2019 was an eventful year for wheat. Scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) and our global partners made groundbreaking progress for the more than 2 billion people who depend on wheat for their livelihoods and daily food.
Here are a few of the accomplishments we look back on in 2019.
WHEAT scientists joined more than 900 colleagues worldwide at the first International Wheat Congress, held in Saskatoon, Canada in July. They shared cutting edge findings to improve yield, nutrition, and climate change resilience, including state-of-the-art approaches to accelerate breeding for heat and drought tolerance, new sources of diversity for pest resistance, the link between nighttime temperatures and yield loss, and much more.
With our partners, we developed innovative digital tools to track the spread of improved varieties through DNA fingerprinting and to detect devastating rust disease from the field in nearly real-time with MARPLE diagnostics.
As we enter 2020, we are inspired by evidence that research building on the recent breakthroughs in mapping the wheat genome will improve the yield, climate-resilience, and quality of bread wheat.
This would not be possible without your support. Thank you! We look forward to continuing our collaboration on wheat research that improves livelihoods. Best regards for the new year and please stay in touch! Check out our blog, follow us on Facebook, and subscribe to our quarterly newsletter, The WHEAT Wire.
WHEAT media sponsorship connects scientists and reporters at international wheat conference
by Marcia MacNeil
A diverse group of agriculture, food security, environment
and science journalists gathered in Saskatoon, Canada recently for an intensive
course in innovative wheat research, interviews with top international scientists
and networking with peers.
The occasion was the International Wheat Congress (IWC), which convened more than 900 wheat scientists and researchers in Saskatoon, in Canada’s biggest wheat-growing province, Saskatchewan, to discuss their latest work to boost wheat productivity, resilience and nutrition.
The seven journalists were part of a group of 11 who won a competitive sponsorship offered by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT). Seven journalists attended the conference, while another four followed the proceedings and activities from home. The 10-day immersive training included multiple daily press briefings with top scientists in climate change modeling and resilience testing, innovative breeding techniques, analysis and protection of wheat diversity and many more topics, on top of a full schedule of scientific presentations.
“The scientists were so eager to talk to us, and patient with our many questions,” said Nkechi Isaac from the Leadership newspaper group in Nigeria. “Even the director general of CIMMYT spoke with us for almost an hour.”
“It was a pleasant surprise for me.”
The journalists, who come from regions as diverse as
sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, offered support and encouragement from their
travel preparations though their time in Saskatoon and beyond – sharing story
ideas, interview and site visit opportunities, news clips and photos through a
“It is really helpful
to be connected to colleagues around the world,” said Amit Bhattacharya of the
Times of India. “I know we will continue to be a resource and network for each
other through our careers.”
The week wasn’t all interviews and note-taking. The
journalists were able to experience Saskatchewan culture, from a tour of a
wheat quality lab and a First Nations dance performance to a visit to a local
wheat farm, and even an opportunity to see Saskatoon’s newest modern art
The media sponsorship at IWC aimed to encourage informed
coverage of the importance of wheat research, especially for farmers and
consumers in the Global South, where wheat is the main source of protein and a
critical source of life for 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2 a day.
“This is the first time we’ve invested this heavily in
journalist training,” said WHEAT program director Hans Braun. “We think the
benefits – for the journalists, who gained a greater understanding of wheat
research issues, and for developing country audiences, who will be more aware
of the importance of improving wheat –– are worth it.”
A roundtable discussion with peers from Canadian news
organizations and seasoned science communications professionals and a
networking breakfast with CIMMYT scientists provided platforms for a candid
exchange on the challenges and opportunities in communicating wheat science in
A common refrain was the importance of building relationships between scientists and media professionals – because wheat science offers dramatic stories for news audiences, and an informed and interested public can in turn lead to greater public investment in wheat science. The journalists and scientists in Saskatoon have laid a solid foundation for these relationships.
The sponsored journalists are:
Senior Editor at The Times of India,
New Delhi, and a member of the team that produces the front page of India’s
largest English daily. He writes on Indian agriculture, climate change, the
monsoon, weather, wildlife and science. A 26-year professional journalist in
India, he is a Jefferson Fellow on climate change at the East-West Center,
Freelance journalist based in Dakar, Senegal, currently reporting for Deutsche Welle’s radio
service in English and French on the environment, technology, development and
youth in Africa. A former line producer for France 24 in Paris and senior
environment reporter for the daily national English newspaper Gulf News in Dubai, she also reports on
current affairs for the Africalink
news program, contributes to Radio France International’s (RFI) English
service, and serves as news producer for the Dakar-based West Africa Democracy
Deputy Editor, SciDev.Net French
edition. He is based in Douala, Cameroon, where he has been a journalist since
2002. Formerly the editor of the The
Daily Economy, he worked on the French edition of Voice of America and
Morocco economic daily LES ECO, and
writes for Forbes Africa, the French
edition of Forbes in the United States.
Science correspondent at the Daily
Monitor newspaper, Uganda, part of the Nation Media Group. A journalist since 2004, she also freelances
for publications in the United States, UK, Kenya and Nigeria among others and
has received fellowships at the World Federation of Science Journalists,
Biosciences for Farming in Africa courtesy of University of Cambridge UK and Environmental
Journalism Reporting at Sauti University, Tanzania.
Muhammad Amin Ahmed:
Senior Correspondent, Daily Dawn in
Islamabad, Pakistan. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years. Past
experience includes working at the United Nations in New York and Pakistan
Press International. He received a UN-21 Award from former U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan (2003).
Special Correspondent with Pakistan’s English daily The Nation at Multan. A 10-year veteran journalist and an alumnus
of the Reuters Foundation, he also worked as a reporter with the Evansville Courier and Press in Indiana,
United States. He is an ICFJ-WHO Safety 2018 Fellow (Bangkok), Asia Europe
Foundation Fellow (Brussels), and a U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in
Journalism Program Fellow (Washington). He teaches mass communications at
Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan.
Deputy Editor, Leadership Friday in
Nigeria. She is also the head, Science and Technology Desk of the Leadership
Group Limited, publishers of LEADERSHIP newspapers headquartered in Abuja,
Nigeria. She is a Fellow of Cornell University’s Alliance for Science.
Executive Editor of the Dhaka Tribune,
Bangladesh’s national English newspaper. A journalist for 30 years, he is a
Cochran Fellow of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an adjunct professor
of University of Dhaka (DU) and Independent University, Bangladesh.
Freelance science journalist based in Cairo, Egypt who has covered science,
health and environment for 10 years for such websites as the Arabic version of Scientific American, SciDev.net, and The Niles.
Executive Deputy Editor-in-Chief, High-Tech
& Commercialization Magazine, China. Since 2008, she has written about
science particularly agriculture innovation and wheat science. She has attended
several Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshops. In Beijing,
she helped organize a BGRI communication workshop and media outreach.
Tony Iyare: Senior Correspondent, Nigerian Democratic Report. For more than 30 years, he has covered environment, international relations, gender, media and public communication. He has worked as a stringer for The New York Times since 1992, and freelanced for the Paris-based magazine, The African Report and the U.N. Development Programme publication Choices. He was columnist at The Punch and co-authored a book: The 11-Day Siege: Gains and Challenges of Women’s Non-Violent Struggles in Niger Delta.
International gathering highlights cutting edge efforts to improve yields, nutrition, and climate change resilience of a globally vital staple food
by Julie Mollins
As many regions worldwide baked under some of the most persistent
heatwaves on record, scientists at a major conference in Canada shared data on
the impact of spiraling temperatures on wheat.
In the Sonora desert in northwestern Mexico, nighttime temperatures varied 4.4 degrees Celsius between 1981 and 2018, research from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) shows. Across the world in Siberia, nighttime temperatures rose 2 degrees Celsius between 1988 and 2015, according to Vladimir Shamanin, a professor at Russia’s Omsk State Agrarian University who conducts research with the Kazakhstan-Siberia Network on Spring Wheat Improvement.
“Although field trials across some of the hottest wheat growing environments worldwide have demonstrated that yield losses are in general associated with an increase in average temperatures, minimum temperatures at night – not maximum daytime temperatures –are actually determining the yield loss,” said Gemma Molero, the wheat physiologist at CIMMYT who conducted the research in Sonora, in collaboration with colleague Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio.
“Of the water taken up by the roots, 95% is lost from leaves via transpiration and from this, an average of 12% of the water is lost during the night. One focus of genetic improvement for yield and water-use efficiency for the plant should be to identify traits for adaptation to higher night temperatures,” Molero said, adding that nocturnal transpiration may lead to reductions of up to 50% of available soil moisture in some regions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in October that temperatures may become an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer in the next 11 years. A new IPCC analysis on climate change and land use due for release this week, urges a shift toward reducing meat in diets to help reduce agriculture-related emissions from livestock. Diets could be built around coarse grains, pulses, nuts and seeds instead.
Scientists attending the International Wheat Congress in Saskatoon, the city at the heart of Canada’s western wheat growing province of Saskatchewan, agreed that a major challenge is to develop more nutritious wheat varieties that can produce bigger yields in hotter temperatures.
As a staple crop, wheat provides 20% of all human calories consumed worldwide. It is the main source of protein for 2.5 billion people in the Global South. Crop system modeler Senthold Asseng, a professor at the University of Florida and a member of the International Wheat Yield Partnership, was involved in an extensive study in China, India, France, Russia and the United States, which demonstrated that for each degree Celsius in temperature increase, yields decline by 6%, putting food security at risk.
Wheat yields in South Asia could be cut in half due to chronically high temperatures, Molero said. Research conducted by the University of New South Wales, published in Environmental Research Letters also demonstrates that changes in climate accounted for 20 to 49% of yield fluctuations in various crops, including spring wheat. Hot and cold temperature extremes, drought and heavy precipitation accounted for 18 to 4% of the variations.
At CIMMYT, wheat breeders advocate a comprehensive
approach that combines conventional, physiological and molecular breeding
techniques, as well as good crop management practices that can ameliorate heat
shocks. New breeding technologies are making use of wheat landraces and wild
grass relatives to add stress adaptive traits into modern wheat – innovative approaches that have led to new
heat tolerant varieties being grown by farmers in warmer regions of Pakistan,
“HeDWIC is a pre-breeding program that aims to deliver genetically diverse advanced
lines through use of shared germplasm and other technologies,” Reynolds said in
Saskatoon. “It’s a knowledge-sharing and training mechanism, and a platform to deliver proofs
of concept related to new technologies for adapting wheat to a range of heat
and drought stress profiles.”
Aims include reaching agreement
across borders and institutions on the most promising research areas to achieve
climate resilience, arranging trait research into a rational framework, facilitating
and developing a bioinformatics cyber-infrastructure, he said, adding that
attracting multi-year funding for international collaborations remains a
area of climate research at CIMMYT involves the development of an affordable
alternative to the use of nitrogen fertilizers to reduce planet-warming
greenhouse gas emissions. In certain plants, a trait known as biological
nitrification inhibition (BNI) allows them to suppress the loss of nitrogen
from the soil, improving the efficiency of nitrogen uptake and use by
themselves and other plants.
“Every year, nearly a fifth of the world’s fertilizer is used to grow wheat, yet the crop only uses about 30% of the nitrogen applied, in terms of biomass and harvested grains,” said Victor Kommerell, program manager for the multi-partner CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) on Wheat and Maize led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
has the potential to turn wheat into a highly nitrogen-efficient crop: farmers
could save money on fertilizers, and nitrous oxide emissions from wheat farming
could be reduced by 30%.”
Excluding changes in land use such as deforestation, annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture each year are equivalent to 11% of all emissions from human activities. About 70% of nitrogen applied to crops in fertilizers is either washed away or becomes nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to Guntur Subbarao, a principal scientist with JIRCAS.
To exploit this roots-based characteristic,
breeders would have to breed this trait into plants, said Searchinger, who
presented key findings of the report in Saskatoon, adding that governments and
research agencies should increase research funding.
Other climate change mitigation efforts must
include revitalizing degraded soils, which affect about a quarter of the
planet’s cropland, to help boost crop yields. Conservation agriculture
techniques involve retaining crop residues on fields instead of burning and
clearing. Direct seeding into soil-with-residue and agroforestry also can play
a key role.
A global alliance of countries and research institutions committed to sharing plant genetic material , including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Cornell University, has secured food access for billions of people, but a patchwork of legal restrictions threatens humanity’s ability to feed a growing global population.
That jeopardizes decades of hard-won food security gains, according to Ronnie Coffman, international professor of plant breeding and director of International Programs in the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS).
“Global food security depends on the free movement and open sharing of plant genetic resources,” Coffman said July 23 at the International Wheat Congress in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “Without a strong commitment to scientific exchange in support of global plant breeding efforts, we risk our ability to respond to current food crises and to protect future generations.”
Effective plant breeding programs depend on the exchange of seeds, pathogens, and plant genetic material – known as germplasm – between and among countries. Coordination among plant pathologists and breeders forms a symbiotic partnership as plant and disease specimens collected in countries around the world are sent to research institutions to be analyzed and tested. Those findings in turn inform the breeding of improved, location-specific crop varieties that are resistant to disease and adapted to increasingly unpredictable environmental conditions.
The Convention on Biological Diversity gives countries sovereign rights over their own biological resources. The multilateral treaty, signed in 1993, allows each state to draw up its own regulations. An update known as the Nagoya Protocol, ratified in 2014, has subjected plant breeders and the seed industry to increased legal wrangling. Some countries are particularly draconian in their enforcement, and without a universal legal framework, the uneven standards threaten to undermine scientific exchange, Coffman said.
He argued that current regulations bring international lawyers, accountants and bankers with little to no background in plant breeding onto the playing field of crop improvement to act as referees. The patchwork of laws and norms, which have grown increasingly complicated in recent years, hampers scientific advancement and ultimately harms the farmers who depend on improved crops.
Coffman called for an overhaul of international laws that regulate the sharing of plant genetic resources, and for plant scientists to advocate to protect the unimpeded exchange of material and knowledge.
“It takes an international community of scientists and genetic resources to fight pathogens like stem rust that do not respect international boundaries,” he said. “Stringent regulations and country-specific control are stifling the germplasm exchanges critical to agriculture and horticulture.”
The CGIAR system — and CIMMYT and ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) in particular — are the conservators of enormous gene banks of germplasm. Those resources have been essential in improving many crops to fight biotic and abiotic stresses.
“Germplasm exchange and information sharing is paramount for global wheat improvement as they are the basis for much of the progress made,” said Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat. “Going forward, we must protect open access and exchange because the value of germplasm resources in national and international gene banks can only be realized when they are shared and used.”
Hunger and malnutrition cause 9 million deaths globally per year, a number that could skyrocket without an international effort to respond in unison. Annual global losses to crops like wheat could be devastating in the absence of germplasm and effective breeding programs.
Since 2008, the Cornell-led Borlaug Global Rust Initiative has spearheaded efforts to combat threats to global wheat production. There are now approximately 215 million hectares of wheat under cultivation worldwide, most of it genetically susceptible to one or more races of newly identified stem rust and yellow rust pathogens. Highly virulent races of rust pathogens can easily reduce yields by 10% or more. The 1953 rust epidemic in North America resulted in average yield losses of 40% across U.S. and Canadian spring wheat growing areas.
As one part of its efforts to reduce the world’s vulnerability to wheat diseases, the Cornell-led Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project – funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK Aid from the British people – collects samples of plant pathogens such as stem rust and yellow rust from 40 countries and analyzes them in biosafety testing labs in Minnesota, Denmark, Canada, Turkey, Ethiopia, Kenya and India.
Exchanging germplasm has allowed the DGGW project to take multiple approaches to achieving long-lasting resilience, from conventional breeding, to marker assisted selection and high-end basic science explorations. DGGW and its forerunner, the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project, have, since 2008, released more than 169 wheat varieties with increased yields and improved disease resistance in 11 at-risk countries, helping to improve smallholder farmers’ food security and livelihoods.
The DGGW relies on exchanges of germplasm and rust samples across international borders, and the project has encountered increased regulation in recent years, said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director of science for the DGGW and adjunct associate professor of plant pathology at Cornell.
“It takes an international community of scientists and genetic resources to fight pathogens like stem rust that know no international boundaries,” Acevedo said. “We must continue to protect — and use — those resources in our quest for global food security.”
More than 800 global experts will gather in Saskatoon to strategize on ways to meet projected nutritional needs of 60% more people by 2050.
SASKATOON, Canada (CIMMYT) — Amid global efforts to intensify the nutritional value and scale of wheat production, scientists from all major wheat growing regions in the world will gather from July 21 to 26, 2019 at the International Wheat Congress in Saskatoon, the city at the heart of Canada’s western wheat growing province, Saskatchewan. The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), is a founding member of the G20 Wheat Initiative, a co-host of the conference.
Wheat provides 20% of all human calories consumed worldwide. In the Global South, it is the main source of protein and a critical source of life for 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2 (C$2.60) a day.
In spite of its key role in combating hunger and malnutrition, the major staple grain faces threats from climate change, variable weather, disease, predators and many other challenges. Wheat’s vital contribution to the human diet and farmer livelihoods makes it central to conversations about the rural environment, agricultural biodiversity and global food security.
More than 800 delegates, including researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, CIMMYT, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), Cornell University’s Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project (DGGW), the University of Saskatchewan and many other organizations worldwide will discuss the latest research on wheat germplasm.
“We must solve a complex puzzle,” said Martin Kropff, CIMMYT’s director general. “Wheat must feed more people while growing sustainably on less land. Wheat demand is predicted to increase 60% in the next three decades, while climate change is putting an unprecedented strain on production.”
“The scientific community is tackling this challenge head-on, through global collaboration, germplasm exchange and innovative approaches. Researchers are looking at wheat’s temperature response mechanisms and using remote sensing, genomics, bio-informatics and other technologies to make wheat more tolerant to heat and drought,” Kropff said.
The congress is the first major gathering of the wheat community since the 2015 International Wheat Conference in Sydney, Australia.
CGIAR and CIMMYT scientists will share the latest findings on:
State-of-the-art approaches for measuring traits to speed breeding for heat and drought tolerance
Breeding durum (pasta) wheat for traits for use in bread products
New sources of diversity — including ancient wheat relatives — to create aphid-resistant wheat and other improved varieties
DNA fingerprinting to help national partners identify gaps in improved variety adoption
For more details on schedule and scientists’ presentations, click here.
Research shows that more than 60% of wheat varietal releases since 1994 were CGIAR-related.
Low- and middle-income countries are the primary focus and biggest beneficiaries of CGIAR wheat research, but high-income countries reap substantial rewards as well. In Canada, three-quarters of the wheat area is sown to CGIAR-related cultivars and in the United States almost 60% of the wheat area was sown to CGIAR-related varieties, according to the research.
WHEN: July 21-26, 2019
The opening ceremony and lectures will take place on Monday, July 22, 2019 from 08:50 to 10:50 a.m.
The Premier of Saskatchewan, Scott Moe, will give welcoming remarks at the opening ceremony. Other attending dignitaries include the Mayor of Saskatoon, Charlie Clark, and the President of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter Stoicheff.
Contacts: For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Marcia MacNeil: firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Mollins: email@example.com
About CGIAR: CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food secure future dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources.
About the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat: Joining advanced science with field-level research and extension in lower- and middle-income countries, the Agri-Food Systems CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) works with public and private organizations worldwide to raise the productivity, production and affordable availability of wheat for 2.5 billion resource-poor producers and consumers who depend on the crop as a staple food. WHEAT is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a primary research partner. Funding for WHEAT comes from CGIAR and national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies, in particular the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). www.wheat.org
About CIMMYT: The International Maize and Wheat 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 CGIAR and leads the CGIAR Research 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.
The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) is sponsoring 10 journalists based in developing countries — with travel, registration and accommodation— to attend the International Wheat Congress, the premiere international gathering of scientists working on wheat research, taking place July 21-26, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
journalists will be selected based on the following criteria:
writing experience and skills
interest in the topic
established media credentials
recommendation by the editor of a publication for
which they have written
plans to publish future articles on wheat
journalists will travel to Saskatchewan to attend the conference proceedings
and participate in exclusive training, mentoring and networking activities
aimed at building working relationships between journalists and researchers in
developing countries, and facilitating greater awareness and enhanced media
coverage of wheat science, agricultural innovations and food security.
have the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge scientific projects and
achievements in wheat, and to network and learn from communicators, researchers
and fellow journalists working on the topic of food security.
20 percent of the calories and protein people consume globally, and livelihoods
for an estimated 80 million farmers in the developing world. Demand for wheat is
growing rapidly — by 2050 it is predicted to increase by 70 percent – while
crop production is challenged by pests, diseases and climate change-related
heat and drought.
are working on cutting-edge solutions to build farmers’ resilience to these
challenges, including developing disease-resistant, nutritious and
climate-resilient wheat varieties, sharing sustainable farming practices and
The media play
an important role in raising awareness of the challenges facing farmers — and
the importance of research that helps them.
The International Wheat Congress will bring an expected 1000 attendees to participate in sessions with more than 100 speakers from the wheat research community, covering issues from wheat growing areas throughout the world. Topics will include wheat diversity and genetic resources; genomics; breeding, physiology and technologies; environmental sustainability and management of production systems; resistance to stresses; and nutrition, safety and health.
For any questions or issues, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining advanced science with field-level
research and extension in lower- and middle-income countries, the Agri-Food
Systems CGIAR Research Program on
works with public and private organizations worldwide to raise the
productivity, production and affordable availability of wheat for 2.5 billion
resource-poor producers and consumers who depend on the crop as a staple food. WHEAT
is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with
the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as
a primary research partner. Funding for WHEAT comes from CGIAR
and national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and
private agencies, in particular the Australian Centre for International
Agricultural Research (ACIAR),
the UK Department for International Development (DFID)
and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).