Posts Tagged ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’

Wheat to beat the heat

Adapted from a blog by Jacques Wery, ICARDA Deputy Director General – Research, originally posted on the International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) website.

Land temperature on June 26, 2019. Map generated using information from the Copernicus Sentinel-3’s Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer

Western Europe is in the midst of an intense heat wave that started at the end of June. The southern French commune of Villevieille recorded a temperature of 45.1 °C, breaking the country’s all-time record. The heat also set new temperature records in Germany and the Czech Republic. Other countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal are also gripped with temperatures much higher than normal.

Scientists have attributed the soaring temperatures to the combination of a storm over the Atlantic Ocean and high pressure over central Europe, which is importing hot air from the Sahara. Though heat waves are not uncommon in Europe, this one was unusually early. Experts say climate change is making heat waves more common (Global warming of 1.5 °C IPCC Special Report).

Apart from human health, the heat wave is already causing significant damage in agriculture. Major wheat growers experienced temperatures of 40 °C and higher. This is of great concern, as the heat wave occurred during the crop’s critical growth stages. Wheat is a cool season crop with an optimal daytime growing temperature of 15 °C during the critical reproductive stage. Wheat plants exposed to high temperatures around the period of flowering lose fertility due to pollen dehydration, resulting in less grain formed. It is calculated that for every degree above the optimum 15 °C, wheat experiences a yield reduction of three to four percent.

If a heat wave like such as this one had occurred one month earlier, at the end of May, when Northern European wheat is in full bloom, it could have caused up to 50 percent yield loses, a devastating blow to the European agriculture and food sectors costing billions of Euros.

The response of scientists

Breeding heat tolerant wheat varieties remains one of the most strategic approaches to cope with the risk of unseasonal heat waves. The International Center for Agricultural research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) started in 2012 to use field stations that experience continuous heat-stress to select new wheat cultivars better primed to tolerate this stress.

In Sudan, the experimental farm of Wad Medani was developed together with the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) and CIMMYT (International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement), to test thousands of wheat candidate varieties each year. This station experiences average maximum daily temperatures above 30 °C throughout the growing season, which is less than 100 days long, from planting to harvest. This test was used to identify critical genes controlling heat-tolerant in common wheat, and to release new cultivars of bread wheat and durum wheat capable of withstanding severe heat.

The ICARDA-ISRA durum variety Haby
Senegalese female cooperative growing the ICARDA-ISRA durum variety Haby at above 32 C throughout the season.

Similarly, two heat-stress experimental farms were developed in West Africa to test durum wheat germplasm. In collaboration with Prof Rodomiro Ortiz  of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Department of Plant Breeding, the stations of Kaédi in Mauritania and Fanaye in Senegal were upgraded in partnership with the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique et de Développement Agricole (CNRADA) and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA).

Field testing conducted at these stations – with daily temperatures above 32 °C throughout the cycle and a season of only 90 days – have revealed four new durum wheat cultivars perfectly adapted to tolerate intense heat. The work conducted in West Africa has even resulted in the awarding of the prestigious OLAM Prize for Innovation in Food Security to the team of researchers involved.

To convert this success into cultivars that could be grown, heat tolerance must be combined with the ability to cope with drought stress. An experiment was devised at the Marchouch station in Morocco, where plastic tunnels were placed on the wheat plants at the time of flowering to raise temperatures to above 40 °C and simultaneously prevent any rainfall from reaching the plants.

Plastic tunnels at the ICARDA Marchouch station in Morocco
Plastic tunnels were placed on the wheat plants at the time of flowering at the ICARDA Marchouch station in Morocco

When all other tested varieties lost more than 50 percent yield to the two combined stresses, the ICARDA-INRA (Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique in Morocco) cultivar Faraj lost only 25 percent, a major positive result considering the severity of the stresses tested. Along the same principles, more than 60 wheat varieties of ICARDA origin have been released by national breeding programs in Central and West Asia and North Africa regions and sub- Saharan Africa regions in the last five years alone, thanks to the ability of the germplasm to adapt to some of the most severe wheat stresses occurring around the world.

Can Europe take advantage of success stories?

In the USA and Canada, farmers grow mostly wheat varieties developed and commercialized by public wheat breeding programs. These cultivars have been very popular and public sector wheat-breeding activities are vital to the industry.

In Australia, wheat breeding is conducted by the private sector. However, public researchers are spending the same amount of money on pre-breeding as they did 10 years ago on breeding and variety development together. To take advantage of some of the success stories of ICARDA and CIMMYT, the Australian wheat breeding programs established 10 years ago the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation project (CAIGE). Each year, Australian breeders visit the trials of ICARDA in Morocco and CIMMYT in Mexico. They select the top high yielding wheat genotypes that combine drought and heat tolerance, with other useful traits. These are then imported and tested across Australian sites to confirm the best one for commercialization or use in hybridization programs.

Dr Allan Rattey
Allan Rattey, national early generation wheat breeder with Intergrain/Australia, toured Morocco in April 2019 to witness the performances of ICARDA germplasm in a season that received less than 200 mm of total moisture, equivalent to what most regions of Northern Europe receive in the month of December alone, and with temperatures during flowering regularly exceeding 26 °C.  Dr. Rattey had a chance to select a range of novel genetic material in the form of promising ICARDA lines tested next to popular Australian varieties. 

In Europe, the situation is more like Australia, and public researchers do not work directly on the commercialization and development of varieties, which is left to the private companies. Instead, public research focuses on pre-breeding to develop new breeding techniques and on high-risk, longer-term targets, thereby supporting the private sector and farmers with high-tech innovations.

CGIAR centers such as ICARDA and CIMMYT have worked in close collaboration with European universities and advanced research institutions for a long time to develop and adapt the most novel technologies for pre-breeding. It might also be advantageous for European private sector companies to start taking advantage of CGIAR stress-tolerant wheat varieties and develop a system similar to CAIGE used by Australian breeders. By taking advantage of similar environments in Morocco and  Mediterranean environments in Europe, European breeders can select promising germplasm of tomorrow and provide the continent’s agricultural sector with a practical defense against future heat waves.

City dwellers in Africa and Asia increasingly choose wheat, research shows

This blog by Mike Listman was originally posted on CIMMYT.org.

A baker makes the traditional wheat flatbread known as “naan roti” in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. (Photo: S. Mojumder/Drik/CIMMYT)

The developing world’s appetite for wheat is growing swiftly, driven in part by rising incomes, rapid urbanization and the expansion of families where both spouses work outside the house, according to a recent seminar by two international experts.

“Our research is picking up significant shifts in demand among cereals, including the increasing popularity of wheat in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Khondoker Mottaleb, socioeconomist for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), speaking at a seminar at the center on December 11, 2018.

In preliminary results of a study using household data from six countries in Asia and five in sub-Saharan Africa, Mottaleb and his associate, Fazleen Binti Abdul Fatah, senior lecturer at the University of Technology MARA, Malaysia, found that the households of both regions will eat more wheat by 2030, mainly in place of rice in Asia and of maize and other coarse grain cereals in Africa.

Speedy urbanization, higher incomes, population growth, and allied lifestyle changes are all driving this trend, said Fazleen. “Many urban women are working, so families are transitioning to bread and other convenient wheat-based foods and processed foods.”

A typical case according to Mottaleb is that of Bangladesh, a country whose population at 160 million is half that of the United States but with a geographical area equivalent to the US state of Ohio. The per capita GDP of Bangladesh grew from US$360 to US$1,516 during 2000-2017, and more than 35 percent of the country’s inhabitants now live in cities.

Meeting demand for wheat in Bangladesh

A 2018 paper by Mottaleb and fellow CIMMYT researchers shows that wheat consumption will increase substantially in Bangladesh by 2030 and the country needs to expand production or increase imports to meet the growing demand.

“The country purchases nearly 70 percent of its wheat at an annual cost near or exceeding US$1 billion, depending on yearly prices,” said Mottaleb. “Wheat prices are relatively low and wheat markets have been relatively stable, but if yields of a major wheat exporting country suddenly fall, say, from pest attacks or a drought, wheat markets would destabilize and prices would spike, as occurred in 2008 and 2011.”

In a 2018 study, the United Kingdom’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) cautioned that declining wheat cropping area worldwide and significant stockpiling by China — which holds nearly half the world’s wheat stocks but does not export any grain — were masking serious risk in global wheat markets.

A recent report ranked Bangladesh as the world’s fifth largest wheat importer. Since 2014-15 domestic wheat consumption there has increased by 57 percent from 4.9 million metric ton to 7.7 million metric tons. Last December, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations forecast Bangladesh wheat import requirements of 6 million tons for this year — 34 percent above the previous five-year average following steady increases since 2012-13.

“The prevailing narrative has wealthier and more urban consumers shifting from basic foods to higher value foods, and this is doubtless occurring,” said Fazleen, “but our work shows a more nuanced scenario. In the traditional rice consuming economies in Asia, rural households are also eating more wheat, due to rapid dietary transformations.”

For Bangladesh, the researchers propose growing additional wheat on fallow and less-intensively-cropped land, as well as expanding the use of newer, high-yielding and climate-smart wheat varieties.

“Our work clearly shows the rising popularity of wheat across Asia and Africa,” said Mottaleb. “We urge international development agencies and policymakers to enhance wheat production in suitable areas, ensuring food security for the burgeoning number of people who prefer wheat and reducing dependence on risky wheat grain markets.”

In addition to the paper cited above, Mottaleb and colleagues have published recent studies on Bangladesh’s wheat production and consumption dynamics and changing food consumption patterns.

The authors thank the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets for its support for these studies.