This article was originally posted on the CGIAR website.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread rapidly. Since its start in China in December, the outbreak has spread to more than 100 countries, endangering the health and livelihoods of millions. To contain the pandemic, many cities and regions across the world have been shut down, putting a halt to day-to-day activities.
As Western economies struggle with difficult decisions – it is those in the global South that are most at risk. Economies that are dependent on tourism, trade and foreign investment have fewer options at their disposal.
An urgent and coordinated global response is needed – from the global to the local level to protect populations – and especially the most vulnerable. Food security is fragile under normal circumstances and must not be ignored as part of a One Health strategy.
CGIAR, as the world’s largest public research network on food systems, provides evidence to help understand and address threats to food and nutrition security from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:
The food system has been significantly affected, and these impacts will grow if processing enterprises cannot restart production in a near future;
Production of staple food crops such as wheat, rice, and vegetables will be affected if the outbreak continues into critical planting periods;
Domestic and international trade disruptions may trigger food price panics;
Restrictions on mobility may lead to labor shortages.
CGIAR will make available its latest research and analysis on COVID-19 to support authorities and the public in making informed decisions during the current crisis. In the research and news featured below, CGIAR scientists provide evidence-based advice and recommendations on:
Introducing enabling policies for spring planting and increasing support for production entities;
Ensuring the smooth flow of trade and making full use of the international market as a vital tool to secure food supply and demand;
Ensuring smooth logistical operations of regional agricultural and food supply chains;
Monitoring food prices and strengthening market supervision;
Protecting vulnerable groups and providing employment services to migrant workers;
Regulating wild food markets to curb the source of the disease;
Measuring impact on small and medium-sized businesses;
Analyzing how much global poverty will increase because of COVID-19.
Western Europe is in the midst of an intense heat wave that started at the end of June. The southern French commune of Villevieille recorded a temperature of 45.1 °C, breaking the country’s all-time record. The heat also set new temperature records in Germany and the Czech Republic. Other countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal are also gripped with temperatures much higher than normal.
Scientists have attributed the soaring temperatures to the combination of a storm over the Atlantic Ocean and high pressure over central Europe, which is importing hot air from the Sahara. Though heat waves are not uncommon in Europe, this one was unusually early. Experts say climate change is making heat waves more common (Global warming of 1.5 °C IPCC Special Report).
Apart from human health, the heat wave is already causing significant damage in agriculture. Major wheat growers experienced temperatures of 40 °C and higher. This is of great concern, as the heat wave occurred during the crop’s critical growth stages. Wheat is a cool season crop with an optimal daytime growing temperature of 15 °C during the critical reproductive stage. Wheat plants exposed to high temperatures around the period of flowering lose fertility due to pollen dehydration, resulting in less grain formed. It is calculated that for every degree above the optimum 15 °C, wheat experiences a yield reduction of three to four percent.
If a heat wave like such as this one had occurred one month earlier, at the end of May, when Northern European wheat is in full bloom, it could have caused up to 50 percent yield loses, a devastating blow to the European agriculture and food sectors costing billions of Euros.
The response of scientists
Breeding heat tolerant wheat varieties remains one of the most strategic approaches to cope with the risk of unseasonal heat waves. The International Center for Agricultural research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) started in 2012 to use field stations that experience continuous heat-stress to select new wheat cultivars better primed to tolerate this stress.
Similarly, two heat-stress experimental farms were developed in West Africa to test durum wheat germplasm. In collaboration with Prof Rodomiro Ortiz of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Department of Plant Breeding, the stations of Kaédi in Mauritania and Fanaye in Senegal were upgraded in partnership with the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique et de Développement Agricole (CNRADA) and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA).
To convert this success into cultivars that could be grown, heat tolerance must be combined with the ability to cope with drought stress. An experiment was devised at the Marchouch station in Morocco, where plastic tunnels were placed on the wheat plants at the time of flowering to raise temperatures to above 40 °C and simultaneously prevent any rainfall from reaching the plants.
When all other tested varieties lost more than 50 percent yield to the two combined stresses, the ICARDA-INRA (Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique in Morocco) cultivar Faraj lost only 25 percent, a major positive result considering the severity of the stresses tested. Along the same principles, more than 60 wheat varieties of ICARDA origin have been released by national breeding programs in Central and West Asia and North Africa regions and sub- Saharan Africa regions in the last five years alone, thanks to the ability of the germplasm to adapt to some of the most severe wheat stresses occurring around the world.
Can Europe take advantage of success stories?
In the USA and Canada, farmers grow mostly wheat varieties developed and commercialized by public wheat breeding programs. These cultivars have been very popular and public sector wheat-breeding activities are vital to the industry.
In Australia, wheat breeding is conducted by the private sector. However, public researchers are spending the same amount of money on pre-breeding as they did 10 years ago on breeding and variety development together. To take advantage of some of the success stories of ICARDA and CIMMYT, the Australian wheat breeding programs established 10 years ago the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation project (CAIGE). Each year, Australian breeders visit the trials of ICARDA in Morocco and CIMMYT in Mexico. They select the top high yielding wheat genotypes that combine drought and heat tolerance, with other useful traits. These are then imported and tested across Australian sites to confirm the best one for commercialization or use in hybridization programs.
In Europe, the situation is more like Australia, and public researchers do not work directly on the commercialization and development of varieties, which is left to the private companies. Instead, public research focuses on pre-breeding to develop new breeding techniques and on high-risk, longer-term targets, thereby supporting the private sector and farmers with high-tech innovations.
CGIAR centers such as ICARDA and CIMMYT have worked in close collaboration with European universities and advanced research institutions for a long time to develop and adapt the most novel technologies for pre-breeding. It might also be advantageous for European private sector companies to start taking advantage of CGIAR stress-tolerant wheat varieties and develop a system similar to CAIGE used by Australian breeders. By taking advantage of similar environments in Morocco and Mediterranean environments in Europe, European breeders can select promising germplasm of tomorrow and provide the continent’s agricultural sector with a practical defense against future heat waves.
This article by Elizabeth Westendorf, Assistant Director of Policy at U.S. Wheat Associates, was originally posted on USWheat.org
Seventy-five years ago, the seeds of the Green Revolution were planted when Norman Borlaug began his work on wheat breeding in Mexico. The success of that effort, which was a partnership between the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation, led to the eventual founding of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
In 1971, CGIAR was established as an umbrella organization to create an international consortium of research centers. CIMMYT was one of the first research centers supported through the CGIAR, which today includes 15 centers around the world with a local presence in 70 countries. Each center focuses on unique challenges, but they are all driven by three broad strategic goals: to reduce poverty; to improve food and nutrition security; and to improve natural resources and ecosystem services.
For 50 years, wheat has been one of the core crops of CGIAR’s focus. CGIAR receives annual funding of about $30 million for wheat, and the economic benefits of that wheat breeding research range from $2.2 to $3.1 billion. This is a benefit-cost ratio of at least 73 to 1 — for every $1 spent in CGIAR wheat research funding, there is more than $73 in economic benefits to global wheat farmers. CIMMYT’s international wheat improvement programs generate $500 million per year in economic benefits. Globally, nearly half of the wheat varieties planted are CGIAR-related; in South, Central and West Asia and North Africa, that number rises to 70 to 80 percent of wheat varieties. When wheat supplies 20 percent of protein and calories in diets worldwide, CGIAR wheat research can have a major impact on the livelihoods of the world’s most poor people.
CGIAR Research Centers have also led to significant benefits for U.S. farmers as well. Approximately 60 percent of the wheat acreage planted in the U.S. uses CGIAR-related wheat varieties. CIMMYT wheat improvement spillovers in the United States repay the total U.S. contribution to CIMMYT’s wheat improvement research budget by a rate of up to 40 to 1. Another partner, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), has delivered innovations that protect U.S. farmers from crop losses due to destructive pests, and has also partnered with CIMMYT to develop the One Global Wheat Program under CGIAR.
One aspect of the CGIAR success story in the United States is about partnership. Public U.S. universities around the country have partnered with CGIAR on agricultural research, to the benefit of U.S. farmers and farmers worldwide. This partnership allows for knowledge transfer and idea-sharing on a global scale. USW is proud that many of our member states have universities that have partnered with CGIAR on wheat projects.
The news is not all good, however. As we anticipate world population growing to 10 billion in 2050, the demand for wheat is expected to increase by 50 percent. To meet that demand, wheat yields must increase by 1.6 percent annually. Currently they are increasing by less than 1 percent annually. There is plenty of work to do to continue Borlaug’s mission of achieving food security. CGIAR Research Centers will continue to play a critical role in that effort.
The United States’ investment in CGIAR Research Programs makes a vital contribution to agricultural improvements and fosters partnerships with U.S. public research universities, international research centers, private sector partnerships and others. Partnerships with CGIAR make it possible to do the win-win collaborative wheat research that helps meet global food needs, brings tremendous economic benefits to U.S. agriculture and leverages U.S. research dollars.
We invite our stakeholders and overseas customers to learn more about this important partnership and the benefits of CGIAR wheat research in part through a fact sheet posted here on the USW website.
MONTPELLIER, France (May 15, 2017) – CGIAR has launched a new portfolio of research programs designed to reduce by 150 million the number of people who do not have enough food to eat in developing nations. By transforming agricultural and food systems, the CGIAR Portfolio 2017-2022 is the second generation of CGIAR’s Research Programs and Platforms aimed at reducing rural poverty, improving food and nutrition security and improving natural resources and ecosystem services.
EL BATAN, Mexico (February 17, 2016)- Between 17th to 29th February 2016, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is asking its research and development partners across the globe to provide feedback to the draft WHEAT Full Proposal for 2017-22. The Full Proposal is a research and funding plan that goes to the CGIAR Consortium and Fund Council on 31st March 2016. It includes feedback from previous partner consultations, notably the Global Partners Meeting (Istanbul, Dec 2014) and the Partner Priorities Survey (2013-14). WHEAT is very keen to get partners’ views on science content (the sections on Flagship Projects) and how WHEAT will partner in future (e.g. Partnership Strategy, sections 1.8 and 3.2).
Please access the WHEAT Phase II Full Proposal and partner feedback form here:
M.L. Jat observing wheat germination in a zero-till field in Haryana, India. Photo: DK Bishnoi/CIMMYT
EL BATAN, Mexico (December 18,2016)- CIMMYT senior scientist M.L. Jat has received India’s National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) fellowship in Natural Resource Management for his “outstanding contributions in developing and scaling” conservation agriculture-based management technologies for predominant cereal-based cropping systems in South Asia.
Jat’s research on conservation agriculture (CA) – sustainable and profitable agriculture that improves livelihoods of farmers via minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotations – has guided improvements in soil and environmental health throughout South Asia. His work has led to policy-level impacts in implementing CA practices such as precision land leveling, zero tillage, direct seeding, and crop residue management, and he has played a key role in building the capacity of CA stakeholders throughout the region.
EL BATAN, Mexico (September 18, 2015)- Recognizing the importance of managing for results and learning from experience, the MAIZE and WHEAT CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) have been taking steps to strengthen results-based management (RBM) within the CRPs. In the last several months, both CRPs held multiple participatory workshops (see details below) to develop theories of change (ToCs) for their diverse research areas. These ToCs map out how and why a given research area will lead to specific results. ToCs are often used as a framework for testing hypotheses, where evidence is collected to validate the pathway of change.
The participatory nature of these workshops allowed the research teams to come together and develop consensus-based and aligned theories of change. This process was important to build buy-in and ownership. It was also recognized that change maps can support the development of research strategies and contribute to strengthening proposal development and results reporting by ensuring alignment and consistency across projects and programs.
Alignment is important not only at the project and program levels. Theories of change were clearly linked to attaining higher and global level results from the new CGIAR Strategy and Results Framework 2016-2030 and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. It was important for both CRPs to demonstrate how their programs contribute to global issues of poverty reduction, food security, improved nutrition, promotion of sustainable agriculture, and the achievement of gender equality.
In preparation for phase II of the CGIAR research programs