As we recognize the 50th year of Earth Day, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) looks back on recent impactful research to increase crop productivity while conserving natural resources.
WHEAT and its lead research partner, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are proud of our research to move the needle on improving the environmental sustainability of farming and food production.
Plant resistance to insects
The 24th biannual session of the International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop, held at CIMMYT headquarters this year, featured innovative insect resistance solutions to the global threat of crop pests. Their goal: to reduce the use of pesticides.
Research by WHEAT scientist Tek Sapkota has identified the optimum rates of nitrogen fertilizer application for rice and wheat in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India — minimizing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining crop productivity.
Reducing residue burning
A study by a global team including WHEAT scientist ML Jat shows that replacing rice residue burning with no-till farming practices raises farmers’ profits, cuts farm-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%, and lowers the choking air pollution that plagues the region each winter. These findings support Indian government policies including a US$166 million subsidy to promote mechanization such as the Happy Seeder.
Earth Day 1970 gave a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. With the same consciousness, we at WHEAT continue to work on research solutions to sustainably increase the production of nutritious wheat for improved livelihoods throughout the world.
Community celebrates nearly 50 years of achievements; highlights ways to meet future challenges
It was 1974. In the
United States, the environmental movement was in full swing, with the first
celebration of Earth Day, the establishment of the Environmental Protection
Agency, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book, Silent Spring. Around the world, the
public was gaining awareness of the danger of overuse of pesticides, as a small
group of crop breeders and entomologists decided to get together in what would
become the first International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop.
Today, the need for insect resistance is even greater. The UN,
which has named 2020 as the International Year of
Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost
annually due to plant pests and diseases. The losses due to insects total up to
$1billion a year for wheat alone. Climate
change is another factor affecting the population and geographical
distribution of pests.
Last week, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) hosted IPRI’s 24th biannual session, convening
entomologists, pathologists, breeders and nematologists to validate past work and
highlight innovative solutions. To name
South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council has
developed 43 new cultivars of wheat that are resistant to Russian Wheat Aphid.
CIMMYT precision scientists are using high-tech
cameras on drones or planes to measure individual plants for signs of biotic
stress, to allow farmers advance notice of infestation.
North Dakota State University’s mapping of the
Hessian Fly H26 gene has revealed two clear phenotypic responses to Hessian fly
attacks, bringing breeders a step closer towards developing resistant wheat
CIMMYT-designed Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
packages are helping farmers from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds
and cropping systems effectively fight the devastating maize pest fall armyworm
through a combination of best management practices.
A recurring theme was the importance of collaboration
between entomologists and breeders to ensure breakthroughs in resistance genes
are taken up to develop new varieties that reach farmers.
“There is a disconnect between screening and breeding,” CIMMYT
Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun told attendees. “We need more and better collaboration between
disciplines, to move from screening to breeding faster.”
Communicating to farmers is crucial. Pesticides are
expensive, harmful to both human health and the environment, and can lead to crop
resistance. However, they can appear to
be the quick and easy solution. “IPM also means ‘integrating people’s
mindsets,’” said B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program.
National policies instituting strict quarantines pose
another serious barrier to the exchange of seeds required for testing and
To mark the workshop’s 24th anniversary, Michael
Smith, entomologist at Kansas State University and longtime IPRI participant, offered
a brief history of the event and the field—from the first insect-resistant
wheat developed in the early 1920s to the wake-up call of pesticide abuse in
“We’ve grown, we’ve made enormous technological changes, but
‘talking to people’ is still what we’re here for,” he stated. He added a
challenge for his colleagues: “We need
to tell a better story of the economic benefits of our science. We need to get
to the table in an even more assertive way.”
He also shared some lighter memories, such as the sight of
imminent plant scientists relaxing in leisure suits at the 1978 session. A traditional
mariachi serenade and traditional Mexican cuisine ensured that more memories
were made in 2020.
Leonardo Crespo-Herrera, CIMMYT wheat breeder
and workshop moderator closed with encouraging and provocative words for the
“The ultimate objective is to reduce the use of pesticides,” he said, adding: “How do we get this research out of the lab and into the field?”