Wheat blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum, was first identified in 1985 in South America, but has been seen in Bangladesh in recent years. The expansion of the disease is a great concern for regions of similar environmental conditions in South Asia, and other regions globally.
Although management of the disease using fungicide is possible, it is not completely effective for multiple reasons, including inefficiency during high disease pressure, resistance of the fungal populations to some classes of fungicides, and the affordability of fungicide to resource-poor farmers. Scientists see the development and deployment of wheat with genetic resistance to blast as the most sustainable and farmer-friendly approach to preventing devastating outbreaks around the world.
In an article published in Nature Scientific Reports, a team of scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and partners, led by CIMMYT associate scientist Philomin Juliana, conducted a large genome-wide association study to look for genomic regions that could also be associated with resistance to wheat blast.
Using data collected over the last two years on CIMMYT’s International Bread Wheat Screening Nurseries (IBWSNs) and Semi-Arid Wheat Screening Nurseries (SAWSNs) by collaborators at the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI) and the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF) in Bolivia, Philomin and fellow scientists found 36 significant markers on chromosome 2AS, 3BL, 4AL and 7BL that appeared to be consistently associated with blast resistance across different environments. Among these, 20 markers were found to be in the position of the 2NS translocation, a chromosomal segment transferred to wheat from a wild relative, Aegilops ventricosa, that has very strong and effective resistance to wheat blast.
The team also gained excellent insights into the blast resistance of the globally-distributed CIMMYT germplasm by genomic fingerprinting a panel over 4000 wheat lines for the presence of the 2NS translocation, and found that it was present in 94.1% of lines from IBWSN and 93.7% of lines from SAWSN. Although it is reassuring that such a high percentage of CIMMYT wheat lines already have the 2NS translocation and implied blast resistance, finding other novel resistance genes will be instrumental in building widespread, global resilience to wheat blast outbreaks in the long-term.
Read the publication by Philomin Juliana, Xinyao He, Muhammad R. Kabir, Krishna K. Roy, Md. Babul Anwar, Felix Marza, Jesse Poland, Sandesh Shrestha, Ravi P. Singh, and Pawan K. Singh
This work was made possible by the generous support of the Delivering Genetic Gains in Wheat (DGGW) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and managed by Cornell University, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future initiative, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsråd), and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), #CIM/2016/219.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Researchers trained as part of global response to the threat of wheat blast.
The Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI), in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), recently trained 25 scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Zambia and Afghanistan on germplasm screening and field surveillance of wheat blast.
The training course took place on March 1-10 at Bangladesh’s Regional Agricultural Research Station in Jashore.
Wheat blast, a fearsome fungal disease first reported in Bangladesh in 2016, is a huge threat to food safety and security in South America and South Asia. Directly striking the wheat spike, wheat blast can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act.
To mitigate the threat of wheat blast, a Precision Phenotyping Platform (PPP) was established in Jashore in 2018 to screen wheat germplasm for the disease. The platform has been a reliable source of screening for wheat lines around the world and has proven a great success towards taming the wheat blast disease. Currently around 5,000 wheat lines from Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Nepal and Pakistan, are being tested under natural and artificial inoculated conditions.
Participants of the training course gained hands-on experience in disease scoring and evaluation at the facility. Field visits were also arranged to nearby wheat blast hotspots, including wheat blast affected fields in Meherpur, to see how resistant and susceptible cultivars perform under natural epidemic conditions.
“Bangladesh is our neighboring country and wheat blast is a very concerning issue for us. I am very lucky that I have been nominated for this training. Now I am very clear about wheat blast symptoms as well as other confounding diseases in the field,” said Dr. Deepshikha, a wheat pathologist from Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUA&T), Pantnagar, India during the field visit in Meherpur.
Participants also visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU), in Gazipur where Dr. Tofazzal Islam, Department of Biotechnology Professor, is leading independent wheat blast research activities including mutation breeding and the use of nano technology and probiotic bacteria in controlling wheat blast.
Since day one, the Government of Bangladesh has been very proactive in combatting wheat blast. Government initiatives include declaring “wheat holidays”—or temporarily banning cultivation in target areas — building awareness, collaborating with international donors and research organizations, and fast tracking the release of resistant varieties.
Despite the progress made in wheat blast monitoring research, scientists are still struggling to figure out the right epidemiological criteria for managing this disease. While disease pressure in Bangladesh has been low in the last three years, wheat blast has been observed in newer districts, signifying the expansion of the pathogen in the country.
The knowledge gained in the training course will allow participants to refine blast research in their respective countries. They will also be able to raise awareness back home concerning the threat of blast and alert farmers based on the experience Bangladesh has adopted in the last four years.
The training was made possible by support from investors including the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT (CRP 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).
Farmers around the world face constant threats from crop pests and diseases. One such threat is wheat blast, a disease that attacks maturing grains, causing them to shrivel. Fortunately, new advances in technology and modeling are making it easier to identify, prevent and control diseases like this.
Outbreaks of wheat blast in South Asia — a region where people consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year — have a major impact on food security and income. In 2016, a wheat blast outbreak struck South Asia unexpectedly. In Bangladesh alone, 25 to 30 percent of wheat was negatively affected, threatening progress in regional food security. Blast disease has the potential to reduce wheat production by up to 85 million tons in Bangladesh — a projected $13 million loss in farmers’ profits each year when an outbreak occurs.
Luckily, with support from Feed the Future and its partners, there is a reason for hope. A new digital early warning system can help farmers and scientists get ahead. It integrates mathematical models that, when combined with weather forecasts, can simulate disease growth and risks to provide an advanced warning about potential wheat blast outbreaks. With three years of data already recorded, the system — originally piloted in Brazil, where the wheat blast originated in 1985 — is being rolled out across Bangladesh to deliver real-time disease updates to extension workers and smallholder farmers via SMS and voice message.
“Through collaborative research with Professor Jose Mauricio Fernandes, a crop pathologist from Embrapa, and Mr. Felipe de Vargas, a computer scientist with Universidade de Passo Fundo, we have established a model to identify areas at risk of wheat blast infection with five days advanced warning,” said Timothy J. Krupnik, senior scientist and systems agronomist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). “It can provide Bangladesh’s 1.2 million wheat farmers a head start against this disease.”
This data-driven early warning system analyzes environmental conditions for potential disease development in crucial wheat-growing areas of Bangladesh and Brazil. Using this information, the system generates forecast maps and automatic advice for farmers of where and when an outbreak is most likely to strike.
This innovation can also save wheat farmers money. Many apply fungicides on a calendar basis — between two to three times per season — as a preventative measure. This is costly and risks negative environmental effects. Now, the early warning system can push advice to extension agents and farmers, indicating when disease control is really needed.
“Our hope is that it will help reduce unnecessary fungicide use and empower farmers to implement cost-effective and resilient practices to overcome wheat blast risks instead,” Krupnik said.
With wheat as a key crop in Bangladesh, the digital warning system will help prepare farmers to get a head start to reduce the impact of wheat blast with crucial advice from extension agents in areas of need.
An ongoing projectwas praised for its swift progress in the
fight against wheat blast in Bangladesh and South Asia
a mid-term review event last month at the BRAC Learning Centre in Dinajpur,
Bangladesh, professionals from the Bangladesh Ministry of Agriculture, the
Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI), the Bangladesh
Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), the Department of Agriculture Extension
(DAE), the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), the Bangladesh Agriculture
Development Corporation (BADC) and the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT) discussed progress made in the battle against wheat
blast in Bangladesh and South Asia.
Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease that threatens wheat production and food security in South America and South Asia. The disease, which originated in South America and first appeared in Bangladesh in 2016, can by dispersed by wind across large distances and spores can be seed borne. There is deep concern among scientists that the disease could spread further across South Asia. A 2018 ex-ante analysis found that in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan wheat blast could potentially cause losses of 0.89 – 1.77 million tons each year, with 7 million hectares of growing area at risk.
The project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) addresses wheat blast in Bangladesh and South Asia through the identification of new sources of resistance genes for wheat blast and development of wheat blast resistant varieties. The germplasm, genes and markers, and genetic information developed through the project are shared with South Asian national wheat breeding programs and other researchers, finally ending up in farmers’ fields as resistant varieties.
review meeting was chaired by BWMRI Director General Israil Hossain, and
featured remarks by Bangladesh’s Additional Secretary of the Ministry of
Agriculture Kamala Ranjan Das.
project has over-delivered on its milestones,” said Eric Huttner, ACIAR
Research Program Manager and lead of the review. “It’s very likely that the
project will reduce the risk of blast on wheat production in Bangladesh.”
impacts in terms of research capacity and infrastructure are very clear:
The project-established precision phenotyping platform in Jashore
— the first of its kind in Bangladesh and the region — is running at full capacity, screening for
blast in wheat germplasm materials from as far away as China, the United States
and Europe. The facility currently has
the capacity to evaluate almost 5,000 wheat germplasm materials per season and
there are ongoing plans for expansion and improvement.
Sixty-nine researchers and development professionals, including 9 women,
have benefited from the capacity development activities.
Molecular research is also making progress. Pawan Singh, project
leader and head of Wheat Pathology at CIMMYT, noted that the rapid response was
possible due to collective and collaborative action by research partners in
this project and beyond.
Meeting attendees emphasized the urgency and importance of
the project, which is set to conclude in 2021, in the battle against a
fast-moving and devastating disease.
As Huttner told attendees, “Now the resistant or tolerant
materials need to be efficiently deployed for breeding high-performance wheat
varieties that reach stakeholders as early as possible.”
To build resilience against the threat of wheat blast, training sessions were held in Bangladesh to increase the reach of research findings and possible solutions as well as to educate the stakeholders involved. Since 2017, hands-on training on disease screening and surveillance of wheat blast have been organized every year in Bangladesh, with participation of national and international scientists. The third of its kind was jointly organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI), and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Bangladesh during 19-28 February, 2019 at Regional Agricultural Research Station, Jashore with financial support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The objective of the training was to learn the basic techniques of pathogen identification and its culturing, field inoculation and disease scoring and share experiences regarding combating the disease and its progress among the participants from home and abroad. Thirty five wheat scientists from China, India and Nepal as well as from BWMRI, DAE and CIMMYT in Bangladesh participated in the training.
The training was inaugurated by Kamala Ranjan Das, Additional Secretary (Research), Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh. The Director General of BWMRI, Dr. Naresh C. D. Barma was the Chair and Dr. T. P. Tiwari, Country Representative, CIMMYT Bangladesh and Additional Director of Jashore region of DAE were the special guests in the inaugural session. In addition to Bangladeshi experts, Dr. José Maurício C. Fernandes from Brazil, Dr. Pawan K. Singh from CIMMYT, Mexico and Dr. Timothy J. Krupnik from CIMMYT, Bangladesh presented the updates on the techniques for mitigating the disease. Dr. M. Akhteruzzaman, Deputy Director of DAE, Meherpur, who has been working very closely with wheat blast research and extension, spoke on the history and present status of wheat blast in Bangladesh. It was a unique opportunity for the trainees to listen from grass root level experience based on the real situation in the farmers’ fields.
Wheat is especially susceptible to blast infection during warm and humid weather conditions. While the fungus infects all above ground parts of the crop, infection in spikes is most critical and responsible for yield loss. Hence, to determine whether blast is endemic to the specific region and also to assess the epidemic potential in unaffected regions, Dr. Fernandes developed a wheat blast forecasting model with support from CIMMYT Bangladesh. To collect data on the presence of wheat blast spores in the air, CIMMYT, in collaboration with BWMRI, installed four spore traps in four different wheat fields in Meherpur, Faridpur, Rajshahi and Dinajpur districts of Bangladesh. The results from these spore traps and weather parameters will help validate the wheat blast forecasting model. After final validation, the recommendation message will be sent to farmers and DAE personnel through mobile app. This will help farmers decide the perfect time for spraying fungicide to control blast effectively.
During the training participants received the hands-on experience of activities in the precision phenotypic platform (PPP) for wheat blast, where 4500 germplasm from different countries of the world and CIMMYT Mexico are being tested under artificial inoculated conditions. To keep the environment sufficiently humid, the trial is kept under mist irrigation to facilitate proper disease development. Trainees learned identification of leaf and spike symptoms of wheat blast, identification and isolation of conidia under microscope, inoculum preparation, tagging selected plants in the fields for inoculation, field inoculation of germplasms being tested at the PPP and more.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), wheat consumption in Bangladesh is 7.7 million tons as of 2018 while only 1.25 million tons are supplied domestically. Since the majority of wheat is imported, it will adversely affect the economy if the comparatively smaller amount the country produces decreases due to blast. So the impact of wheat blast is not limited to food production but affects the economy as a whole, and steps to help mitigate the disease are crucial in ensuring healthy growth of wheat yield.
Wheat blast, caused by Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), was first discovered in Brazil in 1985 and then surprisingly appeared in the wheat fields of Bangladesh in 2016, causing 25-30% yield loss in 15,000 ha. As an immediate response to this crisis, CIMMYT and the government of Bangladesh have worked together to mitigate the disease, most notably by distributing factsheets to farmers, conducting routine follow-ups followed by the development and rapid release of blast resistant wheat variety BARI Gom 33 and tolerant varieties (BARI Gom 30 and 32) and strengthening research on blast.
In an attempt to curb the spread of this disease, policymakers in the region are considering a “wheat holiday” policy: banning wheat cultivation for a few years in targeted areas. Since wheat blast’s Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT) fungus can survive on seeds for up to 22 months, the idea is to replace wheat with other crops, temporarily, to cause the spores to die. In India, which shares a border of more than 4,000 km with Bangladesh, the West Bengal state government has already instituted a two-year ban on wheat cultivation in two districts, as well as all border areas. In Bangladesh, the government is implementing the policy indirectly by discouraging wheat cultivation in the severely blast affected districts.
CIMMYT researchers recently published in two ex-ante studies to identify economically feasible alternative crops in Bangladesh and the bordering Indian state of West Bengal.
The first step to ensuring that a ban
does not threaten the food security and livelihoods
of smallholder farmers, the authors assert, is to supply farmers with economically feasible alternative crops.
In Bangladesh, the authors examined the economic
feasibility of seven crops as an alternative to wheat, first in the entire
country, then in 42 districts vulnerable to blast, and finally in ten districts
affected by wheat blast. Considering the cost of
production and revenue per hectare, the study ruled out boro rice, chickpeas
and potatoes as feasible alternatives to wheat due to their negative net
return. In contrast, they found that cultivation of maize, lentils, onions, and
garlic could be profitable.
The study in India looked at ten crops
grown under similar conditions as wheat in the state of West Bengal, examining the
economic viability of each. The authors
conclude that growing maize, lentils, legumes
such aschickpeas and urad bean, rapeseed, mustard and potatoes
in place of wheat appears to be profitable, although they warn that more rigorous research
and data are needed to confirm and support this transition.
Selecting alternative crops is no easy
task. Crops offered to farmers to replace wheat must be appropriate for the
agroecological zone and should not require additional investments for
irrigation, inputs or storage facilities. Also,
the extra production of labor-intensive and export-oriented crops, such as
maize in India and potatoes in Bangladesh, may add costs or require new markets
There is also the added worry that the MoT fungus could survive on one of these
alternative crops, thus completely negating any benefit of the “wheat holiday.”
The authors point out that the fungus has been reported to survive on maize.
A short-term solution?
In both studies, the authors discourage a
“wheat holiday” policy as a holistic solution. However, they leave room for
governments to pursue it on an interim and short-term basis.
In the case of Bangladesh, the researchers assert that a “wheat holiday” would increase the country’s reliance on imports, especially in the face of rapidly increasing wheat demand and urbanization. A policy that results in complete dependence on wheat imports, they point out, may not be politically attractive or feasible. Also, the policy would be logistically challenging to implement. Finally, since the disease can potentially survive on other host plants, such as weeds and maize—it may not even work in the long run.
In the interim, the government of
Bangladesh may still need to rely on the “wheat holiday” policy in the severely
blast-affected districts. In these areas, they should encourage farmers to
cultivate lentils, onions and garlic. In addition,
in the short term, the government should make generic fungicides widely
available at affordable prices and provide an early warning
system as well as adequate information to help farmers
effectively combat the disease and minimize its consequences.
In the case of West Bengal, India, similar
implications apply – although the authors conclude that the “wheat holiday”
policy could only work if Bangladesh has the same policy in its blast-affected
border districts, which would involve potentially difficult and costly
inter-country collaboration, coordination and logistics.
Actions for long-term success
The CIMMYT researchers urge the governments
of India and Bangladesh, their counterparts in the region and international
stakeholders to pursue long-term solutions, including developing a convenient
diagnostic tool for wheat blast surveillance and a platform for open data and
science to combat the fungus.
CIMMYT scientists in both studies close
with an urgent plea for international financial and technical support for collaborative
research on disease epidemiology and forecasting, and the development and
dissemination of new wheat blast-tolerant and resistant varieties and
complementary management practices – crucial steps to ensuring food security for
more than a billion people in South Asia.
First officially reported in Brazil in 1985, where it eventually spread to 3 million hectares in South America and became the primary reason for limited wheat production in the region, wheat blast moved to Bangladesh in 2016. There it affected nearly 15,000 hectares of land in eight districts, reducing yield by as much as 51 percent in the affected fields.
Blast is devilish: directly striking the wheat ear, it can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act. There are no widely available resistant varieties, and fungicides are expensive and provide only a partial defense. The disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT), can spread through infected seeds as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air.
South Asia has a long tradition of wheat consumption, especially in northwest India and Pakistan, and demand has been increasing rapidly across South Asia. It is the second major staple in Bangladesh and India and the principal staple food in Pakistan. Research indicates 17 percent of wheat area in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan — representing nearly 7 million hectares – is vulnerable to the disease, threatening the food security of more than a billion people.
Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating
fungal disease that threatens food safety and security in the Americas and
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
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).
This blog by Mike Listman was originally posted on CIMMYT.org.
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.”
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.