands

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By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

BEIRUT, Lebanon (October 7, 2016) – ICARDA’s work in the severely food-and water-stressed Middle Eastern and North African countries puts it in a strong position to contribute to stability in the region, addressing the root causes of the migration—food insecurity, unemployment, drought and environmental degradation.

Center outcomes in 2015 add to the body of evidence that demonstrates a clear potential and path towards productive and climate-resilient livelihoods for smallholders and livestock producers – a road towards ‘Dynamic Drylands’ – the theme of ICARDA’s 2015 Annual Report, which we proudly present.

To read the report on line or download a pdf copy, click here.

Advances toward breaking the wheat yield barrier: IWYP 2015-16 annual report

 By Jeff Gwyn/IWYP

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (September 26,2016)- In addition to incisive background on IWYP, including its model, mission and goals, this report covers first-year activities and advances from thcover-iwyp-ar-2015-16e partnership’s Science Program and how research outputs are uses to generate added value.

Dr. Richard Flavell FRS, CBE, who chairs the Science Impact and Executive Board of IWYP, states: “Being a part of such a worthy endeavor as IWYP that seeks to impact global food and nutritional security by seeking solutions with cutting-edge science is exhilarating. This is a unique opportunity to employ and validate a new way of working together internationally to achieve common goals that address critical needs. We are confident that we have laid the necessary groundwork and will remain focused and committed to realize our collective success.”

To view or download a copy of the IWYP Annual Report follow the link: https://iwyp.org/annual-report/