Posts Tagged ‘food security’

“CIMMYT is at my heart”

Global Wheat Program director Hans Braun retires, leaving behind a legacy of strong leadership and wheat for millions.

This story by Madeline Dahm was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Background image for CIMMYT

After a 37-year career, Hans-Joachim Braun is retiring from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). As the director of the Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, Braun’s legacy will resonate throughout halls, greenhouses and fields of wheat research worldwide.

We caught up with him to capture some of his career milestones, best travel stories, and vision for the future of CIMMYT and global wheat production. And, of course, his retirement plans in the German countryside.

Beyh Akin (left) and Hans Braun in wheat fields in Izmir, Turkey, in 1989. (Photo: CIMMYT)
Beyh Akin (left) and Hans Braun in wheat fields in Izmir, Turkey, in 1989. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Major career milestones

Native to Germany, Braun moved to Mexico in 1981 to complete his PhD research at CIMMYT’s experimental station in Obrégon, in the state of Sonora. His research focused on identifying the optimum location to breed spring wheat for developing countries — and he found that Obrégon was in fact the ideal location.

His first posting with CIMMYT was in Turkey in 1985, as a breeder in the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP). This was the first CGIAR breeding program hosted by a CIMMYT co-operator, that later developed into the joint Turkey, CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) winter wheat program. “In 1990, when the Commonwealth of Independent States was established, I saw this tremendous opportunity to work with Central Asia to develop better wheat varieties,” he said. “Today, IWWIP varieties are grown on nearly 3 million hectares.”

Although Braun was determined to become a wheat breeder, he never actually intended to spend his entire career with one institution. “Eventually I worked my entire career for CIMMYT. Not so usual anymore, but it was very rewarding. CIMMYT is at my heart; it is what I know.”

Hans Braun (center), Sanjaya Rajaram (third from right), Ravi Singh (first from right) and other colleagues stand for a photograph during a field day at CIMMYT’s experimental station in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico. (Photo: CIMMYT)
Hans Braun (center), Sanjaya Rajaram (third from right), Ravi Singh (first from right) and other colleagues stand for a photograph during a field day at CIMMYT’s experimental station in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico. (Photo: CIMMYT)

“Make the link to the unexpected”

One of Braun’s standout memories was a major discovery when he first came to Turkey.  When evaluating elite lines from outside the country — in particular lines from a similar environment in the Great Plains — his team noticed they were failing but nobody knew why.

Two of his colleagues had just returned from Australia, where research had recently identified micronutrient disorders in soil as a major constraint for cereal production. The team tried applying micro-nutrients to wheat plots, and it became crystal clear that zinc deficiency was the underlying cause. “Once aware that micro-nutrient disorders can cause severe growth problems, it was a minor step to identify boron toxicity as another issue. Looking back, it was so obvious. The cover picture of a FAO book on global soil analysis showed a rice field with zinc deficiency, and Turkey produces more boron than the rest of the world combined.”

“We tested the soil and found zinc deficiency was widespread, not just in the soils, but also in humans.” This led to a long-term cooperation with plant nutrition scientists from Cukurova University, now Sabanci University, in Istanbul.

But zinc deficiency did not explain all growth problems. Soil-borne diseases — cyst and lesion nematodes, and root and crown rot — were also widespread. In 1999, CIMMYT initiated a soil-borne disease screening program with Turkish colleagues that continues until today.  Over the coming decade, CIMMYT’s wheat program will make zinc a core trait and all lines will have at least 25% more zinc in the grain than currently grown varieties.

After 21 years in Turkey, Braun accepted the position as director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and moved back to Mexico.

Left to right: Zhonghu He, Sanjaya Rajaram, Ravi Singh and Hans Braun during a field trip in Anyang, South Korea, in 1990. (Photo: CIMMYT)
Left to right: Zhonghu He, Sanjaya Rajaram, Ravi Singh and Hans Braun during a field trip in Anyang, South Korea, in 1990. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Partnerships and friendships

Braun emphasized the importance of “mutual trust and connections,” especially with cooperators in the national agricultural research systems of partner countries. This strong global network contributed to another major milestone in CIMMYT wheat research: the rapid development and release of varieties with strong resistance to the virulent Ug99 race of wheat rust. This network, led by Cornell University, prevented a potential global wheat rust epidemic.

CIMMYT’s relationship with Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Obregón farmers union, the Patronato, is especially important to Braun.

In 1955, Patronato farmers made 200 hectares of land available, free if charge, to Norman Borlaug. The first farm community in the developing world to support research, it became CIMMYT’s principal wheat breeding experimental station: Norman Borlaug Experimental Station, or CENEB.  When Borlaug visited Obregón for the last time in 2009, the Patronato farmers had a big surprise.

“I was just getting out of the shower in my room in Obregón when I got a call from Jorge Artee Elias Calles, the president of the Patronato,” Braun recalls. “He said, ‘Hans, I’m really happy to inform you that Patronato decided to donate $1 million.’”

The donation, in honor of Borlaug’s lifetime of collaboration and global impact, was given for CIMMYT’s research on wheat diseases.

“This relationship and support from the Obregón farmers is really tremendous,” Braun says. “Obregón is a really special place to me. I am admittedly a little bit biased, because Obregón gave me a PhD.”Previous

A worldwide perspective

Braun’s decades of international research and travel has yielded just as many stories and adventures as it has high-impact wheat varieties.

He remembers seeing areas marked with red tape as he surveyed wheat fields in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and the shock and fear he felt when he was informed that they were uncleared landmine areas. “I was never more scared than in that moment, and I followed the footsteps of the guy in front of me exactly,” Braun recalls.

On a different trip to Afghanistan, Braun met a farmer who had struggled with a yellow rust epidemic and was now growing CIMMYT lines that were resistant to it.

“The difference between his field and his neighbors’ was so incredible. When he learned I had developed the variety he was so thankful. He wanted to invite me to his home for dinner. Interestingly, he called it Mexican wheat, as all modern varieties are called there, though it came from the winter wheat program in Turkey.”

Seeing the impact of CIMMYT’s work on farmers was always a highlight for Braun.

Hans Braun, Director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program of CIMMYT, is interviewed by Ethiopian journalist at an event in 2017. (Photo: CIMMYT)
Hans Braun, Director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program of CIMMYT, is interviewed by Ethiopian journalist at an event in 2017. (Photo: CIMMYT)

CIMMYT’s future

Braun considers wheat research to be still in a “blessed environment” because a culture of openly-shared germplasm, knowledge and information among the global wheat community is still the norm. “I only can hope this is maintained, because it is the basis for future wheat improvement.”

His pride in his program and colleagues is clear.

“A successful, full-fledged wheat breeding program must have breeders, quantitative genetics, pathology, physiology, molecular science, wide crossing, quality, nutrition, bioinformatics, statistics, agronomy and input from economists and gender experts,” in addition to a broad target area, he remarked at an acceptance address for the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement award.

“How many programs worldwide have this expertise and meet the target criteria? The Global Wheat Program is unique — no other wheat breeding program has a comparable impact. Today, around 60 million hectares are sown with CIMMYT-derived wheat varieties, increasing the annual income of farmers by around $3 billion dollars. Not bad for an annual investment in breeding of around $25 million dollars. And I don’t take credit for CIMMYT only, this is achieved through the excellent collaboration we have with national programs.”

A bright future for wheat, and for Braun

General view Inzlingen, Germany, with Basel in the background. (Photo: Hans Braun)
General view Inzlingen, Germany, with Basel in the background. (Photo: Hans Braun)

After retirement, Braun is looking forward to settling in rural Inzlingen, Germany, and being surrounded by the beautiful countryside and mountains, alongside his wife Johanna. They look forward to skiing, running, e-biking and other leisure activities.

“One other thing I will try — though most people will not believe me because I’m famous for not cooking — but I am really looking into experimenting with flour and baking,” he says.

Despite his relaxing retirement plans, Braun hopes to continue to support wheat research, whether it is through CIMMYT or through long friendships with national partners, raising awareness of population growth, the “problem of all problems” in his view.

“We have today 300 million more hungry people than in 1985. The road to zero hunger in 2030 is long and will need substantial efforts. In 1970, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries agreed to spend 0.7% of GDP on official development assistance. Today only 6 countries meet this target and the average of all OECD countries has never been higher than 0.4%. Something needs to change to end extreme poverty — and that on top of COVID-19. The demand for wheat is increasing, and at the same time the area under wheat cultivation needs to be reduced, a double challenge. We need a strong maize and wheat program. The world needs a strong CIMMYT.”

Left to right: Bruno Gerard, Ram Dhulipala, David Bergvinson, Martin Kropff, Víctor Kommerell , Marianne Banziger, Dave Watson and Hans Braun at Borlaug Plaza during former Director General David Bergvinson’s visit to CIMMYT HQ.

To learn more about Hans Braun’s successor and incoming director of the Global Wheat Program and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, check out this profile on Dr. Alison Bentley.

The new director of the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat brings many years of experience in wheat genetics, wheat genetic resources and wheat pre-breeding.

Concerned experts ask world leaders to head off a global food security crisis from COVID-19

This story by Mike Listman was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Alarmed by the risk of global and regional food shortages triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of businesses, farmers’ groups, industry, non-governmental organizations, and academia has called on world leaders urgently to maintain open trade of their surplus food products.

Published by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) on April 9, 2020, and signed by 60 experts, the call to action urges world leaders to keep food supplies flowing, specially support vulnerable people, and finance sustainable, resilient food systems.

Covered by major world media, the declaration encourages governments to treat food production, processing, and distribution as an essential sector — similar to public health care — and thus to support continued, safe, and healthy activities by farmers and others who contribute to the sector, according to Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and a signatory of the call to action.

“Consumers in low-income countries face the greatest threat of food insecurity,” said Kropff. “Their tenuous access to nutritious food is jeopardized when surplus food-producing nations choose to close trade as a defensive measure.”

Kropff added that many households in low-income countries depend on agriculture or related activities for their food and livelihoods. Their productivity and food security are compromised by illness or restrictions on movement or working.

“The call to action resonates with the findings of a landmark 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London,” he explained. “That work highlighted the fragility of global food systems in the event of coinciding shocks, an outcome that seems entirely possible now, given the health, cultural, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

At the same time, the work of CIMMYT, other CGIAR centers, and their partners worldwide helps to stabilize food systems, according to Kropff.

“Our research outputs include high-yielding, climate-resilient crop varieties and more productive, profitable and sustainable farming methods,” he said. “These give farmers — and especially smallholders — the ingredients for more efficient and effective farming. They are grounded in reality through feedback from farmers and local partners, as well as socioeconomic studies on markets and value chains for food production, processing, and distribution.”

Assessing the effectiveness of a “wheat holiday” for preventing blast

Policy to encourage alternative crops for wheat farmers in South Asia a short-term solution at best, say CIMMYT researchers

The grain in this blast-blighted wheat head has been turned to chaff.
Photo: CKnight/ DGGW/ Cornell University

Wheat blast — one of the world’s most devastating wheat diseases — is moving swiftly into new territory in South Asia.

In an attempt to curb the spread of this disease, policymakers in the region are considering a “wheat holiday” policy: banning wheat cultivation for a few years in targeted areas. Since wheat blast’s Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT) fungus can survive on seeds for up to 22 months, the idea is to replace wheat with other crops, temporarily, to cause the spores to die. In India, which shares a border of more than 4,000 km with Bangladesh, the West Bengal state government has already instituted a two-year ban on wheat cultivation in two districts, as well as all border areas. In Bangladesh, the government is implementing the policy indirectly by discouraging wheat cultivation in the severely blast affected districts.

CIMMYT researchers recently published in two ex-ante studies to identify economically feasible alternative crops in Bangladesh and the bordering Indian state of West Bengal.

Alternate crops

The first step to ensuring that a ban does not threaten the food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers, the authors assert, is to supply farmers with economically feasible alternative crops.

In Bangladesh, the authors examined the economic feasibility of seven crops as an alternative to wheat, first in the entire country, then in 42 districts vulnerable to blast, and finally in ten districts affected by wheat blast. Considering the cost of production and revenue per hectare, the study ruled out boro rice, chickpeas and potatoes as feasible alternatives to wheat due to their negative net return. In contrast, they found that cultivation of maize, lentils, onions, and garlic could be profitable.

The study in India looked at ten crops grown under similar conditions as wheat in the state of West Bengal, examining the economic viability of each. The authors conclude that growing maize, lentils, legumes such aschickpeas and urad bean, rapeseed, mustard and potatoes in place of wheat appears to be profitable, although they warn that more rigorous research and data are needed to confirm and support this transition.

Selecting alternative crops is no easy task. Crops offered to farmers to replace wheat must be appropriate for the agroecological zone and should not require additional investments for irrigation, inputs or storage facilities. Also, the extra production of labor-intensive and export-oriented crops, such as maize in India and potatoes in Bangladesh, may add costs or require new markets for export.

There is also the added worry that the MoT fungus could survive on one of these alternative crops, thus completely negating any benefit of the “wheat holiday.” The authors point out that the fungus has been reported to survive on maize.

A short-term solution?

In both studies, the authors discourage a “wheat holiday” policy as a holistic solution. However, they leave room for governments to pursue it on an interim and short-term basis.

In the case of Bangladesh, the researchers assert that a “wheat holiday” would increase the country’s reliance on imports, especially in the face of rapidly increasing wheat demand and urbanization. A policy that results in complete dependence on wheat imports, they point out, may not be politically attractive or feasible. Also, the policy would be logistically challenging to implement. Finally, since the disease can potentially survive on other host plants, such as weeds and maize—it may not even work in the long run.

In the interim, the government of Bangladesh may still need to rely on the “wheat holiday” policy in the severely blast-affected districts. In these areas, they should encourage farmers to cultivate lentils, onions and garlic. In addition, in the short term, the government should make generic fungicides widely available at affordable prices and provide an early warning system as well as adequate information to help farmers effectively combat the disease and minimize its consequences.

In the case of West Bengal, India, similar implications apply – although the authors conclude that the “wheat holiday” policy could only work if Bangladesh has the same policy in its blast-affected border districts, which would involve potentially difficult and costly inter-country collaboration, coordination and logistics.

Actions for long-term success

The CIMMYT researchers urge the governments of India and Bangladesh, their counterparts in the region and international stakeholders to pursue long-term solutions, including developing a convenient diagnostic tool for wheat blast surveillance and a platform for open data and science to combat the fungus.

A promising development is the blast-resistant (and zinc-enriched) wheat variety BARI Gom 33 which the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) released in 2017 with support from CIMMYT.However, it will take at least three to five years before it will be available to farmers throughout Bangladesh. The authors urged international donor agencies to speed up the multiplication process of this variety.

CIMMYT scientists in both studies close with an urgent plea for international financial and technical support for collaborative research on disease epidemiology and forecasting, and the development and dissemination of new wheat blast-tolerant and resistant varieties and complementary management practices – crucial steps to ensuring food security for more than a billion people in South Asia.

Read the full articles on Averting Wheat Blast by Implementing a ‘Wheat Holiday’: In Search of Alternative Crops in West Bengal, India and Alternative use of wheat land to implement a potential wheat holiday as wheat blast control: In search of feasible crops in Bangladesh

Wheat Blast Impacts

First officially reported in Brazil in 1985, where it eventually spread to 3 million hectares in South America and became the primary reason for limited wheat production in the region, wheat blast moved to Bangladesh in 2016. There it affected nearly 15,000 hectares of land in eight districts, reducing yield by as much as 51 percent in the affected fields.

Blast is devilish: directly striking the wheat ear, it can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act. There are no widely available resistant varieties, and fungicides are expensive and provide only a partial defense. The disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum (MoT), can spread through infected seeds as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air.

South Asia has a long tradition of wheat consumption, especially in northwest India and Pakistan, and demand has been increasing rapidly across South Asia. It is the second major staple in Bangladesh and India and the principal staple food in Pakistan. Research indicates 17 percent of wheat area in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan — representing nearly 7 million hectares – is vulnerable to the disease, threatening the food security of more than a billion people.

CIMMYT and its partners work to mitigate wheat blast through projects supported by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT, and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.

Past, present and future of crop modelling for food security

This new publication summary was originally posted on the CIMMYT blog

Resource-poor farmers worldwide stand to gain from developments in the field of crop modelling. Photo: H. De Groote/CIMMYT.

“Crop modelling has the potential to significantly contribute to global food and nutrition security,” claim the authors of a recently published paper on the role of modelling in international crop research. “Millions of farmers, and the societies that depend on their production, are relying on us to step up to the plate.”

Among other uses, crop modelling allows for foresight analysis of agricultural systems under global change scenarios and the prediction of potential consequences of food system shocks. New technologies and conceptual breakthroughs have also allowed modelling to contribute to a better understanding of crop performance and yield gaps, improved predictions of pest outbreaks, more efficient irrigation systems and the optimization of planting dates.

While renewed interest in the topic has led in recent years to the development of collaborative initiatives such as the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, further investment is needed in order to improve the collection of open access, easy-to-use data available for crop modelling purposes. Strong impact on a global scale will require a wide range of stakeholders – from academia to the private sector – to contribute to the development of large, multi-location datasets.

In “Role of Modelling in International Crop Research: Overview and Some Case Studies,” CGIAR researchers, including CIMMYT wheat physiologist Matthew Reynolds,  outline the history and basic principles of crop modelling, and describe major theoretical advances and their practical applications by international crop research centers. They also highlight the importance of agri-food systems, which they view as key to meeting global development challenges. “The renewed focus on the systems-level has created significant opportunities for modelers to participant in enhancing the impact of science on developments. However, a coherent approach based on principles of transparency, cooperation and innovation is essential to achieving this.”

The authors call for closer interdisciplinary collaboration to better serve the crop research and development communities through the provision of model-based recommendations which could range from government-level policy development to direct crop management support for resource-poor farmers.

Read the full article in Agronomy 2018, Volume 8 (12).

Pakistan wheat seed makeover: More productive, resilient varieties for thousands of farmers

Munfiat, a farmer from Nowshera district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, is happy to sow and share seed of the high-yielding, disease resistant Faisalabad-08 wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

Munfiat, a farmer from Nowshera district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, is happy to sow and share seed of the high-yielding, disease resistant Faisalabad-08 wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

Nearly 3,000 smallholder wheat farmers throughout Pakistan will begin to sow seed of newer, high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties and spread the seed among their peers in 2019, through a dynamic initiative that is revitalizing the contribution of science-based innovation for national agriculture.

Some 73 tons of seed of 15 improved wheat varieties recently went out to farmers in the provinces of Baluchistan, Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, as part of the Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP), an initiative led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Our main goal is to help farmers replace outdated, disease-susceptible wheat varieties,” said Muhammad Imtiaz, CIMMYT scientist and country representative for Pakistan who leads the AIP. “Studies have shown that some Pakistan farmers grow the same variety for as long as 10 years, meaning they lose out on the superior qualities of newer varieties and their crops may fall victim to virulent, rapidly evolving wheat diseases.”

With support from CIMMYT and partners, participating farmers will not only enjoy as much as 20 percent higher harvests, but have agreed to produce and share surplus seed with neighbors, thus multiplying the new varieties’ reach and benefits, according to Imtiaz.

He said the new seed is part of AIP’s holistic focus on better cropping systems, including training farmers in improved management practices for wheat.

Wheat is Pakistan’s number-one food crop. Farmers there produce over 25 million tons of wheat each year — nearly as much as the entire annual wheat output of Africa or South America.

Annual per capita wheat consumption in Pakistan averages over 120 kilograms, among the highest in the world and providing over 60 percent of Pakistanis’ daily caloric intake.

The seed distributed includes varieties that offer enhanced levels of grain zinc content. The varieties were developed by CIMMYT in partnership with HarvestPlus, a CGIAR research program to study and deliver biofortified foods.

According to a 2011 nutrition survey, 39 percent of children in Pakistan and 48 percent of pregnant women suffer from zinc deficiency, leading to child stunting rates of more than 40 percent and high infant mortality.

The road to better food security and nutrition seems straighter for farmer Munsif Ullah and his family, with seed of a high-yielding, zinc-enhanced wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

The road to better food security and nutrition seems straighter for farmer Munsif Ullah and his family, with seed of a high-yielding, zinc-enhanced wheat variety. (Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

“I am very excited to be part of Zincol-16 seed distribution, because its rich ingredients of nutrition will have a good impact on the health of my family,” said Munsif Ullah, a farmer from Swabi District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Other seed distributed includes that of the Pakistan-13 variety for rainfed areas of Punjab, Shahkar-13 for the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan, Ehsan-16 for rainfed areas in general, and the Umeed-14 and Zardana varieties for Baluchistan.

All varieties feature improved resistance to wheat rust diseases caused by fungi whose strains are mutating and spreading quickly in South Asia.

CIMMYT and partners are training farmers in quality seed production and setting up demonstration plots in farmers’ fields to create awareness about new varieties and production technologies, as well as collecting data to monitor the varieties’ performance.

They are also promoting resource-conserving practices such as balanced applications of fertilizer based on infrared sensor readings, ridge planting, and zero tillage. These innovations can save water, fertilizer, and land preparation costs, not to mention increasing yields.

“CIMMYT’s main focus in Pakistan is work with national wheat researchers to develop and spread better wheat production systems,” Imtiaz explained. “This includes improved farming practices and wheat lines that offer higher yields, disease resistance, and resilience under higher temperatures and dry conditions, as well as good end-use quality.”

CIMMYT’s partners in AIP include the National Rural Support Program (NRSP), the Lok Sanjh Foundation, the Village Friends Organization (VFO), the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) Wheat Program, the Wheat Research Institute (WRI) Faisalabad and Sakrand centers, AZRI-Umarkot, Kashmala Agro Seed Company, ARI-Quetta, BARDC-Quetta, and Model Farm Services Center, KP.

(Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

(Photo: CIMMYT/Ansaar Ahmad)

New study confirms the nutritional and health benefits of zinc-biofortified wheat in India

A recent study by India and US scientists shows that when vulnerable young children in India consume foods with wheat-enriched zinc, the number of days they spend sick with pneumonia and vomiting significantly diminishes.

Velu Govindan (CIMMYT) inspects zinc-fortified wheat. Photo: CIMMYT files.

An estimated 26 percent of India’s population lacks adequate micronutrients in their diets. Developed through biofortification — the breeding of crop varieties whose grain features higher levels of micronutrients — high-zinc wheat can help address micronutrient deficiencies.

The results of the study, which took place over six months, confirm zinc-enhanced wheat’s potential to improve the diets and health of disadvantaged groups who consume wheat-based foods, but the authors conclude that longer-term studies are needed.

In partnership with HarvestPlus and partners in South Asia, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has bred and fostered the release in the region of six zinc-enhanced varieties that are spreading among farmers and seed producers.

Click here to read the full study.

2018 Agricultural Innovation Program meeting: CIMMYT and partners’ achievements in Pakistan

Zero till wheat planting in Jaffarabad District.

By Kashif Syed, September 24

More than 70 agricultural professionals met in Islamabad, Pakistan, during September 4-5 to discuss agronomy and wheat activities under the Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP) for Pakistan. The event provided a platform for institutions involved in agronomy and the dissemination of agricultural technology and seed to share advances, discuss issues, and plan future undertakings.

“Crop productivity must be increased through research on innovative crop management techniques, varietal development and dissemination of better techniques and seed to farming communities,” said Dr. Yusuf Zafar, Chairman of PARC, addressing participants and touching upon a key theme of the event. He emphasized that precision agriculture, decision support systems, the use of drones, water productivity improvements and more widespread mechanization were on the horizon for Pakistani farmers, but that this would require active involvement of the public and private sectors.

Developments in zero tillage farming and ridge planting were highlighted in the two-day conference as conservation agriculture practices that are gaining traction in national wheat farming, according to Imtiaz Muhammad, CIMMYT representative and AIP project leader.

“In collaboration with a national network of 23 public and private partners, CIMMYT has reached more than 25,000 farmers through trainings on zero tillage, ridge planting, and direct seeded rice farming,” Imtiaz said, adding that support to farmers included nutrient management education the provision of seed planters. “These techniques are helping farmers to save water, avoid residue burning, and reduce their production costs.”

Collaboration with agricultural machinery manufacturers and other private sector actors is leading to local production of Zero Till Happy Seeders, which sow directly into unplowed fields and the residues of previous crops, according to Imtiaz. “Innovative approaches have also resulted in the production of 1,500 tons of wheat seed in 2018,” he explained.

Wheat seed production and farmers’ replacement of older varieties have progressed through local seed banks established by AIP in partnership with Pakistan’s National Rural Support Program (NRSP). Located in villages, the banks sell quality wheat seed for up to 12 percent less than local markets. “This is critical, because Pakistan’s wheat seed replacement is only 30 percent,” said Imtiaz, adding that there is a 50 percent gap between potential wheat yields and the national average yield for this crop.

The AIP will open more seed banks in remote areas of Pakistan, in conjunction with national partners. As well as producing and processing seed, the banks will provide farm machinery contract services and precision agriculture tools at subsidized rates.

Participants’ recommendations included adding straw spreaders to combine harvesters for rice, to facilitate the direct sowing of wheat after rice. They also suggested that agricultural service providers should help promote the direct seeding of rice and wheat with zero tillage implements. Participants observed that, in Baluchistan Province, support to farmers and service providers could increase the adoption of zero tillage for sowing wheat after rice and of precision land leveling, to improve irrigation efficiency and save water.

The AIP and partners will continue to promote water saving and nutrient management techniques, as well as building the capacity of farmers, national staff and agricultural service providers. Finally, those attending recommended that, for its second phase, AIP focus on the biofortification of wheat and rice, climate smart agriculture, decision support tools, women in farming, knowledge delivery, appropriate mechanization, nutrient management, weed management and water productivity.

AIP is the result of the combined efforts of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC), the University of California at Davis, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). With these national and international partners on board, AIP continues to improve Pakistan’s agricultural productivity and economy.

New wheat gene map will speed breeding and help secure grain supplies

In breakthrough science using recent advances in sequencing, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium presents an annotated reference genome with a detailed analysis of gene content among subgenomes and the structural organization for all the chromosomes. To read article in Science, click here.

A BBC report on this momentous finding mentions CIMMYT as a leader in work to help meet the food demand of the 9.6 billion people expected to populate the earth by mid-century.

 

Mutating diseases drive wheat variety turnover in Ethiopia, new study shows

Yellow spores of the fungus Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici, which causes stripe rust disease in wheat. Photo: CIMMYT/Mike Listman.

By Mike Listman

Rapidly emerging and evolving races of wheat stem rust and stripe rust disease—the crop’s deadliest scourges worldwide—drove large-scale seed replacement by Ethiopia’s farmers during 2009-14, as the genetic resistance of widely-grown wheat varieties no longer proved effective against the novel pathogen strains, according to a new study by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Based on two surveys conducted by CIMMYT and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and involving more than 2,000 Ethiopian wheat farmers, the study shows that farmers need access to a range of genetically diverse wheat varieties whose resistance is based on multiple genes.

After a severe outbreak in 2010-11 of a previously unseen stripe rust strain, 40 percent of the affected farm households quickly replaced popular but susceptible wheat varieties, according to Moti Jaleta, agricultural economist at CIMMYT and co-author of the publication.

“That epidemic hit about 600,000 hectares of wheat—30 percent of Ethiopia’s wheat lands—and farmers said it cut their yields in half,” Jaleta said. “In general, the rapid appearance and mutation of wheat rust races in Ethiopia has convinced farmers about the need to adopt newer, resistant varieties.”

The fourth most widely grown cereal after tef, maize, and sorghum, wheat in Ethiopia is produced largely by smallholder farmers under rainfed conditions. Wheat production and area under cultivation have increased significantly in the last decade and Ethiopia is among Africa’s top three wheat producers, but the country still imports on average 1.4 million tons of wheat per year to meet domestic demand.

National and international organizations such as EIAR, CIMMYT, and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) are working intensely to identify and incorporate new sources of disease resistance into improved wheat varieties and to support the multiplication of more seed to meet farmer demand.

New wheat varieties have provided bigger harvests and incomes for Ethiopia farmers in the last decade, but swiftly mutating and spreading disease strains are endangering wheat’s future, according to Dave Hodson, CIMMYT expert in geographic information and decision support systems, co-author of the new study.

Ethiopian wheat farmers like Abebe Abora, of Doyogena, have benefitted from adopting high-yielding wheat varieties but face threats from fast mutating races of wheat rust disease pathogens. Photo: CIMMYT/Apollo Habtamu.

Ethiopian wheat farmers like Abebe Abora, of Doyogena, have benefitted from adopting high-yielding wheat varieties but face threats from fast mutating races of wheat rust disease pathogens. Photo: CIMMYT/Apollo Habtamu.

“In addition to stripe rust, highly-virulent new races of stem rust are ruining wheat harvests in eastern Africa,” he explained. “These include the deadly Ug99 race group, which has spread beyond the region, and, more recently, the stem rust race TKTTF.”

As an example, he mentioned the case of the wheat variety Digalu, which is resistant to stripe rust and was quickly adopted by farmers after the 2010-11 epidemic. But Digalu has recently shown susceptibility to TKTTF stem rust and must now be replaced.

“In rust-prone Ethiopia, the risks of over-reliance on a widely-sown variety that is protected by a single, major resistance gene—Digalu, for example—are clearly apparent,” he added. “CIMMYT and partners are working hard to replace it with a new variety whose resistance is genetically more complex and durable.”

Hodson said as well that continuous monitoring of the rust populations in Ethiopia and the surrounding region is essential to detect and respond to emerging threats, as well as to ensure that the key pathogen races are used to screen for resistance in wheat breeding programs.

Hodson and partners at the John Innes Centre, UK, and EIAR are leading development of a handheld tool that allows rapid identification of disease strains in the field, instead of having to send them to a laboratory and lose precious time awaiting the results.

CIMMYT and partners are also applying molecular tools to study wheat varietal use in Ethiopia. “There are indications that yields reported by farmers were much lower than official statistics, and farmer recollections of varietal names and other information are not always exact,” Hodson explained. “We are analyzing results now of a follow-up study that uses DNA fingerprinting to better document varietal use and turnover.”

The authors would like to acknowledge the Standing Panel for Impact Assessment (SPIA) for financing, the Diffusion and Impacts of Improved Varieties in Africa (DIIVA) project that supported the first survey in 2011, and Cornell Universitythe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) through the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW, now called Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat) project for support for the second survey in 2014.

Wheat blast screening and surveillance training in Bangladesh

Photo: CIMMYT/Tim Krupnik

Fourteen young wheat researchers from South Asia recently attended a screening and surveillance course to address wheat blast, the mysterious and deadly disease whose surprise 2016 outbreak in southwestern Bangladesh devastated that region’s wheat crop, diminished farmers’ food security and livelihoods, and augured blast’s inexorable spread in South Asia.

Held from 24 February to 4 March 2018 at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Jessore, as part of that facility’s precision phenotyping platform to develop resistant wheat varieties, the course emphasized hands-on practice for crucial and challenging aspects of disease control and resistance breeding, including scoring infections on plants and achieving optimal development of the disease on experimental wheat plots.

Cutting-edge approaches tested for the first time in South Asia included use of smartphone-attachable field microscopes together with artificial intelligence processing of images, allowing researchers identify blast lesions not visible to the naked eye.

“A disease like wheat blast, which respects no borders, can only be addressed through international collaboration and strengthening South Asia’s human and institutional capacities,” said Hans-Joachim Braun, director of the global wheat program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), addressing participants and guests at the course opening ceremony. “Stable funding from CGIAR enabled CIMMYT and partners to react quickly to the 2016 outbreak, screening breeding lines in Bolivia and working with USDA-ARS, Fort Detrick, USA to identify resistance sources, resulting in the rapid release in 2017 of BARI Gom 33, Bangladesh’s first-ever blast resistant and zinc enriched wheat variety.”

Cooler and dryer weather during the 2017-18 wheat season has limited the incidence and severity of blast on Bangladesh’s latest wheat crop, but the disease remains a major threat for the country and its neighbors, according to P.K. Malaker, Chief Scientific Officer, Wheat Research Centre (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).

“We need to raise awareness of the danger and the need for effective management, through training courses, workshops, and mass media campaigns,” said Malaker, speaking during the course.

The course was organized by CIMMYT, a Mexico-based organization that has collaborated with Bangladeshi research organizations for decades, with support from the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI).

Speaking at the closing ceremony, N.C.D. Barma, WRC Director, thanked the participants and the management team and distributed certificates. “The training was very effective. BMWRI and CIMMYT have to work together to mitigate the threat of wheat blast in Bangladesh.”

Other participants included Jose Mauricio Fernandes, EMBRAPA-Passo Fundo, Brazil; Pawan Singh, CIMMYT wheat pathologist; T.P. Tiwari, Timothy J. Krupnik, and D.B. Pandit, CIMMYT-Bangladesh; Bahadur Mia, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU); and scientists from BMWRI and BARI, the Nepal Agricultural Research Council NARC, and Assam Agricultural University (AAU), India.