This story is based on a piece posted on the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative’s (BGRI) blog written by Linda McCandless. View the original posthere.
Hans Braun, the director of the Global Wheat Program (GWP) at the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT), has received the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshop on Oct. 9, for nearly four decades of wheat research.
“We rest on the shoulders of a lot of mighty people who have come before us,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice chair of BGRI, speaking to a global audience of wheat scientists and farmers at the Technical Workshop as he presented four individuals with the award. “Each of these individuals has contributed to the improvement of wheat and smallholder livelihoods in major and enduring ways.”
Responsible for technical direction and implementation of the GWP and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), Hans Braun leads and manages a team of 40 internationally recruited scientists who develop wheat germplasm. This germplasm is distributed to around 200 cooperators in wheat producing countries worldwide, and is responsible for the derived varieties being grown on more than 50 percent of the spring wheat area in developing countries.
“In his 35 years with CIMMYT, Hans has become familiar with all major wheat-based cropping systems in the developing and developed world,” said Coffman, who called Hans Braun an important collaborator and close personal friend.
“Hans was integral to the BGRI’s efforts in preventing Ug99 and related races of rust from taking out much of the 80% of the world’s wheat that was susceptible when Ug99 was first identified in 1999,” said Coffman. He “has been an integral partner in the development and implementation of the Durable Rust Research in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects.”
At the virtual BGRI workshop, Hans delivered a keynote speech accepting the award and discussing the bright future of wheat, despite the many challenges that lie ahead.
“The future of wheat improvement in developing countries remains on the shoulders of public organizations and institutions. It is paramount that we share germplasm, information and knowledge openly,” he said.
He emphasized the need to “keep the herd together” and maintain strong, global partnerships.
He also noted the importance of continuing to improve nutritional content, growing within planetary boundaries, and taking farmers’ preferences seriously. He highlighted CIMMYT’s exceptional capacity as one of the world’s largest and most impactful wheat breeding programs, and encouraged national partners to continue their close collaboration.
He recalled what Norman Borlaug told him in 2004, when he became head of the Global Wheat Program: “‘Hans, I have confidence you can lead the program and I will always help you’ – and how he did.”
“I would like to thank all with whom I cooperated over four decades and who contributed to make CIMMYT’s program strong,” concluded Hans. “I am very optimistic that the global wheat community will continue to develop the varieties farmers need to feed 10 billion.”
Read the original article, learn more about the other highly distinguished scientists receiving this high honor, and access the entire workshop outcomes on the BGRI website.
Wheat blast, a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease, has been reported for the first time on the African continent, according to a new article published by scientists from the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the US Department of Agriculture – Foreign Disease Weed Science Research Unit (USDA-ARS) in the scientific journal PLoS One.
Symptoms of wheat blast first appeared in Zambia during the 2018 rainy season in experimental plots and small-scale farms in the Mpika district, Muchinga province.
Wheat blast poses a serious threat to rain-fed wheat production in Zambia and raises the alarm for surrounding regions and countries on the African continent with similar environmental conditions. Worldwide, 2.5 billion consumers depend on wheat as a staple food, and in recent years, several African countries have been actively working towards reducing dependence on wheat imports.
“This presents yet another challenging biotic constraint to rain-fed wheat production in Zambia,” said Batiseba Tembo, wheat breeder at ZARI and lead scientist on the study.
A difficult diagnosis
“The first occurrence of the disease was very distressing. This happened at the spike stage, and caused significant losses,” said Tembo. “Nothing of this nature has happened before in Zambia.”
Researchers were initially confused when symptoms of the disease in the Mpika fields were first reported. Zambia has unique agro-climatic conditions, particularly in the rainfed wheat production system, and diseases such as spot blotch and Fusarium head blight are common.
“The crop had silvery white spikes and a green canopy, resulting in shriveled grains or no grains at all…Within the span of 7 days, a whole field can be attacked,” said Tembo. Samples were collected and analyzed in the ZARI laboratory, and suspicions grew among researchers that this may be a new disease entirely.
A history of devastation
Wheat blast, caused by Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), was initially discovered in Brazil in 1985, and within decades had affected around 3 million hectares of wheat in South America alone. The disease made its first intercontinental jump to Asia in 2016, causing a severe outbreak in Bangladesh, reducing yield on average by as much as 51% in the affected fields.
The disease has now become endemic to Bangladesh, and has potential to expand to similar warm, humid and wet environments in nearby India and Pakistan, as well as other regions of favorable disease conditions.
Wheat blast spreads through infected seeds and crop residues as well as by spores that can travel long distances in the air. The spread of blast within Zambia is indicated by both mechanisms of expansion.
Developing expert opinions
Tembo participated in the Basic Wheat Improvement Course at CIMMYT in Mexico, where she discussed the new disease with Pawan Singh, head of Wheat Pathology at CIMMYT. Singh worked with Tembo to provide guidance and the molecular markers needed for the sample analysis in Zambia, and coordinated the analysis of the wheat disease samples at the USDA-ARS facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland.
All experiments confirmed the presence of Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT).
“This is a disaster which needs immediate attention,” said Tembo. “Otherwise, wheat blast has the potential to marginalize the growth of rain-fed wheat production in Zambia and may threaten wheat production in neighboring countries as well.”
A cause for innovation and collaboration
CIMMYT and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) are taking action on several fronts to combat wheat blast. Trainings, such as an international course led by the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI) in collaboration with CIMMYT, WHEAT and others, invite international participants to gain new technical skills in blast diagnostics and treatment and understand different strategies being developed to mitigate the wheat blast threat. WHEAT scientists and partners are also working quickly to study genetic factors that increase resistance to the disease and develop early warning systems, among other research interventions.
“A set of research outcomes, including the development of resistant varieties, identification of effective fungicides, agronomic measures, and new findings in the epidemiology of disease development will be helpful in mitigating wheat blast in Zambia,” said Singh.
Tembo concluded, “It is imperative that the regional and global scientific community join hands to determine effective measures to halt further spread of this worrisome disease in Zambia and beyond.”
Financial support for this research was provided by the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).
The Basic Wheat Training Program and Wheat Blast Training is made possible by support from investors including ACIAR, WHEAT, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), the Swedish Research Council (SRC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
About Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods
Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG) is a 5-year project that brings together partners in the global science community and in national agricultural research and extension systems to accelerate the development of higher-yielding varieties of maize and wheat — two of the world’s most important staple crops. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), AGG fuses innovative methods that improve breeding efficiency and precision to produce and deliver high-yielding varieties that are climate-resilient, pest- and disease-resistant, highly nutritious, and targeted to farmers’ specific needs.
The International Maize and What Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information visit www.cimmyt.org.
On February 3rd of 2020, the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) launched its annual Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC). The Borlaug Training Foundation’s Janet Lewis had a chat with Fatima Camarillo Castillo, CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program Training Coordinator, to discuss the course and her role as coordinator.
Janet Lewis: “Can you give our audience a brief description of the Basic Wheat Improvement Course?”
Fatima Camarillo Castillo: “The wheat improvement courses at CIMMYT are short-term programs designed to train breeders working on national agricultural programs from countries where wheat is a major staple crop. During the basic training program, we provide participants an overview of the breeding pipeline and review breeding methodologies utilized in the Global Wheat Program for developing superior wheat germplasm. We also review core concepts on support disciplines for breeding such as genetics, statistics, plant pathology, and physiology. A set of practical and hands-on exercises follow where trainees collaborate directly with scientists and technicians on breeding activities of the program.”
JL: “What is your main role as the Training Coordinator?”
FCC: “I organize the content of the programs and communicate with the scientists to conduct the course. I also contribute to the training by lecturing on basic statistics, programming and genetics. During the training course, participants submit reports and prepare an oral and poster presentation. I support them by providing feedback on these activities. With the assistance of the training team, we also facilitate all the accommodations and arrangements for the participant’s trips and lodging in Mexico.”
JL: “What sparked your interest in being the training coordinator at CIMMYT?”
FCC: “As an alumnus, I personally understand the value of being part of this course. My goal as the current coordinator is to contribute to ensuring food security worldwide through training and capacity building on wheat research!”
JL: “2019 was your first year as the training coordinator. What experiences captivated you the most from 2019?”
FCC: “My greatest experience last year was that, as a coordinator, you do not expect to learn. The class of 2019 was a wonderful group of bright researchers that challenged me to keep working to become a better teacher and scientist. Some of them already excel in specific disciplines, so they provide me invaluable support to cover the academic content of the program.”
JL: “The 2020 class started on February 4th. Do you have any special expectations this year? The Women in Triticum group is participating this year, yes?”
FCC: “We will spend a couple of weeks at the CIMMYT research station at El Batan and move to Ciudad, Obregón to complete the training. We hope that trainees will interact with current scientists already established in Obregón. In the past, trainees were assigned to specific research groups in the middle of the course, but this year trainees will be integrated into the breeding activities starting the first day of their arrival in Obregon! We expect this will expose and familiarize the trainees with the breeding pipeline on a larger scale.
This year we will also have the recipients of the Women in Triticum Early Career Award. All our young scientists that have dedicated their scientific career to wheat research from Ethiopia, Uruguay, Germany, India, China, Mexico, and Pakistan.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Basic Wheat Improvement Course or any programs offered at CIMMYT, you can find them at https://www.cimmyt.org/events/
“This will make us one of the world’s best breeding programs,” says visiting scientist
A select group of plant breeders, quantitative geneticists,
pathologists, statisticians, mathematicians, and other scientific and technical
experts from the public and private wheat breeding sectors spent three days at
the headquarters of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
last week debating ways to improve CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program.
The group, who traveled from as far as away as Canada, India
and China, challenged each other to come up with a set of recommendations to
move CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program to two ambitious goals: to increase the
rate of genetic gain in wheat yields and to mainstream high zinc levels into
all new improved wheat lines.
We caught up with a few of these visiting scientists to
understand why they came and how they saw their role in this renewed push for
food security through wheat research.
Gary Atlin, Senior
Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Q: There is a sense of urgency in this meeting. Why is it
important to raise genetic gain – and nutrition — in wheat now?
A: The urgency is
generally around increasing the effectiveness of breeding in the face of
climate change and intensifying cropping systems in the target countries that
we serve. There is also an increasing
recognition that micronutrient deficiencies are a major health problem in many
areas where a lot of protein and calories come from wheat.
Donors are looking at
breeding investments and realizing that although programs like CIMMYT are
extremely effective they could probably be more efficient and effective.
It’s an ambitious
goal: to increase the rate of genetic gain — and move the needle on zinc —
within the context of an agronomic breeding program that’s already very
effective. This will make us one of the world’s best breeding programs.
Q: Do we have what it takes?
A: Absolutely. The
engine already works very well. But there are lots of new tools, new ways of
organizing breeding being tried out in the public and private sectors that we
can use. CIMMYT has an excellent skill set here and very experienced people.
It’s all there — but it’s a complex problem.
Q: How do you see the role of wheat research in the move
to transform the many CGIAR centers into OneCGIAR?
A: Well, along with
rice, wheat is among the top two in terms of area and contribution to total
calories worldwide. So OneCGIAR will have a wheat research program as the core
of its wheat offering. One CGIAR will hopefully do away with dysfunctional
separations and boundaries between programs so it should be easier and we won’t
have to duplicate programmatic leadership and administrative structures.
Wheat will be just as
important. The idea of OneCGIAR is to provide a better platform for the
research programs. I’m very optimistic that it’s going to help.
Valentin Wimmer, Head of Cereals Breeding Technologies, KWS SAAT SE & Co. KGaA, Germany
Q: Why did you decide to come help CIMMYT’s wheat
A: I would have
regretted it if I hadn’t come. The exchange, the process of disclosing a
program, having an in-depth discussion and coming up with a proposal — that is something that rarely happens.
I was also interested
because I thought I could also learn. There are many other smart people here.
It’s a give and take.
Q: What is your reaction to CIMMYT’s wheat breeding plan?
Do you think we can do it?
A: I think it’s very
ambitious but I was positively surprised by the output. Given the limited amount of time, we really
made good progress.
Q: How do you see your role in this consultation and in
the future with this effort?
A: My background is in breeding technologies,
statistical modeling and simulation and breeding scheme modeling—all areas of
discussion here. I also have expertise
in a corporate environment – so I can provide input on logistics and time
I will be available to offer additional
feedback and answer questions – or if the program wants to send someone to us
for training- I could imagine that, too.
Curtis Pozniak, Professor
and Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program Chair in Durum and
High-Yield Wheat Breeding and Genetics, University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Q: How has your experience been at this workshop?
A: I work closely with the CIMMYT wheat breeders
in exchanging germplasm, particularly on the durum wheat side. To be able to visit CIMMYT and help move the
program forward was quite an honor for me, particularly given the excellent
relationships I’ve had with CIMMYT scientists. It’s been a fantastic
Q: How do you see your role as a research partner and
your involvement as this effort moves forward?
A: It’s clear that
CIMMYT has extensive breeding capability capacity, structure, people, and know-how.
They’re doing an excellent job. Our role at this workshop is to review how
decisions are made and think about how CIMMYT wheat programs apply new technologies to improve the rate of
genetic gain in wheat. It is nice to see that the program is starting to
embrace a data driven selection system.
One of the things we
were talking about here is the importance of germplasm exchange, and how to fit
that into not only the CIMMYT program but the international programs both in
developed and developing countries. I use CIMMYT germplasm in my own crossing
program, and we exchange genetic mapping populations and genotypic information
amongst our programs to make better sense of the data in the context of our own
germplasm, relative to our specific environments. I am happy to give back.
Kudos to CIMMYT for
reaching out and really doing an excellent job presenting their program and
asking a whole range of experts to provide feedback on their wheat program and
listen to our collective experiences on how we might improve not only the
breeding program at CIMMYT, but national programs as well. I don’t see this as a “one-off” but the first
step to building a much stronger relationship, and something that will
“Change can be
painful and can take us out of our comfort zone,” said CIMMYT Director of
Genetic Resources Kevin Pixley, who co-moderated the workshop, “but a constant
pursuit of improvement is what differentiates exceptional from good, and the
challenges facing wheat farmers in coming decades will require the best that
science can offer.”
Wrapping up the technical expert meeting, Gary Atlin put
these efforts into perspective. “Genetic gains mean income for farmers,” he
reminded the group. “That’s what drives me, and I know that’s what drives you
Based on a rigorous large-scale study spanning five decades
of wheat breeding progress under cropping systems with low, medium and high
fertilizer and chemical plant protection usage, the authors conclude that
modern wheat breeding practices aimed at high-input farming systems have
promoted genetic gains and yield stability across a wide range of environments
and management conditions.
In other words, wheat breeding benefits not only large-scale
and high-input farmers but also resource-poor, smallholder farmers who do not
use large amounts of fertilizer, fungicide, and other inputs.
This finding underscores the efficiency of a centralized
breeding effort to improve livelihoods across the globe – the philosophy behind
the breeding programs of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
(CIMMYT) over the past 50 years.
It also contradicts a commonly held belief that breeding for
intensive systems is detrimental to performance under more marginal growing
environments, and refutes an argument by Green Revolution critics that breeding
should be targeted to resource-poor farmers.
“Given that wheat is the most widely grown crop in the
world, sown annually on around 220 million ha and providing approximately 20%
of human calories and protein, the social and economic implications are large,“
Among other implications,
The study found that modern breeding has reduced
groups of genes (haplotypes) with negative or neutral effects – a finding which
will help breeders combine positive haplotypes in the future, including for
The study demonstrates the benefits of breeding
for overall yield potential, which — given that wheat is grown over a wider
range of environments, altitudes and latitudes than any other crop, with widely
ranging agronomic inputs – has significant cost-saving implications.
Braun and Reynolds acknowledge that the longstanding beliefs
challenged by this study have a range of influences, from concern about rural
livelihoods, to the role of corporate agribusiness and the capacity of Earth’s
natural resources to sustain 10 billion people.
While they welcome the conclusions as a validation of their
work, they warn against seeing the study as “a rubber stamp for all things
‘high-input’” and encourage openness to new ideas as the need arises.
“If the climate worsens, as it seems destined to, we must
certainly be open to new ways of doing business in crop improvement, while
having the common sense to embrace proven technologies, ” they conclude.
“The dream has become a reality.” These words by Victor Manuel Villalobos Arambula, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, summed up the sentiment felt among the attendees at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program Visitors’ Week in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora.
In support of the contributions to global and local agricultural programs, Villalobos spoke at the week’s field day, or “Dia de Campo,” in front of more than 200 CIMMYT staff and visitors hailing from more than 40 countries on March 20, 2019.
Villalobos recognized the immense work ahead in the realm of food security, but was optimistic that young scientists could carry on the legacy of Norman Borlaug by using the tools and lessons that he left behind. “It is important to multiply our efforts to be able to address and fulfill this tremendous demand on agriculture that we will face in the near future,” he stated.
The annual tour at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug allows the global wheat community to see new wheat varieties, learn about latest research findings, and hold meetings and discussions to collaborate on future research priorities. Given the diversity of attendees and CIMMYT’s partnerships, it is no surprise that there were several high-level visits to the field day.
The annual tour at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug allows the global wheat community to see new wheat varieties, learn about latest research findings, and hold meetings and discussions to collaborate on future research priorities.
Given the diversity of attendees and CIMMYT’s partnerships, it is no surprise that there were several high-level visits to the field day.
A high-level delegation from India, including Balwinder Singh Sidhu, commissioner of agriculture for the state of Punjab, AK Singh, deputy director general for agricultural extension at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and AS Panwar, director of ICAR’s Indian Institute of Farming Systems Research, joined the tour and presentations. All are longtime CIMMYT collaborators on efforts to scale up and disseminate sustainable intensification and climate smart farming practices.
Panwar, who is working with CIMMYT and partners to develop typologies of Indian farming systems to more effectively promote climate smart practices, was particularly interested in the latest progress in biofortification.
“One of the main objectives of farming systems is to meet nutrition of the farming family. And these biofortified varieties can be integrated into farming systems,” he said.
In addition, a delegation from Tunisia, including dignitaries from Tunisia’s National Institute of Field Crops (INGC), signed a memorandum of understanding with CIMMYT officials to promote cooperation in research and development through exchange visits, consultations and joint studies in areas of mutual interest such as the diversification of production systems. INGC, which conducts research and development, training and dissemination of innovation in field crops, is already a strong partner in the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT)’s Precision Phenotyping Platform for Wheat Septoria leaf blight.
WHEAT and Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun also took the opportunity to honor and thank three departing CIMMYT wheat scientists. Carlos Guzman, head of wheat nutrition and quality, Mohammad Reza Jalal Kamali, CIMMYT country representative in Iran, and Alexey Morgounov, head of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program received Yaquis, or statues of a Yaqui Indian. The figure of the Yaqui Indian is a Sonoran symbol of beauty and the gifts of the natural world, and the highest recognition given by the Global Wheat Program.
The overarching thread that ran though the Visitor’s Week was that all were in attendance because of their desire to benefit the greater good through wheat science. As retired INIFAP director and Global Wheat Program Yaqui awardee Antonio Gándara said, recalling his parents’ guiding words, “Siempre, si puedes, hacer algo por los demas, porque es la mejor forma de hacer algo por ti. [Always, if you can, do something for others, because it’s the best way to do something for yourself].”
MEXICO CITY, 5 April 2018–Declining area sown to wheat worldwide, together with stockpiling by China, is masking significant risk in global wheat markets, experts at the United Kingdom’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) caution.
“Less area sown means a higher dependence on yield to meet demand and thus a greater reliance on good weather, which is out of our control,” said Amandeep Kaur Purewal, a Senior Analyst in AHDB’s Market Intelligence Cereals and Oilseeds team, speaking in a recent interview with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
“If there is a production issue—say, drought or a serious pest or disease outbreak in a key wheat growing country—then wheat stocks may not be as accessible as recent, bearish headlines suggest,” Kaur Purewal added. “Bear in mind that the world’s number-one wheat producer, China, is not exporting surplus wheat at the moment, so China’s wheat won’t really be available for the markets.”
Established in 2008 and funded by farmers , growers and others in the supply chain, AHDB provides independent information to improve decisions and performance in UK agriculture.
In “Global wheat: The risks behind the records,” a report published by AHDB in February 2018, Kaur Purewal and colleagues suggest that, despite an unprecedented run of surplus global wheat production in the last four years, there is a relatively small cushion for large-scale importers to fall back upon, if imports become harder to obtain.
“Likely linked to China’s efforts to become self-sufficient in wheat, since 2007/08 the country has increased its stockpile by 225 percent, giving it a 64 percent share of the 138 million ton increase in global wheat stocks over this period,” Kaur Purewal observed. “This and the recent, huge global harvests for maize have saturated grain markets and pressured prices, driving the price of wheat futures to historic lows.”
According to the AHDB report, prices for wheat futures have been relatively stable, but if yields fall and production declines, greater price volatility may return.
“It’s important to remain aware of the market forces and read the news,” she said, “but in the case of the wheat stocks-to-use ratio, which measures how much stock is left after demand has been accounted for, the headlines may not be providing a true reflection.”
Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program, called the AHDB report an “eye opener.”
“This resonates with the cautionary message of the landmark 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London, which showed that the global food system is actually under significant pressure from potential, coinciding shocks, such as bad weather combined with crop disease outbreaks,” Braun said.
“Price spikes in basic food staples sorely affect the poor, who spend much of their income simply to eat each day,” Braun added. “CIMMYT and its partners cannot let up in our mission to develop and share high-yielding and nutritious maize and wheat varieties, supported by climate-smart farming practices. In an uncertain world, these help foster resilience and stability for food systems and consumers.”