Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Researchers in Zambia confirm: Wheat blast has made the intercontinental jump to Africa

Wheat blast in experimental plots (Photo: Batiseba Tembo, ZARI)

Wheat blast, a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease, has been reported for the first time on the African continent, according to a new article published by scientists from the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the US Department of Agriculture – Foreign Disease Weed Science Research Unit (USDA-ARS) in the scientific journal PLoS One.

Symptoms of wheat blast first appeared in Zambia during the 2018 rainy season in experimental plots and small-scale farms in the Mpika district, Muchinga province.

Wheat blast poses a serious threat to rain-fed wheat production in Zambia and raises the alarm for surrounding regions and countries on the African continent with similar environmental conditions. Worldwide, 2.5 billion consumers depend on wheat as a staple food, and in recent years, several African countries have been actively working towards reducing dependence on wheat imports.

“This presents yet another challenging biotic constraint to rain-fed wheat production in Zambia,” said Batiseba Tembo, wheat breeder at ZARI and lead scientist on the study.

A difficult diagnosis

“The first occurrence of the disease was very distressing. This happened at the spike stage, and caused significant losses,” said Tembo. “Nothing of this nature has happened before in Zambia.”

Researchers were initially confused when symptoms of the disease in the Mpika fields were first reported. Zambia has unique agro-climatic conditions, particularly in the rainfed wheat production system, and diseases such as spot blotch and Fusarium head blight are common.

“The crop had silvery white spikes and a green canopy, resulting in shriveled grains or no grains at all…Within the span of 7 days, a whole field can be attacked,” said Tembo. Samples were collected and analyzed in the ZARI laboratory, and suspicions grew among researchers that this may be a new disease entirely.

Wheat blast in a farmer’s field in Mpika district, 2020 (Photo: Batiseba Tembo, ZARI)

A history of devastation

Wheat blast, caused by Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), was initially discovered in Brazil in 1985, and within decades had affected around 3 million hectares of wheat in South America alone. The disease made its first intercontinental jump to Asia in 2016, causing a severe outbreak in Bangladesh, reducing yield on average by as much as 51% in the affected fields.

The disease has now become endemic to Bangladesh, and has potential to expand to similar warm, humid and wet environments in nearby India and Pakistan, as well as other regions of favorable disease conditions.

Wheat blast spreads through infected seeds and crop residues as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air. The spread of blast within Zambia is indicated by both mechanisms of expansion.

Developing expert opinions

Tembo participated in the Basic Wheat Improvement Course at CIMMYT in Mexico, where she discussed the new disease with Pawan Singh, head of Wheat Pathology at CIMMYT.  Singh worked with Tembo to provide guidance and the molecular markers needed for the sample analysis in Zambia, and coordinated the analysis of the wheat disease samples at the USDA-ARS facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

All experiments confirmed the presence of Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT).

“This is a disaster which needs immediate attention,” said Tembo. “Otherwise, wheat blast has the potential to marginalize the growth of rain-fed wheat production in Zambia and may threaten wheat production in neighboring countries as well.”

Wheat blast observed in Mpika, Zambia  (Photo: Batiseba Tembo, ZARI)

A cause for innovation and collaboration

CIMMYT and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) are taking action on several fronts to combat wheat blast. Trainings, such as an international course led by the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI) in collaboration with CIMMYT, WHEAT and others, invite international participants to gain new technical skills in blast diagnostics and treatment and understand different strategies being developed to mitigate the wheat blast threat. WHEAT scientists and partners are also working quickly to study genetic factors that increase resistance to the disease and develop early warning systems, among other research interventions. 

“A set of research outcomes, including the development of resistant varieties, identification of effective fungicides, agronomic measures, and new findings in the epidemiology of disease development will be helpful in mitigating wheat blast in Zambia,” said Singh.

Tembo concluded, “It is imperative that the regional and global scientific community join hands to determine effective measures to halt further spread of this worrisome disease in Zambia and beyond.”


Read the study:

Detection and characterization of fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum) causing wheat blast disease on rain-fed grown wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in Zambia

Interview opportunities:

Pawan Kumar Singh, Senior Scientist and Head of Wheat Pathology (CIMMYT)

Batiseba Tembo, Wheat Breeder, Zambian Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) batemfe@yahoo.com

For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact the media team:

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager (CIMMYT) r.ordonez@cgiar.org


Acknowledgements

Financial support for this research was provided by the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). 

The Basic Wheat Training Program and Wheat Blast Training is made possible by support from investors including ACIAR, WHEAT, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), the Swedish Research Council (SRC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

About Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods

Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG) is a 5-year project that brings together partners in the global science community and in national agricultural research and extension systems to accelerate the development of higher-yielding varieties of maize and wheat — two of the world’s most important staple crops.  Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), AGG fuses innovative methods that improve breeding efficiency and precision to produce and deliver high-yielding varieties that are climate-resilient, pest- and disease-resistant, highly nutritious, and targeted to farmers’ specific needs.

About CIMMYT

The International Maize and What Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information visit www.cimmyt.org.

African small-scale mechanization project winds down after strong results

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

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

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

“Mechanization is a system not a technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits to local communities

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

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

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

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

Impacts now and into the future

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

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

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

Strengthening African women’s participation in wheat farming

By Dina Najjar/ICARDA

Gender inequality is a recurring feature of many agricultural production systems across the wheat-growing regions of Africa, and women farmers often lack access to credit, land, and other inputs. The result: limited adoption of new innovations, low productivity and income, and a missed opportunity to enhance household food security and prosperity.