In May 2020, two PhD students from India – Rathan ND and Kuldeep Yadav – completed a three-month training program for wheat breeders, which took place at CIMMYT campuses in Mexico.
Both were supervised by Velu Govindan, Itria Ibba and Susanne Dreisigacker, and received financial support from the World Bank-funded NAHEP-CAAST Fellowship Program, which supports training programs outside of India.
“This is a great opportunity for young PhD students,” says Govindan. “There are new advances in wheat breeding, especially in terms of modern genomics tools and technologies, but the crop breeder should be empowered with scientific acumen to decide which tools to use and integrate in their crop improvement program to accelerate development and delivery of climate-resilient nutritious crops.”
The training program – Application of classical breeding and molecular tools for improving wheat quality and yield determining traits – helps to collate and adopt modern-day tools such as genomics and high-throughput phenotyping methods to accelerate the rate of genetic gains and address the issue of food and nutrition security. During their placement the students were exposed to both field-based breeding at CIMMYT’s Obregon site and wheat quality and molecular breeding at the main campus at El Batán.
Rathan is completing a PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi and hopes to work in the Indian Agricultural Research Service or a CGIAR Center following his degree.
The highlight of his time at CIMMYT was being able to carry out fieldwork in Obregon, where he particularly enjoyed working on individual plant selection. “I also really enjoyed interacting with scientists and technicians who are very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. The working environment and research facilities at CIMMYT helped me to learn research methodologies without any stress or difficulties.”
The only major challenge he faced was returning home at the end of his placement. “My stay was scheduled for three months but because of the COVID-19 situation I ended up staying for four and a half months. Fortunately, I got a special flight to Mumbai and reached home safely,” he explains. “CIMMYT’s support for my whole journey from the date I started my training program till sending me back is highly appreciable and I am very thankful to CIMMYT and my research advisors.”
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/
The Wheat Initiative, through the Expert Working Groups on Wheat Phenotyping and Wheat Information Systems and in collaboration with Elixir Europe, is organizing a two-day training workshop on data management for wheat phenotyping data. The workshop is open to non wheat scientists and data managers willing to attend on their own budget.
Attendees will be provided with an overview of current practices and methods for plant phenotyping data. Genomic Open-source Breeding informatics initiative (GOBii), http://gobiiproject.org/, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed open-source genotype data management and marker- and genomic-assisted breeding tools and are working on integrating these with adjacent data management systems and tools.
This workshop will focus on GOBii data management and tools. For the wheat community training, GOBii will provide a cloud-based GOBii system and examples of wheat use cases and datasets for demonstration and hands-on training. All training will be given in English.
As part of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in collaboration with Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Cornell University recently trained 24 researchers (8 women & 16 men) from 9 countries across the world on wheat rust disease diagnosis and germplasm evaluation. The training took place on October 5-13, 2019 at the KALRO research station in Njoro, Kenya, where CIMMYT’s wheat breeding and rust screening facility is located.
Hands-on skills for efficient breeding and
has held such hands-on trainings annually since 2009, benefitting over 220
scientists, mostly wheat breeders and pathologists from national programs of
developing countries worldwide.
aim at nurturing the next generation of wheat scientists in the different wheat
growing areas, harmonizing cost-effective wheat breeding techniques and
building a global community of practice, so important for our future food
security,’’ said training coordinator, Mandeep Randhawa, Wheat Breeder and
Wheat Rust Pathologist based at CIMMYT Kenya. Dr. Randhawa manages overall
activities of the stem rust phenotyping platform Njoro.
The training focuses particularly on studying resistance to rapidly evolving fungal diseases like black (stem), yellow (stripe) and brown (leaf) rusts. CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program in Africa uses such trainings to establish new partnerships and continue efforts in wheat breeding and combating emerging challenges across the different farming regions.
The participants learned how to record stem rust field notes to identify different types and levels of resistance, and the interaction with wheat experts helped them better understand how wheat rust pathogens keep evolving. Continuous breeding of wheat varieties with not-only high yield potential but with resistance to rust and non-rust diseases was emphasized.
An important skill the trainees gained during the course was to visually identify and score stem rust symptoms accurately. The percentage of rust coverage on the stem is used to score plants’ susceptibility, e.g. moderately susceptible (MS) or moderately resistant (MR) host reactions to infection.
the way wheat breeders score stem rust severity in different countries like
Ethiopia or Bangladesh is very important, so we could compare research data in
any global breeding program like DGGW and for disease surveillance systems,’’
explained Emeritus Professor Robert McIntosh, one of the trainers from the
Plant Breeding Institute-Cobbitty, University of Sydney, Australia.
its importance to the global food and nutrition security, wheat remains susceptible
to very destructive rust diseases. Rusts can lead to total crop failure when
the climate conditions are favorable for the fungus and varieties grown by
farmers are susceptible. The wheat scientific community has to remain vigilant
on rust outbreaks globally as these pathogens evolve quickly. The stem rust
race Ug99, reported for the first time in Uganda in 1999, was able to overcome
the stem rust resistance gene Sr31 present in many popular varieties
planted by farmers in the region. In 2013-14, wheat variety Digalu in Ethiopia and
Robin in Kenya became susceptible to a new stem rust race with virulence to
gene Srtmp. By 2019, fourteen
different races in Ug99 lineage have been identified across Eastern and
“You can train someone for one year to score for rust resistance, but you
learn all your life,’’ added McIntosh. “In
the era of molecular breeding, it is remarkable to see that visual phenotyping
recognition still plays a strong role in safeguarding one of the most important
“This is the first time
I am doing this rust scoring. This will be important for my job of certifying
new rust resistant wheat varieties, to know how to rank one wheat variety from
other popular check,’’ noted seed health inspector, Philip Chemeltorit from the
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) Nakuru. A durum wheat breeder,
Ms. Divya Ambati from Indore, India learned how the rust symptoms vary between
durum and bread wheat germplasm, while wheat scientists, Ms. Sourour Ayed and
Ms. Rifka Hammami, from Tunisia were more interested in how to tackle Septoria,
another fungal disease prevalent in their country.
training course is a great opportunity for national programs to have first-hand
information on the performance of their varieties and advanced lines evaluated
at the phenotyping platform from respective countries. It is important to
understand the different types of resistance that can be used in breeding. Strategies
of combining different race specific and adult plant resistance (APR) genes is
important for researchers to develop varieties with durable resistance,” said
Sridhar Bhavani, Head of Wheat Rust Pathology at CIMMYT Mexico.
Back to the breeder’s equation
and distributing rust resistant wheat varieties is regarded as the most
cost-effective and eco-friendly control measure, especially in developing
countries, where the majority are resource-poor smallholder farmers with limited
access to fungicides to control the disease.
Ravi Singh, Head of Wheat
Improvement at CIMMYT Mexico explained the new wheat breeding priorities, where
breeders should focus on cost-effectiveness:
‘’Wheat scientists must
go back to the blackboard how to increase genetic gains in a cost-effective
way. What new methods and tools would increase the number of lines screened
(intensity), with good accuracy and shorter breeding cycles?’’
CIMMYT Mexico for
instance has just invested in a new large field greenhouse in Toluca research
station to produce four generations of wheat annually, instead of two
currently. The global wheat program will be more responsive to new pests and
disease like the recent wheat blast outbreak that affected Bangladesh.
‘’But not all is about
speed breeding,’’ warned Singh. “The wheat research should remain holistic and
continue asking the right questions to well capture farmers and wheat
processors’ needs when defining future breeding targets or product profiles.
Wheat yield potential remain very important, but you have to ‘package other
traits like water-use efficiency, disease resistance, nutrition, profitability
Godwin Macharia, Centre Director and Wheat Breeder of the
KALRO- Njoro Centre discussed progress in wheat improvement through
Kenya Kasuku and Kenya Jacana with significant yield advantage over current
commercial varieties and moderate levels of resistance to stem rust were
released by KEPHIS in 2019. Moreover, several high-yielding rust resistant
wheat lines are in the national performance testing towards identification and
release of suitable varieties for commercialization in Kenya growing
environments. Seed multiplication is in process with enough volumes of breeder
seed of the new varieties available for further bulking and distribution to
growers for cultivation in the 2020 season.’’
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).
Fourteen young wheat researchers from South Asia recently attended a screening and surveillance course to address wheat blast, the mysterious and deadly disease whose surprise 2016 outbreak in southwestern Bangladesh devastated that region’s wheat crop, diminished farmers’ food security and livelihoods, and augured blast’s inexorable spread in South Asia.
Held from 24 February to 4 March 2018 at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Jessore, as part of that facility’s precision phenotyping platform to develop resistant wheat varieties, the course emphasized hands-on practice for crucial and challenging aspects of disease control and resistance breeding, including scoring infections on plants and achieving optimal development of the disease on experimental wheat plots.
Cutting-edge approaches tested for the first time in South Asia included use of smartphone-attachable field microscopes together with artificial intelligence processing of images, allowing researchers identify blast lesions not visible to the naked eye.
“A disease like wheat blast, which respects no borders, can only be addressed through international collaboration and strengthening South Asia’s human and institutional capacities,” said Hans-Joachim Braun, director of the global wheat program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), addressing participants and guests at the course opening ceremony. “Stable funding from CGIAR enabled CIMMYT and partners to react quickly to the 2016 outbreak, screening breeding lines in Bolivia and working with USDA-ARS, Fort Detrick, USA to identify resistance sources, resulting in the rapid release in 2017 of BARI Gom 33, Bangladesh’s first-ever blast resistant and zinc enriched wheat variety.”
Cooler and dryer weather during the 2017-18 wheat season has limited the incidence and severity of blast on Bangladesh’s latest wheat crop, but the disease remains a major threat for the country and its neighbors, according to P.K. Malaker, Chief Scientific Officer, Wheat Research Centre (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).
“We need to raise awareness of the danger and the need for effective management, through training courses, workshops, and mass media campaigns,” said Malaker, speaking during the course.
The course was organized by CIMMYT, a Mexico-based organization that has collaborated with Bangladeshi research organizations for decades, with support from the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI).
Speaking at the closing ceremony, N.C.D. Barma, WRC Director, thanked the participants and the management team and distributed certificates. “The training was very effective. BMWRI and CIMMYT have to work together to mitigate the threat of wheat blast in Bangladesh.”
Other participants included Jose Mauricio Fernandes, EMBRAPA-Passo Fundo, Brazil; Pawan Singh, CIMMYT wheat pathologist; T.P. Tiwari, Timothy J. Krupnik, and D.B. Pandit, CIMMYT-Bangladesh; Bahadur Mia, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU); and scientists from BMWRI and BARI, the Nepal Agricultural Research Council NARC, and Assam Agricultural University (AAU), India.
EL BATAN, Mexico (November 25, 2015) – Applications for the Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC) are due 15 December.
The BWIC is a three-month intensive program at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field.
The training program has benefited national research programs since its inception. The increasing number of wheat scientists in major wheat producing countries reflects the great need and interest of national programs in training young scientists. One of the most frequent requests from countries and national programs is for more trained scientists.
Zaki Afshar in the field at CIMMYT Afghanistan Photo Courtesy: Zaki Afshar/ CIMMYT
By Katie Lutz/CIMMYT
CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico (September 10, 2015)- Zaki Afshar grew up in the small city of Puli Khumri in Northern Afghanistan, visiting his father’s seven-hectare (ha) farm every weekend. Growing up in a farming community where the staple crops are wheat and rice, Afshar saw the impact agriculture could have on a community.
“A big part of why I chose agriculture was because I saw how hard the farmers worked and still suffered,” said Afshar. “I wanted to know how I could help them. Why were they not using the advanced technologies I saw available in other parts of the world?”
According to The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 60 percent of Afghan citizens rely on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods and families. Wheat is the chief crop in Afghanistan, covering 2.5 million ha and providing about 60 percent of daily calorie intake for an average Afghan.
“We have a very basic agriculture system,” explained Afshar. “You will only see machinery used for plowing and trashing, not for sowing or even harvesting.”
Afshar attended Balkh University in Mazari Sharif, receiving a degree in Agricultural Plant Science. He currently works at the CIMMYT Afghanistan office as a project associate as in the Wheat Improvement Program.
EL BATAN, Mexico (May 26, 2015)- “After three months, you will be a part of the CIMMYT family,” said Amor Yahyaoui, Global Wheat Program (GWP) Training Officer, as he addressed the 30 participants in the Basic Wheat Improvement Course (BWIC) on their first day at CIMMYT Headquarters, El Batán.
The 2015 wheat trainees hail from 14 countries, and have varying degrees of experience and different backgrounds. “These scientists come in from all different spectrums, but this course puts them all on the same level, with one objective: to learn,” explained Yahyaoui.
The BWIC is a three-month intensive program at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, that targets young and mid-career scientists, focusing on applied breeding techniques in the field.