New research platform focuses on helping smallholder farmers sustainably increase production and adapt to climate change, reducing yield and efficiency gaps in major crops
Nine CGIAR centers, supported by the Big Data Platform, launched the Excellence in Agronomy 2030 initiative today at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) online summit.
The Excellence in Agronomy 2030 (EiA 2030) initiative will assist millions of smallholder farmers to intensify their production systems while preserving key ecosystem services under the threat of climate change. This initiative, co-created with various scaling partners, represents the collective resolve of CGIAR’s agronomy programs to transform the world’s food systems through demand- and data-driven agronomy research for development.
EiA 2030 will combine big data analytics, new sensing technologies, geospatial decision tools and farming systems research to improve spatially explicit agronomic recommendations in response to demand from scaling partners. Our science will integrate the principles of Sustainable Intensification and be informed by climate change considerations, behavioral economics, and scaling pathways at the national and regional levels.
A two-year Incubation Phase of EiA 2030 is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project will demonstrate the added value of demand-driven R&D, supported by novel data and analytics and increased cooperation among centers, in support of a One CGIAR agronomy initiative aiming at the sustainable intensification of farming systems.
Speaking on the upcoming launch, the IITA R4D Director for Natural Resource Management, Bernard Vanlauwe, who facilitates the implementation of the Incubation Phase, said that “EiA 2030 is premised on demand-driven agronomic solutions to develop recommendations that match the needs and objectives of the end users.”
Christian Witt, Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lauded the initiative as a cornerstone for One CGIAR. “It is ingenious to have a platform like EiA 2030 that looks at solutions that have worked in different settings on other crops and whether they can be applied in a different setting and on different crops,” Witt said.
Martin Kropff, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), spoke about the initiative’s goals of becoming the leading platform for next-generation agronomy in the Global South, not only responding to the demand of the public and private sectors, but also increasing efficiencies in the development and delivery of solutions through increased collaboration, cooperation and cross-learning between CGIAR centers and within the broader agronomy R&D ecosystem, including agroecological approaches.
CGIAR centers that are involved in EiA include AfricaRice, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
This article by Sakshi Saini was originally published on the CCAFS website.
Ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) is a global concern due to the association of high atmospheric GHG concentrations with global warming and climate change. A large and growing body of evidence predicts that this would further have a multifaceted impact on the human population, especially the poor and vulnerable groups, further exacerbating their vulnerabilities.
But what about crops? Plants use carbon dioxide (CO2)—one of the most abundant GHGs, for photosynthesis. So shouldn’t an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide aid crops to flourish? A counter-argument to this would be that at the same time there would be changes in other factors such as a change in precipitation rate, frequency and intensity of rains, among others, which might negatively impact crop production. So, how exactly would climatic variations impact the yield and productivity of crops? These are some of the questions that have been a global concern. Many studies have researched this, employing varied approaches such as systems biology, physiology and crop modelling. However, unprecedented changes in climatic conditions still pose uncertainties on the impacts on crops.
Recent research by an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Chanage, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)-Africa and CCAFS-Asia aspires to answer some of these questions. As part of this research, they have compiled recent progress made in the physiological and molecular attributes in plants, with special emphasis on legumes under elevated CO2 conditions in a climate change scenario. The study proposes a strategic research framework for crop improvement that integrates genomics, systems biology, physiology and crop modelling approaches to cope with the changing climate. Some of the prime results of the study are as follows:
1. Major physiological and biochemical alterations in legumes triggered by elevated CO2
A range of physiological and biochemical alterations take place in plants exposed to elevated CO2. In the case of legumes, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations also affect the nutritional quality and nodulation, causes changes in rhizosphere and Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF), among others. Studies have shown that elevated CO2 would stimulate plant growth under nitrogen-sufficient conditions, but under nitrogen-limited conditions, it may have the detrimental effect of reducing plant growth by altering its primary metabolism. The anatomical differences between C3 and C4 plants (plants with C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways) and their different ways of sequestering carbon (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), have been an area of interest for climate scientists. Elevated CO2 combined with limited nitrogen may also promote biological ageing (senescence) rates as observed in flag leaves of rice and wheat. Studies also show that a higher level of carbon dioxide increases senescence rate in legumes.
2. Impact of elevated carbon-dioxide interaction with other abiotic stresses
As mentioned earlier, CO2 is not the only factor that is impacting plant growth, it is dependent on other environmental factors such as water deficit stress and temperature, among others. Thus, these factors also need to be considered in combination with the atmospheric concentration. Studies have reported that elevated CO2 induced a decrease (of 10%) in evaporation rates in both C3 and C4 plants. This caused an increase in canopy temperature (0.7 °C) coupled with a 19% yield increase in C3 crops. There is evidence that an increase in CO2 has also phased down the effect of oxidative stress. Though, there is limited literature available about the impact of elevated carbon dioxide keeping into consideration the drought and heat responses of various crops.
3. Elevated carbon dioxide and its interaction with biotic stress-altered pathogen aggravation and virulence
The changing climate has affected pest-crop dynamics with more frequent outbreaks and changed the geographical distribution of pests, posing an economic threat to crops. Sometimes, other abiotic stresses like drought could increase fungal virulence as reported in drought-tolerant peanut and Aspergillus interaction. However, a combined interaction is not always additive as both unique and common responses have been observed. Increased CO2 causes greater photosynthate availability, but reduced foliage quality along with an increased concentration of plant defensive compounds after a pest infestation. This, in turn, affects insect feeding and increases disease incidence and predator parasitism interactions.
4. Molecular interventions for crop improvement under elevated carbon-dioxide
While elevated CO2 may cause greater photosynthate availability, the interaction of elevated CO2 with mentioned biotic and abiotic stresses calls for the development of climate change ready crop varieties. Thus, genomics assisted breeding along with other modern approaches can be very powerful tools to develop superior varieties, to de-risk the existing food system. This transformative approach towards the production of plants and crops would be instrumental in sustainably ensuring food security.
An integrated research framework for the future
The discussion and evidence presented illustrate that the effect of elevated CO2 under a changing climate scenario is multifaceted and aggravated by the overlapping interaction of stressors. The notion that CO2 has beneficial effects in terms of increased productivity is now being questioned since the photosynthetic fertilization effect is short term and often not time-tested for major crop species. The IPCC 2018 special report highlights several policy-level approaches that are aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emission. The scientific community needs to be prepared with suitable research outcomes to cope with the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 levels. In this regard, an integrated framework combining different biological disciplines has been proposed by the team (Fig. 1).
While significant advances have been made in crop genomics, systems biology and genomics-assisted breeding, the success of trait dissection and trait deployment is very much dependent on the quality and precision of phenotyping. Recent advances in plant phenotyping using high throughput phenotyping tools have revolutionized the uptake of phenotype and allelic information in a more precise and robust way and complemented high throughput genomic resources
In the opinion of the authors of the publication, an integrated research framework that includes genomics/ systems biology and phenomics together with crop modelling would result in faster data-driven advances for understanding the optimal GxExM (genotype x environment x management) scenarios for current and projected climates. Interdisciplinary approaches as has been done through the Climate-Smart Village approach, are key to graduating from a descriptive level to an improved quantitative and process-level understanding of sustainable crop productivity.
This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.
Insect resistance in plants is needed now more than ever. The UN, which has named 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost annually due to plant pests and diseases.
Earlier this month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 24th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
We caught up with Mustapha El-Bouhssini, principal scientist at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to discuss insect pests and climate change. He explains how pests such as the Hessian fly — a destructive wheat pest which resembles a mosquito — and the chickpea pod borer are extending their geographical ranges in response to rising temperatures.
Community celebrates nearly 50 years of achievements; highlights ways to meet future challenges
It was 1974. In the
United States, the environmental movement was in full swing, with the first
celebration of Earth Day, the establishment of the Environmental Protection
Agency, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book, Silent Spring. Around the world, the
public was gaining awareness of the danger of overuse of pesticides, as a small
group of crop breeders and entomologists decided to get together in what would
become the first International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop.
Today, the need for insect resistance is even greater. The UN,
which has named 2020 as the International Year of
Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost
annually due to plant pests and diseases. The losses due to insects total up to
$1billion a year for wheat alone. Climate
change is another factor affecting the population and geographical
distribution of pests.
Last week, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) hosted IPRI’s 24th biannual session, convening
entomologists, pathologists, breeders and nematologists to validate past work and
highlight innovative solutions. To name
South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council has
developed 43 new cultivars of wheat that are resistant to Russian Wheat Aphid.
CIMMYT precision scientists are using high-tech
cameras on drones or planes to measure individual plants for signs of biotic
stress, to allow farmers advance notice of infestation.
North Dakota State University’s mapping of the
Hessian Fly H26 gene has revealed two clear phenotypic responses to Hessian fly
attacks, bringing breeders a step closer towards developing resistant wheat
CIMMYT-designed Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
packages are helping farmers from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds
and cropping systems effectively fight the devastating maize pest fall armyworm
through a combination of best management practices.
A recurring theme was the importance of collaboration
between entomologists and breeders to ensure breakthroughs in resistance genes
are taken up to develop new varieties that reach farmers.
“There is a disconnect between screening and breeding,” CIMMYT
Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun told attendees. “We need more and better collaboration between
disciplines, to move from screening to breeding faster.”
Communicating to farmers is crucial. Pesticides are
expensive, harmful to both human health and the environment, and can lead to crop
resistance. However, they can appear to
be the quick and easy solution. “IPM also means ‘integrating people’s
mindsets,’” said B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program.
National policies instituting strict quarantines pose
another serious barrier to the exchange of seeds required for testing and
To mark the workshop’s 24th anniversary, Michael
Smith, entomologist at Kansas State University and longtime IPRI participant, offered
a brief history of the event and the field—from the first insect-resistant
wheat developed in the early 1920s to the wake-up call of pesticide abuse in
“We’ve grown, we’ve made enormous technological changes, but
‘talking to people’ is still what we’re here for,” he stated. He added a
challenge for his colleagues: “We need
to tell a better story of the economic benefits of our science. We need to get
to the table in an even more assertive way.”
He also shared some lighter memories, such as the sight of
imminent plant scientists relaxing in leisure suits at the 1978 session. A traditional
mariachi serenade and traditional Mexican cuisine ensured that more memories
were made in 2020.
Leonardo Crespo-Herrera, CIMMYT wheat breeder
and workshop moderator closed with encouraging and provocative words for the
“The ultimate objective is to reduce the use of pesticides,” he said, adding: “How do we get this research out of the lab and into the field?”
Visit between Bill Gates and DFID head Alok Sharma featured demonstration of MARPLE mobile rust-testing lab
New £38 million funding from the Department for International Development (DFID, or UK aid), with additional funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will allow scientists to research cutting-edge technology to protect crops from pests and diseases and produce new varieties that are climate-resilient.
The joint funding, which was announced on Monday October 7, will directly contribute to securing global food security against pest and disease threats, climate change and natural resource scarcity. It will also reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by improving agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers.
The partnership will support biotechnologies to enable crops to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide more efficiently to promote higher yields, tools and methods to reduce the impact of root crop diseases in West Africa, and work to harness naturally occurring biological nitrogen fixation processes to improve crops’ nitrogen uptake and increase yields while reducing fertilizer use among smallholder farmers in Africa.
Early last year DFID also announced funding for CGIAR to help scientists identify specific genes in crops related to improved nutrition, faster growth and disease and climate-resilience. Their work will help up to 100 million African farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty.
Published in Science, the article provides evidence for national policies that block stubble burning and promote no-till mechanization to manage crop residues.
This story by Mike Listman was originally posted on the website of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
The new study compares the costs and benefits of 10 distinct land preparation and sowing practices for northern India’s rice-wheat cropping rotations, which are spread across more than 4 million hectares. The direct seeding of wheat into unplowed soil and shredded rice residues was the best option — it raises farmers’ profits through higher yields and savings in labor, fuel, and machinery costs.
The study, conducted by a global team of eminent agriculture and environmental scientists, was led by researchers from The Nature Conservancy, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) and the University of Minnesota.
A new economic study in the journal Science shows that thousands of farmers in northern India could increase their profits if they stop burning their rice straw and adopt no-till practices to grow wheat. Alternative farming practices could also cut farmers’ greenhouse gas emissions from on-farm activities by as much as 78% and help lower air pollution in cities like New Delhi.
A burning issue
To quickly and cheaply clear their fields to sow wheat each year, farmers in northern India burn an estimated 23 million tons of straw from their rice harvests. That enormous mass of straw, if packed into 20-kilogram 38-centimeter-high bales and piled on top of each other, would reach a height of over 430,000 kilometers — about 1.1 times the distance to the moon.
Regulations are in place in India to reduce agricultural fires but burning continues because of implementation challenges and lack of clarity about the profitability of alternate, no-burn farming.
Farmers have alternatives, the study shows. To sow wheat directly without plowing or burning rice straw, farmers need to purchase or rent a tractor-mounted implement known as the “Happy Seeder,” as well as attach straw shredders to their rice harvesters. Leaving straw on the soil as a mulch helps capture and retain moisture and also improves soil quality, according to M.L. Jat, CIMMYT Principal Scientist, cropping systems specialist and a co-author of the study.
The Science study demonstrates that it is possible to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is profitable to farmers and scalable.
The paper shows that Happy Seeder-based systems are on average 10%–20% more profitable than straw burning options.
“Our study dovetails with 2018 policies put in place by the government of India to stop farmers from burning, which includes a US$166 million subsidy to promote mechanization to manage crop residues within fields,” said Priya Shyamsundar, Lead Economist, Global Science, of The Nature Conservancy and first author of the study.
Shyamsundar noted that relatively few Indian farmers currently sow their wheat using the Happy Seeder but manufacturing of the Seeder had increased in recent years. “Less than a quarter of the total subsidy would pay for widespread adoption of the Happy Seeder, if aided by government and NGO support to build farmer awareness and impede burning.”
“With a rising population of 1.6 billion people, South Asia hosts 40% of the world’s poor and malnourished on just 2.4% of its land,” said Jat, who recently received India’s prestigious Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for outstanding and impact-oriented research contributions in natural resource management and agricultural engineering. “Better practices can help farmers adapt to warmer winters and extreme, erratic weather events such as droughts and floods, which are having a terrible impact on agriculture and livelihoods. In addition, India’s efforts to transition to more sustainable, less polluting farming practices can provide lessons for other countries facing similar risks and challenges.”
In November 2017, more than 4,000 schools closed in Delhi due to seasonal smog. This smog increases during October and November when fields are burned. It causes major transportation disruptions and poses health risks across northern India, including Delhi, a city of more than 18 million people.
Some of these problems can be resolved by the use of direct sowing technologies in northwestern India.
“Within one year of our dedicated action using about US$75 million under the Central Sector Scheme on ‘Promotion of agriculture mechanization for in-situ management of crop residue in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi,’ we could reach 0.8 million hectares of adoption of Happy Seeder/zero tillage technology in the northwestern states of India,” said Trilochan Mohapatra, director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). “Considering the findings of the Science article as well as reports from thousands of participatory validation trials, our efforts have resulted in an additional direct farmer benefit of US$131 million, compared to a burning option,” explained Mohapatra, who is also secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education.
This research was supported by the Susan and Craig McCaw Foundation, the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The Happy Seeder was originally developed through a project from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
For more information, or to arrange interviews with the researchers, please contact:
International gathering highlights cutting edge efforts to improve yields, nutrition, and climate change resilience of a globally vital staple food
by Julie Mollins
As many regions worldwide baked under some of the most persistent
heatwaves on record, scientists at a major conference in Canada shared data on
the impact of spiraling temperatures on wheat.
In the Sonora desert in northwestern Mexico, nighttime temperatures varied 4.4 degrees Celsius between 1981 and 2018, research from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) shows. Across the world in Siberia, nighttime temperatures rose 2 degrees Celsius between 1988 and 2015, according to Vladimir Shamanin, a professor at Russia’s Omsk State Agrarian University who conducts research with the Kazakhstan-Siberia Network on Spring Wheat Improvement.
“Although field trials across some of the hottest wheat growing environments worldwide have demonstrated that yield losses are in general associated with an increase in average temperatures, minimum temperatures at night – not maximum daytime temperatures –are actually determining the yield loss,” said Gemma Molero, the wheat physiologist at CIMMYT who conducted the research in Sonora, in collaboration with colleague Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio.
“Of the water taken up by the roots, 95% is lost from leaves via transpiration and from this, an average of 12% of the water is lost during the night. One focus of genetic improvement for yield and water-use efficiency for the plant should be to identify traits for adaptation to higher night temperatures,” Molero said, adding that nocturnal transpiration may lead to reductions of up to 50% of available soil moisture in some regions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in October that temperatures may become an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer in the next 11 years. A new IPCC analysis on climate change and land use due for release this week, urges a shift toward reducing meat in diets to help reduce agriculture-related emissions from livestock. Diets could be built around coarse grains, pulses, nuts and seeds instead.
Scientists attending the International Wheat Congress in Saskatoon, the city at the heart of Canada’s western wheat growing province of Saskatchewan, agreed that a major challenge is to develop more nutritious wheat varieties that can produce bigger yields in hotter temperatures.
As a staple crop, wheat provides 20% of all human calories consumed worldwide. It is the main source of protein for 2.5 billion people in the Global South. Crop system modeler Senthold Asseng, a professor at the University of Florida and a member of the International Wheat Yield Partnership, was involved in an extensive study in China, India, France, Russia and the United States, which demonstrated that for each degree Celsius in temperature increase, yields decline by 6%, putting food security at risk.
Wheat yields in South Asia could be cut in half due to chronically high temperatures, Molero said. Research conducted by the University of New South Wales, published in Environmental Research Letters also demonstrates that changes in climate accounted for 20 to 49% of yield fluctuations in various crops, including spring wheat. Hot and cold temperature extremes, drought and heavy precipitation accounted for 18 to 4% of the variations.
At CIMMYT, wheat breeders advocate a comprehensive
approach that combines conventional, physiological and molecular breeding
techniques, as well as good crop management practices that can ameliorate heat
shocks. New breeding technologies are making use of wheat landraces and wild
grass relatives to add stress adaptive traits into modern wheat – innovative approaches that have led to new
heat tolerant varieties being grown by farmers in warmer regions of Pakistan,
“HeDWIC is a pre-breeding program that aims to deliver genetically diverse advanced
lines through use of shared germplasm and other technologies,” Reynolds said in
Saskatoon. “It’s a knowledge-sharing and training mechanism, and a platform to deliver proofs
of concept related to new technologies for adapting wheat to a range of heat
and drought stress profiles.”
Aims include reaching agreement
across borders and institutions on the most promising research areas to achieve
climate resilience, arranging trait research into a rational framework, facilitating
and developing a bioinformatics cyber-infrastructure, he said, adding that
attracting multi-year funding for international collaborations remains a
area of climate research at CIMMYT involves the development of an affordable
alternative to the use of nitrogen fertilizers to reduce planet-warming
greenhouse gas emissions. In certain plants, a trait known as biological
nitrification inhibition (BNI) allows them to suppress the loss of nitrogen
from the soil, improving the efficiency of nitrogen uptake and use by
themselves and other plants.
“Every year, nearly a fifth of the world’s fertilizer is used to grow wheat, yet the crop only uses about 30% of the nitrogen applied, in terms of biomass and harvested grains,” said Victor Kommerell, program manager for the multi-partner CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) on Wheat and Maize led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
has the potential to turn wheat into a highly nitrogen-efficient crop: farmers
could save money on fertilizers, and nitrous oxide emissions from wheat farming
could be reduced by 30%.”
Excluding changes in land use such as deforestation, annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture each year are equivalent to 11% of all emissions from human activities. About 70% of nitrogen applied to crops in fertilizers is either washed away or becomes nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to Guntur Subbarao, a principal scientist with JIRCAS.
To exploit this roots-based characteristic,
breeders would have to breed this trait into plants, said Searchinger, who
presented key findings of the report in Saskatoon, adding that governments and
research agencies should increase research funding.
Other climate change mitigation efforts must
include revitalizing degraded soils, which affect about a quarter of the
planet’s cropland, to help boost crop yields. Conservation agriculture
techniques involve retaining crop residues on fields instead of burning and
clearing. Direct seeding into soil-with-residue and agroforestry also can play
a key role.
How can space technology help improve maize and wheat production? CIMMYT joined a group of international data users in a recent project to find out.
In 2017, a call for proposals from Copernicus Climate Change Service Sectoral Information Systems led the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT to collaborate with Wageningen University, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other research and meteorological organizations to develop practical applications in agricultural and food security for satellite-sourced weather data.
The project, which recently ended, opened the door to a wide variety of potential uses for this highly detailed data.
ESA collects extremely granular data on weather, churned out at an hourly rate. CIMMYT researchers, including Foresight Specialist Gideon Kruseman, reviewed this data stream, which generates 22 variables of daily and sub-daily weather data at a 30-kilometerlevel of accuracy, and evaluated how it could help generate agriculture-specific weather and climate data sets.
“For most people, the reaction would be, ‘What do we do with this?’ Kruseman said. “For us, this is a gold mine.”
For example, wind speed — an important variable collected by ESA satellites — is key for analyzing plant evaporation rates, and thus their drought tolerance. In addition, to date, information is available on ideal ago-climatic zones for various crop varieties, but there is no data on the actual weather conditions during a particular growing season for most sites.
By incorporating the information from the data sets into field trial data, CIMMYT researchers can specifically analyze maize and wheat cropping systems on a larger scale and create crop models with higher precision, meaning that much more accurate information can be generated from the trials of different crop varieties.
The currently available historic daily and sub-daily data, dating back to 1979, will allow CIMMYT and its partners to conduct “genotype by environment (GxE)” interaction analysis in much higher detail. For example, it will allow researchers to detect side effects related to droughts and heat waves and the tolerance of maize and wheat lines to those stresses. This will help breeders create specific crop varieties for farmers in environments where the impact of climate change is predicted to be more apparent in the near future.
“The data from this project has great potential fix this gap in information so that farmers can eventually receive more targeted assistance,” said Kruseman.
These ideas are just the beginning of the agricultural research and food security potential of the ESA data. For example, Kruseman would like to link the data to household surveys to review the relationship between the weather farmers experience and the farming decisions they make.
By the end of 2019, the data will live on an open access, user-friendly database. Eventually, space agency-sourced weather data from as far back as 1951 to as recent as five days ago will be available to researchers and weather enthusiasts alike.
Already CIMMYT scientists are using this data to understand the potential of a promising wheat line, for seasonal forecasting, to analyze gene-bank accessions and for a statistical analysis of maize trials, with many more high-impact applications expected in the future.
Crop scientists refute the flawed findings of a study questioning climate resilience in modern wheat breeding.
This article by Marcia MacNeil was originally posted on May 28, 2019 on cimmyt.org.
In early 2019, an article published by European climate researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) journal questioned the climate resilience of modern wheat varieties. The article suggested that modern wheat varieties showed reduced climate resilience as a direct result of modern breeding methods and practices, a claim that researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) vehemently rebuke
In a rebuttal letter published in the June issue of PNAS a group of scientists, including CIMMYT’s Susanne Dreisigacker and Sarah Hearne, strongly contradict the finding that breeding has reduced climate resilience in European wheat, citing significant flaws in the authors’ methodology, data analyses and interpretation.
“This article discredits European plant breeders and wheat breeders in general, who have been working over many decades to produce a wide range of regionally adapted, stable varieties which perform well under a broad range of climate change conditions,” said CIMMYT wheat molecular geneticist Susanne Dreisigacker.
Among other flaws, they found a number of omissions and inconsistencies.
The article shows a lack of understanding of commonly used terms and principles of breeding theory, criticizing newer wheat varieties for demonstrating a decrease in “climatic response diversity.” Less diversity in wheat response — that is, more stable yields despite the influence of climate change — is a benefit, not a threat, to farmers.
The article authors contradict the common knowledge among farmers and plant breeders that new elite wheat varieties are generally more productive than older varieties; new cultivars are only approved if they show added value in direct comparison to existing varieties.
The article’s claim of long-term losses of climate resilience in “European wheat” is unsubstantiated. The authors extensively used data from three small countries — the Czech Republic, Denmark and Slovakia — which contribute less than five percent of Europe’s wheat supply. Three of the five most important wheat producers in Europe — Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom — were not accounted for in the analysis.
The authors failed to report the actual wheat yields in their study, neglected to publish the underlying data with the manuscript and have up to now declined requests to make the data available.
Europe is one of the world’s major wheat producers and threats to its wheat production due to climate change would have serious consequences for world’s food security. Luckily, say the scientists who published the rebuttal letter, this fear is unfounded.
“Wheat producers and bread consumers around the world will be relieved to learn that breeders have not ignored climate change after all,” said letter lead-author Rod Snowdon, from the Department of Plant Breeding at Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Germany.
The full rebuttal letter by 19 international plant breeders, agronomists and scientists, is available on the PNAS site and reprinted in its entirety below.
Reduced response diversity does not negatively impact wheat climate resilience
Kahiluoto et al. (1) assert that climate resilience in European wheat has declined due to current breeding practices. To support this alarming claim, the authors report yield variance data indicating increasingly homogeneous responses to climatic fluctuations in modern wheat cultivars. They evaluated “response diversity,” a measure of responses to environmental change among different species jointly contributing to ecosystem functions (2). We question the suitability of this measure to describe agronomic fitness in single-cultivar wheat cropping systems. Conclusions are made about “long-term trends,” which in fact span data from barely a decade, corresponding to the duration of a single wheat breeding cycle. The authors furthermore acknowledge increasing climate variability during the study period, confounding their analysis of climate response in the same time span.
The underlying data are not published with the manuscript. Thus, the assertion that there is “no inherent trade-off between yield potential and diversity in weather responses” (1) cannot be verified. Inexplicably, the analysis and conclusions ignore absolute yields, which increase over time through breeding (3–6). Furthermore, incompatible data from completely different ecogeographical forms and species of wheat are apparently considered together, and the dataset is strongly biased toward a few small countries with minimal wheat production and narrow agroclimatic gradients.
The study assumes that increased response diversity among different cultivars is associated with yield stability. In contrast, the common, agronomic definition of yield stability refers to the ability of a single cultivar to stably perform well in diverse environments, without excessive responses to fluctuating conditions. Response diversity measures that ignore absolute yield do not support statements about food security or financial returns to farmers.
Cultivar yield potential, stability, and adaptation are enhanced by multienvironment selection over long breeding time frames, encompassing climate fluctuations and a multitude of other relevant environmental variables. Translation to on-farm productivity is promoted by national registration trials and extensive, postregistration regional variety trials in diverse environments. The unsurprising conclusion that planting multiple cultivars enhances overall production stability mirrors longstanding farming recommendations and practice (7). The availability of robust performance data from a broad range of high-performing cultivars enables European farmers to manage their production and income risks.
Kahiluoto et al. (1) speculate about “genetic erosion” of modern cultivars due to a “lack of incentives for breeders to introduce divergent material.” To substantiate these claims, the authors cite inadequate genetic data from non-European durum wheat (8), while explicitly dismissing clearly opposing findings about genetic diversity in European bread wheat (9). Short-term reductions in response diversity in five countries were misleadingly reported as a “long-term decline” in climate resilience in “most European countries,” although six out of seven countries with sufficient data showed no long-term decline. The article from Kahiluoto et al. and the misrepresentation of its results distorts decades of rigorous, successful breeding for yield potential and stability in European wheat and misleads farmers with pronouncements that are not supported by relevant data.
1 H. Kahiluoto et al., Decline in climate resilience of European wheat. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 116, 123–128 (2019).
2 T. Elmqvist et al., Response diversity, ecosystem change, and resilience. Front. Ecol. Environ. 1, 488–494 (2003).
3 S. De Schepper, M. De Loose, E. Van Bockstaele, P. Debergh, Ploidy analysis of azalea flower colour sports. Meded. Rijksuniv. Gent. Fak. Landbouwkd. Toegep. Biol. Wet. 66, 447–449 (2001).
4 I. Mackay et al., Reanalyses of the historical series of UK variety trials to quantify the contributions of genetic and environmental factors to trends and variability in yield over time. Theor. Appl. Genet. 122, 225–238 (2011).
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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.