This story by Emma Orchardson was originally published on the CIMMYT website.
International agricultural research has come a long way since the Green Revolution of the 1970s – from a tight focus on crop improvement to a wider quest for sustainable food systems. Our original objective, as the founders of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and other CGIAR Research Centers were fond of saying, was to increase the pile of grain. Now, we strive to achieve food and nutritional security in ways that also enhance rural livelihoods, reduce environmental degradation, and boost agriculture´s resilience.
In 2009, state governments in Northwest India implemented a policy designed to reduce groundwater extraction by prohibiting the usual practice of planting rice in May and moving it to June, nearer the start of monsoon rains.
Although the policy did succeed in alleviating pressure on groundwater, it also had the unexpected effect of worsening already severe air pollution. The reason for this, according to a recent study published in Nature Sustainability, is that the delay in rice planting narrowed the window between rice harvest and sowing of the subsequent crop — mainly wheat — leaving farmers little time to remove rice straw from the field and compelling them to burn it instead.
Even though burning crop residues is prohibited in India, uncertainty about the implementation of government policy and a perceived lack of alternatives have perpetuated the practice in Haryana and Punjab states, near the nation’s capital, New Delhi, where air pollution poses a major health threat.
Decades of research for development have enabled researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other partners to identify potential solutions to this problem.
One particularly viable option focuses on the practice of zero tillage, in which wheat seed is sown immediately after rice harvest through the rice straw directly into untilled soil with a single tractor pass.
The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat and its lead center, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico, are responding to the threat of COVID-19 and taking measures to ensure our worldwide staff is as safe as possible. While we adjust to the “new normal” of social distancing, temperature checks and quarantines, we will continue to perform field and desk research as best we can, and share our progress and findings with you through our website, newsletter, and Facebook page.
times such as this, we step back and remember the vision that brings us all
here: a world free of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. We would
not be able pursue this vision without your support.
We hope you, your colleagues and loved ones stay safe and healthy. We are all in this together and we look forward to continuing our conversation.
A perfect storm of conditions led to the locust attack currently tearing through East Africa and Pakistan, where countries are deploying pesticides, military personnel and even ducks.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has given the ultimatum of March to bring Africa’s desert locust outbreak under control, calling for US$76 million to fund insecticide spraying.
But the ongoing outbreak is only the latest example of the devastation that crop pests can cause – there are tens of thousands more that farmers have to contend with, from diseases and fungi to weeds and insects.
And with such a variety of threats to harvests and yields, there is no silver bullet to protect against losses and damage. Rather, an integrated approach is needed that incorporates all available tools in the toolbox, from better forecasting and monitoring technologies to the controlled spraying of crops with biocontrol products, all supported by stronger partnerships.
Smallholder farmers are on the frontline when a pest outbreak takes hold. A small swarm of desert locusts can eat the equivalent food of 35,000 people per day, for example, while crop losses resulting from the spread of fall armyworm across sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to cost up to $6.1 billion a year.
Yet while their livelihoods are most at risk, smallholders can also play a significant part in tackling crop pests like the desert locust.
By giving farmers access to better surveillance technology that enables them to monitor pests and forecast potential outbreaks, infestations can be tracked and managed effectively.
A project in Bangladesh that helps farmers to deal with fall armyworm is one example of how this can be done effectively. Led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the initiative has trained hundreds of farmers and extension agents in identifying, monitoring and tackling infestations using combined approaches.
Yet effective pest management is not the responsibility of farmers alone – nor does it begin in the field. Behind every farmer dealing with a crop pest is a scientist who has supported them by developing better seeds, crop protection methods and scouting apps to identify weeds.
Using either conventional breeding or genetic modification, scientists can develop seeds that produce pest-resistant crops, for example.
CGIAR researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) developed and released a modified cassava variety in Colombia, bred to be resistant against high whitefly, which outperformed regional varieties without the need for pesticides.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has also developed maize varieties resistant to the stem borer insect for use in West and Central Africa.
And last year, the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency approved the commercial release of genetically modified cowpea to farmers – a variety resistant to the maruca pod borer, a type of insect.
Better seeds and crop protection products are vital – but we need to do still more.
Some biocontrol pesticides such as Green Muscle and Novacrid have been highly effective in the past if used against locust hopper bands before they congregate into swarms. But they have limited impact once the swarms start to move as well as limited availability and regulatory approval, and a relatively short shelf-life.
Further research into crop protection methods will pave the way for new chemical and biological solutions, which can keep pest outbreaks under control – or prevent them altogether.
But we also need closer collaboration with governments, research institutions, universities, donors and investors, and – crucially – farmers to address the challenges of pest infestations, and lessen their impact on food systems.
Collaboration is central to IITA’s Biorisk Management Facility (BIMAF), a partnership established around the need for better coordination between researchers, civil society, farming communities, and non-governmental, public and private organisations.
There is no single, superior way to fight and control agricultural pests like the desert locust – battling them on all fronts is our best hope. Of course, prevention is the ultimate goal, and it is achievable. But stopping an outbreak in its tracks requires a huge amount of coordination and sustained financial support.
We must work together to develop new crop protection methods and get them into the hands of those who need them the most. The current locust outbreak – and future pest infestations – will only be defeated with a united front.
This article and video were originally posted on the CIMMYT website.
Wheat provides, on average, 20% of the calories and protein for more than 4.5 billion people in 94 developing countries. To feed a growing population, we need both better agronomic practices and to grow wheat varieties that can withstand the effects of climate change and resist various pests and diseases.
Watch CIMMYT Wheat Physiologist Carolina Rivera discuss — in just one minute — choosing and breeding desirable wheat traits with higher tolerance to stresses.
China-based CIMMYT-JAAS screening station aims for global impact in the fight against deadly Fusarium head blight
Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), led by the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agriculture in the
Dry Areas (ICARDA), have announced a partnership with the Jiangsu Academy of
Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) in China to
open a new screening facility for
the deadly and fast-spreading fungal wheat disease Fusariumhead blight
The new facility,
based near JAAS headquarters in Nanjing, aims to capitalize on CIMMYT’s
world-class collection of disease-resistant wheat materials and the diversity
of the more than 150,000 wheat germplasm in its Wheat Germplasm Bank to
identify and characterize genetics of sources of resistance to FHB and,
ultimately, develop new, FHB-resistant wheat varieties that can be sown in
vulnerable areas around the world.
participation of JAAS in the global FHB breeding network will significantly
contribute to the development of elite germplasm with good FHB resistance,” said
Pawan Singh, head of wheat pathology for CIMMYT.
“We expect that
in 5 to 7 years, promising lines with FHB resistance will be available for
deployment by both CIMMYT and China to vulnerable farmers, thanks to this new
Fusariumhead blight is one of the most
dangerous wheat diseases. It can cause
up to 50% yield loss, and produce severe mycotoxin contamination in food and
feed – with impacts including increased health care
and veterinary care costs, and reduced livestock production.
Even consuming low to moderate amounts of Fusarium mycotoxins may impair intestinal health, immune function and/or fitness. Deoxynivalenol (DON), a mycotoxin the fungus inducing FHB produces, has been linked to symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In livestock, Fusarium mycotoxin consumption exacerbates infections with parasites, bacteria and viruses — such as occidiosis in poultry, salmonellosis in pigs and mice, colibacillosis in pigs, necrotic enteritis in poultry and swine respiratory disease.
In China, the
world’s largest wheat producer, FHB is the most important biotic constraint to
The disease is
extending quickly beyond its traditionally vulnerable wheat growing areas in
East Asia, North America, the southern cone of South America, Europe and South
Africa — partly as a result of global
warming, and partly due to otherwise beneficial, soil-conserving farming practices
such as wheat-maize rotation and reduced tillage.
“Through CIMMYT’s connections with national agricultural research
systems in developing countries, we can create a global impact for JAAS
research, reaching the countries that are expected to be affected the expansion
of FHB epidemic area,” said Xu Zhang, head of Triticeae crops research groupat the Institute of Food Crops of the
Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
collaborative effort will target FHB research initially
but could potentially expand to research on other wheat diseases as well. Wheat
blast, for example, is a devastating disease that spread from South America to
Bangladesh in 2016. Considering the geographical closeness of Bangladesh and
China, a collaboration with CIMMYT, as one of the leading institutes working on
wheat blast, could have a strong impact.
platform is new, the two institutions have a longstanding relationship. The bilateral collaboration between JAAS and
CIMMYT began in early 1980s with a shuttle breeding program between China and
Mexico to speed up breeding for FHB resistance. The two institutions also conducted
extensive germplasm exchanges in the 1980s and 1990s, which helped CIMMYT improve
resistance to FHB, and helped JAAS improve wheat rust resistance.
and CIMMYT are working on FHB under a project funded by the National Natural
Science Foundation China called “Elite and
Durable Resistance to Wheat Fusarium
Head Blight” that aims to deploy FHB resistance genes/QTL in Chinese and CIMMYT
germplasm and for use in wheat breeding.
Xinyao He, Wheat Pathologist and Geneticist, Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT. email@example.com, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2218
FOR MORE INFORMATION,
CONTACT THE MEDIA TEAM:
Geneviève Renard, Head of Communications, CIMMYT. firstname.lastname@example.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2019.
ABOUT CGIAR RESEARCH PROGRAM ON WHEAT: The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a primary research partner. Funding comes from CGIAR, national governments, foundations, development banks and other agencies, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
ABOUT CIMMYT: The International Maize and Wheat 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 Research 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.
Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS):
Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS), a comprehensive agricultural research institution since 1931, strives to make agriculture more productive and sustainable through technology innovation. JAAS endeavors to carry out the Plan for Rural Vitalization Strategy and our innovation serves agriculture, farmers and the rural areas. JAAS provide more than 80% of new varieties, products and techniques in Jiangsu Province, teach farmers not only to increase yield and quality, but also to challenge conventional practices in pursuit of original ideas in agro-environment protection. For more information, visit home.jaas.ac.cn/.
This article by Matthew O’ Leary was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.
Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease that threatens food safety and security in tropical areas in South America and South Asia. Directly striking the wheat ear, wheat blast can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act.
The disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT), can spread through infected seeds and survives on crop residues, as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air.
Magnaporthe oryzae can infect many grasses, including barley, lolium, rice, and wheat, but specific isolates of this pathogen generally infect limited species; that is, wheat isolates infect preferably wheat plants but can use several more cereal and grass species as alternate hosts. The Bangladesh wheat blast isolate is being studied to determine its host range. The Magnaporthe oryzae genome is well-studied but major gaps remain in knowledge about its epidemiology.
In 2016, wheat blast spread to Bangladesh, which suffered a severe outbreak. It has impacted around 15,000 hectares of land in eight districts, reducing yield on average by as much as 51% in the affected fields.
How does blast infect a wheat crop?
Wheat blast spreads through infected seeds, crop residues as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air.
Blast appears sporadically on wheat and grows well on numerous other plants and crops, so rotations do not control it. The irregular frequency of outbreaks also makes it hard to understand or predict the precise conditions for disease development, or to methodically select resistant wheat lines.
At present blast requires concurrent heat and humidity to develop and is confined to areas with those conditions. However, crop fungi are known to mutate and adapt to new conditions, which should be considered in management efforts.
How can farmers prevent and manage wheat blast?
There are no widely available resistant varieties, and fungicides are expensive and provide only a partial defense. They are also often hard to obtain or use in the regions where blast occurs, and must be applied well before any symptoms appear — a prohibitive expense for many farmers.
The Magnaporthe oryzae fungus is physiologically and genetically complex, so even after more than three decades, scientists do not fully understand how it interacts with wheat or which genes in wheat confer durable resistance.
Researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are partnering 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. Through the USAID-supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) projects, CIMMYT and its partners are developing agronomic methods and early warning systems so farmers can prepare for and reduce the impact of wheat blast.
Uma Rao, Tushar K. Dutta, Vishal S. Somvanshi and Abdelfattah
A. Dababat contributed to this story.
Fifty delegates from across the globe
recently gathered at the 7th International Cereal Nematode Symposium
in New Delhi, India to discuss the spread of cereal nematodes, strategies to
lessen their impact on crops and ways to boost international collaboration on
Nematodes, microscopic plant parasites
that include the Heterodera species
of cereal cyst nematode and the Pratylenchus
species of root lesion nematodes, are widespread in wheat production systems
throughout West Asia, North Africa, parts of Central Asia, northern India, and
China, and pose a grave economic problem for wheat production systems globally.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry have been working over the last 12 years — in collaboration with the International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), national program partners, and research institutions in Australia and Europe – to understand the importance and distribution of these species of cereal nematodes, as part of the ICARDA-CIMMYT Wheat Improvement Program (ICWIP).
“Because cereals are the staple food for the majority
of the world’s population, cereal nematodes pose an enormous threat to global
food security,” said Abdelfattah Dababat, leader of CIMMYT’s Soil Borne
“The symposium allows scientists from around the world
to share their findings, lessons and strategies to combat this threat.”
The symposium, organized by ICWIP and hosted by the Division of Nematology at the ICAR- Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), was held November 3-6 at New Delhi’s National Agricultural Science Complex. The conference was inaugurated by Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General of ICAR & Secretary DARE, Government of India. It included sessions on the global status and distribution of cereal nematodes, their economic importance and population dynamics, management strategies both with and without using host resistance, the genomes and parasitism genes of cereal nematodes, and the use of molecular tools for cereal nematode research.
Among the notable global developments
shared, highlights included the following.
Scientists from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Israel described the distribution and management status of Heterodera spp. in their region.
Hendrika Fourie from South Africa’s North West University, and colleagues, discussed the nematode problems in South Africa.
Rebecca Zwart and Senior Research Scientist Grant Hollaway, from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, presented findings on the Pratylenchus menace in wheat in Australia.
Uma Rao, a co-organizer of the symposium from IARI, and colleagues, discussed the deployment of molecular tools to manage the problem of the Meloidogyne graminicola nematode in rice-wheat cropping systems.
Richard Sikora, from the University of Bonn, Germany, summarized the current challenges in nematology, especially pertaining to wheat and maize, and reiterated the need for new technologies and management approaches for the small- and medium-sized farms of the future. He also highlighted the role of remote sensing in detecting nematode diseases.
A.K. Singh, Joint Director of Research at IARI gave a formal presentation on molecular breeding of Basmati rice.
Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General of
ICAR & Secretary Dare, and Arun K. Joshi from CIMMYT’s India office were
among the other distinguished speakers.
Following the symposium,
participants observed nematode-related research work underway at IARI’s
Division of Nematology, the largest nematology center in India. They also visited
the IARI museum and the institute’s Division of Entomology.
Symposium supporters include CIMMYT, the CGIAR Research Program On Wheat, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA), the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), the Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, Corteva, Syngenta, and the Plant Breeders Union of Turkey (BISAB). Previous symposiums have been held in Turkey, Austria, China and Morocco.
Wheat research leaders from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) recently traveled to Turkey to discuss continued collaboration among Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the two institutions.
director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on
Wheat and Michael Baum, program director for Biodiversity and Crop Improvement at
ICARDA, met with Deputy Minister Mustafa Aksu and General Director for
Agricultural Research of the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
(GDAR) Ozkan Kayacan to evaluate the current and potential areas for collaboration,
both in Turkey and the region.
with Turkey has been longstanding and very fruitful,” said Hans Braun. “We are
pleased to continue and grow this partnership between CGIAR Centers and Turkey
towards a bigger CGIAR-wide crop improvement initiative.”
IWWIP, a joint
program of Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and CIMMYT since the
mid-1980s with ICARDA joining in 1991, develops winter wheat germplasm for
Central and West Asia and facilitates a winter wheat germplasm exchange for the
global breeding community. The program
works jointly with research institutes of the Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry to distribute germplasm globally through observation nurseries around
the world. At least 42 varieties from IWWIP
have been released in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and
Soil Borne Pathogens Program, a world-class center for research on soil borne
pathogens, benefits from ongoing support by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture
and Forestry to fight against diseases affecting cereal crops, which occupy 65
percent of Turkey’s farmland.
one-day meeting, the group, which included representatives from the Turkish
Ministry’s Field Crops Department, IWWIP, the Sakarya Research Institute and
others, reviewed current progress of the ongoing joint programs and developed
work plans for next steps to improve the strong cooperation. New areas of collaboration
with potential support by the Turkish government include joint
research with CIMMYT’s maize program
and opportunities for capacity building support in wheat improvement.
Meeting attendees included Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Deputy General Directors Ilhan Aydin and Ihsan Arslan, Head of Field Crops Department Ayfer Sahin, IWWIP Coordinator Fatih Ozdemir, Sakarya Research Institute Director Yavuz Agi, and Specialist Merve Altan, CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun; CIMMYT Country Representative for Turkey Abdelfattah A.S. Dababat, CIMMYT Consultant Seher Turkyilmaz Sinclair, ICARDA Program Director Michael Baum, and Turkey Country Representative for ICARDA Mesut Keser.
Ethiopia has huge potential and a suitable agroecology for growing wheat. However, its agriculture sector, dominated by a traditional farming system, is unable to meet the rising demand for wheat from increasing population and urbanization. Wheat consumption in Ethiopia has grown to 6.7 million tons per year, but the country only produces about 5 million tons per year on 1.7 million hectares. As a result, the country pays a huge import bill reaching up to $700 million per year to match supply with demand.
A new initiative is aiming to change this scenario, making Ethiopia wheat self-sufficient by opening new regions to wheat production.
“We have always been traditionally a wheat growing country, but focusing only in the highlands with heavy dependence on rain. Now that is changing and the government of Ethiopia has set a new direction for import substitution by growing wheat in the lowlands through an irrigated production system,” explained Mandefro Nigussie, director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). Nigussie explained that several areas are being considered for this initiative: Awash, in the Oromia and Afar regions; Wabeshebelle, in the Somali Region; and Omo, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR).
A delegation from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently met Ethiopian researchers and policymakers to discuss CIMMYT’s role in this effort. Ethiopia’s new Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Umar Hussein, attended the meeting.
“We understand that the government of Ethiopia has set an ambitious project but is serious about it, so CIMMYT is ready to support you,” said Hans Braun, director of the Global Wheat Program at CIMMYT.
CIMMYT and the Ethiopian government have identified priority areas that will support the new government initiative. These include testing a large number of advanced lines to identify the right variety for the lowlands; developing disease resistant varieties and multiplying good quality and large quantity early generation initial seed; refining appropriate agronomic practices that improve crop, land and water productivity; organizing exposure visits for farmers and entrepreneurs; implementing training of trainers and researchers; and technical backstopping.
CIMMYT has been providing technical support and resources for wheat and maize production in Ethiopia for decades. As part of this support, CIMMYT has developed lines that are resistant to diseases like stem and yellow rust, stress tolerant and suitable for different wheat agroecologies.
“This year, for example, CIMMYT has developed three lines which are suitable for the lowlands and proposed to be released,” said Bekele Abeyo, wheat breeder and CIMMYT Country Representative for Ethiopia. “In India, the green revolution wouldn’t have happened without the support of CIMMYT and we would also like to see that happen in Ethiopia.”
“With our experience, knowledge and acquired skills, there is much to offer from the CIMMYT side,” Abeyo expressed. He noted that mechanization is one of the areas in which CIMMYT excels. Through a business service providers model, CIMMYT and its partners tested the multipurpose two-wheel tractors in Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and the southern regions. Good evidence for impact was generated particularly in Oromia and the south, where service providers generated income and ensured food security.
“Import versus export depends on a comparative advantage and for Ethiopia it is a total disadvantage to import wheat while having the potential [to grow more],” said Hussein. “The Ministry of Agriculture is thus figuring out what it can do together with partners like CIMMYT on comparative advantages.”
Hussein explained that the private sector has always been on the sidelines when it comes to agriculture. With the new initiative, however, it will be involved, particularly in the lowlands where there is abundant land for development under irrigation and available water resources, with enormous investment potential for the private sector. This, he noted, is a huge shift for the agricultural sector, which was mainly taken care of by the government and smallholder farmers, with support from development partners.
Thinking beyond the local market
As it stands now, Ethiopia is the third largest wheat producing country in Africa and has great market potential for the region. With more production anticipated under the new initiative, Ethiopia plans to expand its market to the world.
“We want our partners to understand that our thinking and plan is not only to support the country but also to contribute to the global effort of food security,” Hussein explained. However, “with the current farming system this is totally impossible,” he added. Mechanization is one of the key drivers to increase labor, land and crop productivity by saving time and ensuring quality. The government is putting forward some incentives for easy import of machinery. “However, it requires support in terms of technical expertise and knowledge transfer,” Hussein concluded.
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.