Wheat blast is a devastating fungal disease threatening agricultural productivity and food security in the Americas and South Asia. First identified in Brazil in 1984, it spread to Bangladesh in 2016, prompting the government to request scientists for an early warning system.
A new infographic, developed by researchers at the Cereal Systems Initiative for Asia (CSISA) explains how wheat blast is spread and how an early warning system can help extension agents and farmers get ahead of the disease.
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.
by Dakshinamurthy Vedachalam, Sugandha Munshi / This article was originally published on the website of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center on March 12, 2019
Self-help groups in Bihar, India, are putting thousands of rural women in touch with agricultural innovations, including mechanization and sustainable intensification, that save time, money, and critical resources such as soil and water, benefiting households and the environment.
The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, locally known as Jeevika, has partnered with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to train women’s self-help groups and other stakeholders in practices such as zero tillage, early sowing of wheat, direct-seeded rice and community nurseries.
Through their efforts to date, more than 35,000 households are planting wheat earlier than was customary, with the advantage that the crop fully fills its grain before the hot weather of late spring. In addition, some 18,000 households are using zero tillage, in which they sow wheat directly into unplowed fields and residues, a practice that improves soil quality and saves water, among other benefits. As many as 5,000 households have tested non-flooded, direct-seeded rice cultivation during 2018-19, which also saves water and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions
An autonomous body under the Bihar Department of Rural Development, Jeevika is also helping women to obtain specialized equipment for zero tillage and for the mechanized transplanting of rice seedlings into paddies, which reduces women’s hard labor of hand transplanting.
“Mechanization is helping us manage our costs and judiciously use our time in farming,” says Rekha Devi, a woman farmer member of Jeevika Gulab self-help group of Beniwal Village, Jamui District. “We have learned many new techniques through our self-help group.”
With more than 100 million inhabitants and over 1,000 persons per square kilometer, Bihar is India’s most densely-populated state. Nearly 90 percent of its people live in rural areas and agriculture is the main occupation. Women in Bihar play key roles in agriculture, weeding, harvesting, threshing, and milling crops, in addition to their household chores and bearing and caring for children, but they often lack access to training, vital information, or strategic technology.
Like all farmers in South Asia, they also face risks from rising temperatures, variable rainfall, resource degradation, and financial constraints.
Jeevika has formed more than 700,000 self-help groups in Bihar, mobilizing nearly 8.4 million poor households, 25,000 village organizations, and 318 cluster-level federations in all 38 districts of Bihar.
The organization also fosters access for women to “custom-hiring” businesses, which own the specialized implement for practices such as zero tillage and will sow or perform other mechanized services for farmers at a cost. “Custom hiring centers help farmers save time in sowing, harvesting and threshing,” said Anil Kumar, Program Manager, Jeevika.
The staff training, knowledge and tools shared by CSISA have been immensely helpful in strengthening the capacity of women farmers, according to Dr. D. Balamurugan, CEO, Jeevika. “We aim to further strengthen our partnership with CSISA and accelerate our work with women farmers, improving their productivity while saving their time and costs,” Balamurugan said.
CSISA is implemented jointly by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
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).
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.
NEW DEHLI, India (April 22, 2016)-Ram Kanwar Malik, a senior agronomist in the Sustainable Intensification Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Bihar, India, is the winner of the 2015 Derek Tribe Award for his outstanding contributions to making a food secure world by improving and sustaining the productivity of the rice-wheat system of the northwestern and eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.
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.
NEW DEHLI, India (September 30, 2015)- Large-scale adoption of zero tillage wheat production could play a major role in making the eastern Indian state of Bihar self-sufficient in wheat, according to a new study published by CIMMYT agricultural scientists.
In a study published last month in Food Security, CIMMYT researchers reported that wheat farmer’s total annual income increased by 6% on average with the introduction of zero tillage (ZT) in Bihar. While studies done in the past in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) have shown ZT impacts in field trials or controlled environments, this research is believed to be the first that studied actual impacts in farmers’ fields.
ZT allows direct planting of wheat without plowing, sowing seeds directly into residues of the previous crop on the soil surface, thus saving irrigation water, increasing soil organic matter and suppressing weeds.
“We found that the prevailing ZT practice, without full residue retention, used by farmers in Bihar has led to an average yield gain of 498 kilogram per hectare (19%) over conventional tillage wheat, which is in contrast to the results of a recent global meta-analysis” says Alwin Keil, Senior Agricultural Economist, CIMMYT and the lead author of this study.
The global meta-analysis published last year compared crop yields in ZT and conventionally tilled production systems across 48 crops in 63 countries. It reported that ZT is only profitable in rainfed systems and when it is combined with full residue retention and crop rotation. “However, in Bihar, marginal and resource-poor farmers cannot afford to leave the full residue in the field as they use the rice straw to feed their livestock,” says Keil.
Female farmers in India are not only responsible for managing the farm work and household chores, but have increasingly become a part of the sowing, weeding and harvesting of crops. The Cereal Systems for South Asia (CSISA) project is working with female farmers in Bihar to ensure that women are learning and developing new skills and getting information on improved farming technologies and practices.
In 2014, more than 100 female farmers in Muzaffarpur district planted their wheat using zero tillage technology. Watch the video above to learn more about the initiatives implemented by CSISA in India.