Posts Tagged ‘Seed’

A new beginning for CIMMYT’s Seed Health Unit

Courtney Brantley

February 27, 2019

Twenty years flew by for Monica Mezzalama, now former Pathologist and Head of the Seed Health Unit at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). At the end of January 2019, she made her way back to her hometown of Turin, Italy. Looking back at her tenure, Monica told us she felt “overwhelmed” by the opportunities that CIMMYT has given her.

Founded in 1988, the CIMMYT Seed Health Lab began with five employees, eventually expanding to eight people. With Mezzalama at the helm since 2001, the unit has become a crucial part of CIMMYT’s operation in conducting global and national germplasm exchanges. Some would say that seed distribution is the “lifeblood” of CIMMYT.

Around the world, CIMMYT is known as a reliable distributor of seeds. According to Mezzalama, this is crucial not only for farmers but for other researchers. Without proper regulatory precautions, one can jeopardize the work of others when handling pathogens that can affect seeds.

CIMMYT distributes seed in collaboration with more than 100 countries worldwide, many of which don’t receive support or seed from any other institution. According to Mezzalama, “CIMMYT’s reputation is on the line,” if healthy, quality seed is not delivered. Under Mezzalama’s watch there were never such problems with CIMMYT seeds.

According to Mezzalama, “CIMMYT’s reputation is on the line,” if healthy, quality seed is not delivered.

Seeds are judged on appearances, and must be good-looking as well as healthy. “Presentation standards are key because genetics aren’t immediately seen when the seeds are delivered,” Mezzalama states. If unattractive seed is discarded, then money is metaphorically being thrown away. Beyond saving money, quality seed control conducted by the Seed Health Unit helps keep data fresh and research up to date.

Good seed health depends on leadership like that from Mezzalama. Among the accomplishments of her two-decade tenure at CIMMYT, Monica formed and led a team that has responded quickly and effectively to emerging maize and wheat disease epidemics. In the midst of finding solutions to phytosanitary and biosafety challenges, she also took time to mentor young scientists and colleagues.

Monica Mezzalama will be moving on to the University of Turin in Italy to take on a new challenge in the academic world as a professor of Phytopathology. She expressed sadness at leaving CIMMYT, but gratitude at the opportunities CIMMYT has given her to grow professionally and the freedom to explore and experiment within her laboratory.

Mezzalama’s work and the team she leaves behind provide a strong base for continued safeguarding of CIMMYT’s international seed distribution efforts under her successor’s leadership. Down the road, Mezzalama hopes to maintain collaboration with CIMMYT in sustainable agricultural efforts.

Monica receives a plaque from Director General Martin Kropff recognizing her accomplishments at CIMMYT.

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 index gauges seed companies’ progress reaching smallholders in Asia

Sowing rice seed in Nepal. (Photo: CIMMYT/P. Lowe)

The Access to Seeds Index, an initiative to measure and compare the efforts of global seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers, recently released the Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia. The Index details what 24 of the leading seed companies are doing—and what they are failing to do—to provide quality seed to smallholder farmers in the region. It is the first time a tool has shed light on how companies are reaching smallholder farmers in the region.

Crucial partners for achieving food and nutritional security, seed companies can directly help boost smallholder farmer productivity through the distribution of improved seed. To date, however, they only reach 20 percent of the smallholder farmers in the region.

To evaluate the 24 seed companies, the Index uses scorecards to outline the portfolio and strengths of each company. The Index also assesses company performance based on 59 indicators across four categories: commitment, performance, transparency and leadership. The companies who scored highly on the Index are characterized by having sustainable strategies aimed at improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers in the region.

In South and Southeast Asia, small-scale farming is the predominate form of agricultural activity. To raise agricultural productivity while simultaneously confronting climate change, seed companies and their shared successes in plant breeding are beneficial, but only when they reach smallholder farmers. The Index provides a resource to help close that gap.

In the months to come, the Access to Seeds Index will also publish indexes covering global seed industry benchmarks.

Read the full Access to Seeds Index 2019 for South and Southeast Asia here.

Borlaug 100 wheat in Australia

In a quest for high-yielding wheat to use in the feedlot sector, growers in Queensland, Australia, have released the variety Borlaug 100, developed by breeders at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “The fact that the variety has been released in other countries, and that its excellence is contributing as parental material for crosses in many, many other countries, is further proof of our global contribution to multiple stakeholders and farmers,” says Thomas Payne, Head of Wheat Genetic Resources and the Wheat Germplasm Bank at CIMMYT. The Australian growers, who are also the founders of Rebel Seeds, sought to grow wheat without protein requirements to sell to feedlots, a void that needed filling in Australia at the time of the company’s founding in 2015. Since being brought to the country shortly afterwards via the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA-Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project as a solution to this problem, Borlaug 100 is now set to be commercially released by Rebel Seeds into the niche feedlot market. Grown as milling wheat in Mexico, Borlaug 100 is thought to be a suitable replacement for the wheat currently marketed by Rebel Seeds as a source of feed grain for livestock. As a result, Borlaug 100 will make its debut in Australia’s National Variety Trials Guide in 2019. Richard Trethowan, a former CIMMYT wheat breeder and now a professor at the University of Sydney, consulted Rebel Seeds throughout their acquisition of Borlaug 100.

See full story published by Grain Central, found here.

Global grain research and food industry experts meet to address rising malnutrition

The world’s quickly-rising population needs not only more food but healthier, more nutritious food, according to Julie Miller Jones, Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University, and Carlos Guzmán, who leads wheat quality research at CIMMYT. Photo: CIMMYT/ Mike Listman

MEXICO CITY (CIMMYT) — Malnutrition is rising again and becoming more complex, according to the director-general of the world’s leading public maize and wheat research center.

“After declining for nearly a decade to around 770 million, the number of hungry people has increased in the last two years to more than 850 million,” said Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in the opening address of the 4th Latin American Cereals Conference.

“Those people suffer from calorie malnutrition and go to bed hungry at night, which is a terrible thing,” Kropff added. “But the diets of 2 billion persons worldwide lack essential micronutrients — Vitamin A, iron, or zinc — and this especially affects the health and development of children under 5 years old.”

Kropff noted that some 650 million people are obese, and the number is increasing. “All these nutrition issues are interconnected, and are driven by rising population, global conflicts, and — for obesity — increasing prosperity, in developed and emerging economies.”

“The solution? Good, healthy diets,” said Kropff, “which in turn depend on having enough food available, but also diverse crops and food types and consumer education on healthy eating.”

Held in Mexico City during 11-14 March and co-organized by CIMMYT and the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC), the 4th Latin American Cereals Conference has drawn more than 220 participants from 46 countries, including professionals in agricultural science and production, the food industry, regulatory agencies, and trade associations.

“We are dedicated to spreading information about cereal science and technology, processing, and the health benefits of cereals,” said Hamit Köksel, president of the ICC and professor at Hacettepe University, Turkey, to open the event. “Regarding the latter, we should increase our whole grain consumption.”

Köksel added that ICC has more than 10,000 subscribers in 85 countries.

New zinc biofortified maize variety BIO-MZN01, recently released in Colombia. Photo: CIMMYT archives

New zinc biofortified maize variety BIO-MZN01,
recently released in Colombia. Photo: CIMMYT archives

Breeding micronutrient-dense cereals

One way to improve the nutrition and health of the poor who cannot afford dietary supplements or diverse foods is through “biofortification” of the staple crops that comprise much of their diets.

Drawing upon landraces and diverse other sources in maize and wheat’s genetic pools and applying innovative breeding, CIMMYT has developed high-yielding maize and wheat lines and varieties that feature enhanced levels of grain zinc and are being used in breeding programs worldwide.

“In the last four years, the national research programs of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have released six zinc-biofortified wheat varieties derived from CIMMYT research,” said Hans Braun, director of the center’s global wheat program. “Zinc-Shakthi, an early-maturing wheat variety released in India in 2014 whose grain features 40 percent more zinc than conventional varieties, is already grown by more than 50,000 smallholder farmers in the Northeastern Gangetic Plains of India.”

CIMMYT is focusing on enhancing the levels of provitamin A and zinc in the maize germplasm adapted to sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Improved quality protein maize (QPM) varieties, whose grain features enhanced levels of two essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan,  is another major biofortified maize that is grown worldwide, according to Prasanna Boddupalli, director of CIMMYT’s global maize program.

“Quality protein maize varieties are grown by farmers on 1.2 million hectares in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” said Prasanna, in his presentation, adding that provitamin-A-enriched maize varieties have also been released in several countries in Africa, besides Asia.

A major partner in these efforts is HarvestPlus, part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which supports the development and promotion of the biofortified crop varieties and related research.

“Biofortified crops have been released in 60 countries,” said Wolfgang Pfeiffer, HarvestPlus global director for product development and commercialization, speaking at the conference. “The pressing need now is to ‘mainstream’ biofortification, making it a standard component of breeding programs and food systems.”

Whole grains are good for you

A central issue on the conference agenda is promoting awareness about the importance of healthy diets and the role of whole grains.

“Participants will discuss the large body of published studies showing that whole grain foods, including processed ones, are associated with a significantly reduced risk of chronic diseases and obesity,” said Carlos Guzmán, who leads wheat quality research at CIMMYT and helped organize the conference. “There is a global movement to promote the consumption of whole grains and the food industry worldwide is responding to rising consumer demand for whole grain products.”

Guzmán also thanked the conference sponsors: Bimbo, Bastak Instruments, Brabender, Foss, Chopin Technologies, Perten, Stable Micro Systems Scientific Instruments, Cereal Partners Worldwide Nestlé and General Mills, Stern Ingredients-Mexico, World Grain, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and Megazyme.

2015 ICARDA annual report: Towards Dynamic Drylands

icarda-2015-cover-mr

By Mike Listman/CIMMYT

BEIRUT, Lebanon (October 7, 2016) – ICARDA’s work in the severely food-and water-stressed Middle Eastern and North African countries puts it in a strong position to contribute to stability in the region, addressing the root causes of the migration—food insecurity, unemployment, drought and environmental degradation.

Center outcomes in 2015 add to the body of evidence that demonstrates a clear potential and path towards productive and climate-resilient livelihoods for smallholders and livestock producers – a road towards ‘Dynamic Drylands’ – the theme of ICARDA’s 2015 Annual Report, which we proudly present.

To read the report on line or download a pdf copy, click here.

Pakistan Wheat Farmers Call for Quality Seed of the Right Varieties

Pakistani farmer (2)

A Pakistani farmer carries seed of a new wheat variety for on-farm testing. Photo: Anju Joshi

By Krishna Dev Joshi, Katie Lutz and Mike Listman/CIMMYT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (February 13, 2015)- Lack of access to seed of improved wheat varieties is holding back harvests of smallholder wheat farmers in remote areas of Punjab, Pakistan, a group of farmers told representatives of seed companies, input dealers and research, extension and development organizations, at a workshop last fall in Chakwal, Punjab, Pakistan.

“Ninety-five percent of farmers in Pothwar, a semiarid region of bare and broken terrain, use farm-saved seed of outdated varieties, invariably with limited use of modern agricultural technologies and inputs, resulting in poor crop establishment and low yields,” said Krishna Dev Joshi, CIMMYT wheat improvement specialist based in Pakistan and who helped organize the workshop. “Their yields average only 0.6 tons per hectare, compared to progressive farmers in irrigated areas who harvest ten times that amount.”

Joshi explained that the same three wheat varieties cover 83 percent of the region and have been used for the past 24 years. “One of these, C591, is a variety that was recommended in 1934 and is still grown on about 14 percent of the region’s nearly 0.6 million hectares of wheat area.”