Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’

Deadly strain of wheat stem rust disease surfaces in Europe

Scientists have shown that the first appearance of wheat stem rust disease in the U.K. in nearly 60 years, which occurred in 2013, was caused by the same virulent fungal strain responsible for recent wheat stem rust outbreaks in Ethiopia, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden.

Wheat stem rust was reported by the Greeks and Romans, and the latter sacrificed to the gods to avoid disease outbreaks on their wheat crops. Photo: CIMMYT/Petr Kosina

Wheat stem rust was reported by the Greeks and Romans, and the latter sacrificed
to the gods to avoid disease outbreaks on their wheat crops.
Photo: CIMMYT/Petr Kosina

As reported today in Communications Biology, an international team of researchers led by the John Innes Centre, U.K., found that 80 percent of U.K. wheat varieties are susceptible to the deadly stem rust strain. The group also confirmed for the first time in many decades that the stem rust fungus was growing on barberry bush, the pathogen’s alternate host, in the UK.

“This signals the rising threat of stem rust disease for wheat and barley production in Europe,” said Dave Hodson, senior scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and co-author on the study.

A scourge of wheat since biblical times, stem rust caused major losses to North American wheat crops in the early 20th century. Stem rust disease was controlled for decades through the use of resistant wheat varieties bred in the 1950s by scientist Norman Borlaug and his colleagues. Widespread adoption of those varieties sparked the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.

In 1999 a new, highly-virulent strain of the stem rust fungus emerged in eastern Africa. Spores of that strain and variants have spread rapidly and are threatening or overcoming the genetic resistance of many currently sown wheat varieties. Scientists worldwide joined forces in the early 2000s to develop new, resistant varieties and to monitor and control outbreaks of stem rust and yellow rust, as part of collaborations such as the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative led by Cornell University.

Barberry is a shrub found throughout the temperate and subtropical regions. Photo: CIMMYT archives

Barberry is a shrub found throughout
the temperate and subtropical regions.
Photo: John Innes Centre

The Communications Biology study shows that 2013 U.K. stem rust strain is related to TKTTF, a fungal race first detected in Turkey that spread across the Middle East and recently into Europe. It was the dominant race in the 2013 stem rust outbreak in Germany and infected 10,000 hectares of wheat in Ethiopia’s breadbasket the same year.

Because disease organisms mutate quickly to overcome crop resistance controlled by single genes, researchers are rushing to identify new resistance genes and to incorporate multiple genes into high-yielding varieties, according to Ravi Singh, CIMMYT wheat scientist who participated in the reported study.

“The greatest hope for achieving durable resistance to rust diseases is to make wheat’s resistance genetically complex, combining several genes and resistance mechanisms,” Singh explained.

Barberry, which serves as a spawning ground for the stem rust fungus, was largely eradicated from the U.K. and U.S. last century, greatly reducing the spread and genetic diversification of rust disease races. Now barberry is being grown again in the U.K. over the last decade, according to Diane G.O. Saunders, John Innes Centre scientist and co-author of the study.

“The late Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug said that the greatest ally of the pathogen is our short memory,” Saunders stated. “We recommend continued, intensive resistance breeding. We would also welcome work with conservationists of endangered, barberry-dependent insect species to ensure that planting of common barberry occurs away from arable land, thus safeguarding European cereals from a large-scale re-emergence of wheat stem rust.”

Click here to read the John Innes Centre media release about the Communications Biology report and view the report.

Emergency seed fuels quick farm recovery in drought-affected Ethiopia

In response to Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years and the country’s critical shortage of maize and wheat seed for sowing in 2016, Ethiopian organizations, seed producers, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) partnered to deliver over 3,400 tons of high quality seed to farmers, which was sown on more than 100,300 hectares.

“This effort helped rescue the food security and livelihoods of more than 271,000 rural households and 1.6 million individuals in Ethiopia’s Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, and SNNP regions, and strengthened seed systems to address future climate, disease, and pest crises,” said Bekele Abeyo, CIMMYT wheat scientist who led the seed relief initiative.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) of the U.S. Ethiopia mission, seed relief complemented international and national food aid, helping farm families to quickly grow crops after several seasons of erratic or failed rains in Ethiopia and the catastrophic 2015-16 El Niño droughts. At that time, more than 10 million people struggled to find food, as eastern Ethiopia faced crop losses from 50 to 90 percent of expected yields.

“We went three years without rain,” says farmer Usman Kadir, whose 1.5-hectare homestead in Wanjo Bebele village, Halaba Special Woreda, supports a household of 11 persons. “We were able to eat thanks to emergency food programs.” In 2017, Kadir used emergency maize seed to sow half a hectare and harvested 3 tons, getting his farm back on its feet. “If more new improved varieties come, we want to work with you and expand our farming operation.”

Photo: Atlabtamu/CIMMYT.

Usman Kadir. Photos here and above: CIMMYT/A.Habtamu.

Wheat and maize: Mainstays of food security

Agriculture provides 42 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP, 77 percent of employment, and 84 percent of exports. Subsistence, smallholder farmers predominate, making their living from less than two hectares of land. Wheat and maize are the most important crops for food security; they are also at the center of Ethiopia’s increasingly vibrant agricultural output markets and have been the focus in recent years of public investment to raise national production.

Maize and wheat production in Ethiopia depends on rainfall, making the unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change exceptionally detrimental here. Various studies predict an average 30 percent reduction in farm incomes due to climate change impacts, including greater extremes in temperatures and rainfall (floods, droughts) and the emergence of new pest and disease strains. Research shows that reduced precipitation is already holding back wheat yields.

To address this, experts identified maize and wheat varieties suitable for drought-affected areas and highly resistant to prevalent crop diseases. Of the maize varieties, some 10 percent were quality protein maize, which carries enhanced levels of key amino acids for protein synthesis in humans.

“This effort also provided training for district and zonal development agents in crop protection, agronomy, drought mitigation practices, and seed systems,” said Abeyo. “Finally, five women seed producer associations received wheat seed threshers and a large union of farmer seed producer cooperatives received a maize sheller through the initiative. This equipment will greatly expedite their operations and contribute to the expanded and more reliable access of farmers to affordable, quality seed in the future.”

Partners and contributors

Emergency relief seed was sourced through diverse CIMMYT partnerships, including producers in the USAID-funded “Drought Tolerant Maize for Seed Scaling Project” (DTMASS) and “Wheat Seed Scaling Initiative.” Stakeholders included the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR), the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BoANR), public and private seed companies/enterprises, farmer cooperative unions, federal and regional research institutes, and non-government organizations working in target areas. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationEthiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) helped deliver seed to drought-affected districts and jointly organized training and workshops.

Click here to read a full report on the emergency seed relief initiative. 

Gender transformative methodologies in Ethiopia’s agricultural sector

The seven methodologies in this report represent a different way of incorporating gender into
agricultural programs in Ethiopia with encouraging results. All use a collection of participatory
research methods combined in a structured manner that enables participants to assess,
monitor, review and reflect on their current situation, and develop plans to solve their
problems. These methodologies strengthen and empower whole communities, groups and
households while creating more egalitarian relationships. This reduces the likelihood of a
backlash against women, something that too frequently accompanies gender-focused
programs. Creating more egalitarian gender relations contributes to improving productivity,
growth, social cohesion, and sustainability, but more research on these linkages is needed.
The participatory research tools used in these methodologies can be incorporated into
baselines, evaluations and agriculture research, for they are gender-friendly, appropriate for
illiterate women, and capture normative changes.

Click here to download a copy of this publication.

WHEAT and CIMMYT Remember Vital Legacy of Gender Specialist Paula Kantor

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL AIP MWG_ Paula_2-cropBATAN, Mexico (May 15,2015) CIMMYT is sad to announce the tragic death of our friend and respected colleague, gender and development specialist Paula Kantor.

Paula died on May 13, in the aftermath of an attack on the hotel where she was staying in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“We extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues,” said Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT’s director general.

“Paula’s desire to help people and make lasting change in their lives often led her into challenging settings. Her dedication and bravery was much admired by those who knew her and she leaves a lasting legacy upon which future research on gender and food security should build.”

Click here to read more about Paula’s exciting and valuable life and legacy.

Men’s Roles and Attitudes: Key to Gender Progress

PaulaKantor-mrBy Mike Listman/CIMMYT

EL BATAN, Mexico (March 3, 2015)- Gender research and outreach should engage men more effectively, according to Paula Kantor, CIMMYT gender and development specialist who is leading an ambitious new project to empower and improve the livelihoods of women, men and youth in wheat-based systems of Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

“Farming takes place in socially complex environments, involving individual women and men who are embedded in households, local culture and communities, and value chains — all of which are colored by expectations of women’s and men’s appropriate behaviors,” said Kantor, who gave a brownbag presentation on the project to an audience of more than 100 scientists and other staff and visitors at El Batán on 20 February. “We tend to focus on women in our work and can inadvertently end up alienating men, when they could be supporters if we explained what we’re doing and that, in the end, the aim is for everyone to progress and benefit.”

Funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the new project will include 14 village case studies across the three countries. It is part of a global initiative involving 13 CGIAR research programs (CRPs), including MAIZE and WHEAT. Participants in the global project will carry out 140 case studies in 29 countries; WHEAT and MAIZE together will conduct 70 studies in 13 countries. Kantor and Lone Badstue, CIMMYT’s strategic leader for gender research, are members of the Executive Committee coordinating the global initiative, along with Gordon Prain of CIP-led Roots, Tubers and Bananas Program, and Amare Tegbaru of the IITA-led Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, with expert advisement from specialist Patti Petesch, who contributed to World Bank studies such as “On Norms and Agency” and “Voices of the Poor.

“The cross-CRP gender research initiative is of unprecedented scope,” said Kantor. “For WHEAT, CIMMYT, and partners, understanding more clearly how gendered expectations affect agricultural innovation outcomes and opportunities can give all of our research more ‘ooomph’, helping social and biophysical scientists to work together better to design and conduct socially and technically robust agricultural R4D, and in the end achieve greater adoption and impact.”