Maize Opportunities and Challenges for Asia

Written by editor on . Posted in Asia, Maize

Genevieve Renard

Compared with other cereals, maize has recorded the fastest annual growth in Asia at around 4 percent, but consumption is rising faster than yields.

asian maizeWhen BM Prasanna, CIMMYT’s global maize program director, opened the 12th Asian Maize Conference and Expert Consultation on “Maize for Food, Feed, Nutrition and Environmental Security” in Bangkok last week he said that boosting maize crops would be a key to food security. In China, maize is the number one crop in acreage, covering 35.26 million hectares (87 million acres) in 2013, an area comparable to that of the United States, Prasanna said.

The big questions are whether or not China can increase yields before 2020 to avoid being the largest importer of maize and whether Asia can meet the demand for maize “by shortening, widening and improving the breeding funnel,” Prasanna said.

He added that efforts are underway to significantly enhance genetic gain per unit over time: CIMMYT and the University of Hohenheim (Stuttgart, Germany) are utilizing doubled haploid technology; other partnerships are focused on genetic diversity and introgressing transgenic traits under humanitarian license through public-private partnerships.

“Strengthening seed systems is also important for breeding programs to make an impact,” Prasanna said. “The sooner farmers, especially smallholders in unreached areas, have access to improved varieties and a complementary agronomic package of practices, the greater the opportunity to increase productivity.”

Challenges are many. Heat stress and drought stress, among others, are an increasing reality in many maize-growing regions in the tropics. Two promising CIMMYT- Asia heat-tolerant commercial hybrids (31Y45 and DKC9108) are currently being marketed in Asia. Scientists also confirm that a strong pipeline of water stress-resilient, Asia-adapted maize hybrids is ready for deployment in rainfed areas of Asia.

Prasanna concluded by reminding the 350 conference participants that “putting women and children at the center of development will help transform their societies.” Quoting Melinda Gates, he said that by ignoring gender inequities, many development projects fail to achieve their objectives.

As he concluded his remarks with a big smile, Prasanna could not resist sharing, “Nothing looks more beautiful to me than maize.”

Conference attendees

Enhancing the Nutritional Quality of Maize

Written by editor on . Posted in Asia, Maize

Miriam Shindler

Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, which can cause blindness and stunting, increased infant and maternal mortality and lower IQs, are at epidemic levels in some parts of Asia. People across Asia depend on maize, rice and wheat but they do not fulfil daily dietary requirements and are deficient in vitamin A and essential micronutrients such as iron and zinc.

maize nutricionBiofortified maize varieties have been bred to include considerably high concentrations of essential micronutrients. Maize in Asia is largely used for feed, but direct human consumption is increasing. Scientists at the 12th Asian Maize Conference highlighted several collaborative interventions to utilize the genetic variability in maize for the development of biofortified maize. Promoting biofortified maize in rural areas and developing new food products has been part of this research. The nutritional benefits of biofortified maize can come directly from eating the crop itself or indirectly by consuming eggs from hens that are fed with provitamin A ProVA-enriched maize. Biofortified maize use for feed may also represent economic benefits for farmers.

Breeding efforts in Asia are currently focused on quality protein maize (QPM) and ProVA-enriched varieties. QPM was first developed by former CIMMYT scientists and World Food Prize Laureates Dr. Evangelina Villegas and Dr. Surinder Vasal. CIMMYT QPM inbred lines have been used in several breeding programs in China, India, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Joint efforts between CIMMYT and numerous partner scientists under HarvestPlus have shown that breeding for increased concentrations of ProVA is especially promising because of the genetic variation available in maize germplasm. New hybrids released in 2012 in Zambia showed ProVA levels 400 percent higher than common yellow maize, with the potential to bring widespread health benefits.

Strengthening Maize Policies and Public-Private Partnerships in Asia

Written by editor on . Posted in Asia, Maize

Anuradha Dhar

Policies designed to promote maize industry growth require data and information, which is often difficult to obtain in Asian countries. This was discussed during the technical session on improving maize seed systems in Asia at the 12th Asian Maize Conference. David Spielman, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), highlighted that policy-makers often face difficult challenges in promoting seed industry growth – especially in Asian countries that have more smallholder and resource-poor farmers.

maize policiesSpielman said, “Innovation policies require data on firm-level research and development spending; product pipeline and competition policies require data on market structure and firm behavior.”

Firms often do not share proprietary revenue data and governments may not monitor firm-level activity on a regular basis. One of the factors could be that policy-makers are not sufficiently informed about the opportunities and trade-offs associated with designing laws and regulations that enable the effective governance of seed industry development. Spielman emphasized that a better designed dataset with a finite set of indicators to measure competition and innovation in a country’s seed industry can better inform policy-makers.

The conference highlighted the need for the public and private sectors to work together to provide affordable new seed varieties and deliver new technologies to smallholder farmers. An eminent group of panelists – Arvind Kumar, Rasi Seeds; Shilpa Divekar Nirula, Monsanto; Fan Xingming, Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China; John McMurdy, U.S. Agency for International Development; and Bijendra Pal, Bioseed, discussed the opportunities and challenges to ensure a vibrant Asian maize seed sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

The panel noted that decision-makers should not look at public vs. private; rather they should learn from models and best practices where the two sectors have worked together successfully.

As a best practice on PPPs, Ian Barker, head of agricultural partnerships at the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), talked about its Seeds2B program in Africa that builds linkages between breeders and seed companies to make more improved seed varieties available to farmers at the right time and price.

He also highlighted that SFSA is now aiming to kick- start the Seed2B concept in Asia – bringing together breeders, seed companies, farmer associations and other relevant players in the Asian maize value chain – to improve access to seed in marginal maize areas. Barker said, “Public-private breeding partnerships can efficiently deliver new affordable and accessible hybrids – correctly positioned and targeted at proven smallholder demand.”

Is Gluten the New Villain? The New Yorker Covers the Rising Gluten-Free Trend

Written by editor on . Posted in Announcements

Jennifer Johnson

“The most obvious question is also the most difficult to answer: How could gluten, present in a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening?” asks an article published in the November 3, issue of The New Yorker. The article, “Against the Grain” by Michael Specter, examines the gluten-free movement and the various theories surrounding the recent rise in “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” the name given to those who report discomfort after eating gluten yet do not suffer from celiac disease. According to Specter, “there are many theories but no clear, scientifically satisfying answers.”

Gluten free

12th Asian Maize Conference

Written by editor on . Posted in Maize

attendees at the podium

(From left to right) Anan Suwannarat (Director General, Thai Department of Agriculture), Hiroyuki Konuma (Assistant Director General, FAO-RAP), Raj Paroda (Executive Secretary, APAARI) and Thomas Lumpkin (Director General, CIMMYT) open the 12th Asian Maize Conference by revealing the accompanying Books of Extended Summaries and Abstracts.

Genevieve Renard, Miriam Shindler and Jennifer Johnson
The 12th Asian Maize Conference is taking place in Bangkok from 30 October to 1 November, bringing together more than 350 leading agricultural researchers, policy-makers, farmers and service providers from across the public and private sectors. The conference, “Maize for Food, Feed, Nutrition and Environmental Security,” was organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Thai Department of Agriculture, and will culminate in 10 major recommendations to set in place a roadmap for a sustainable intensification strategy for maize in Asia.

The objectives of the conference are to assess specific priorities to enhance maize production and productivity in the region, share the latest knowledge on cutting-edge maize technologies and generate awareness among institutions and stakeholders of better uses of maize as food, feed, fodder and as an industrial crop in Asia.

CIMMYT Prepares to Launch Second Phase of SIMLESA in Kenya and Tanzania

Written by editor on . Posted in Africa, Maize

 Johnson Siamachira

Fidelis Myaka speaking

Dr. Fidelis Myaka, director of research and development with the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives, officially opens the meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.

Representatives from the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Queensland Alliance for Agricultural and Food Innovation (QAAFI), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the national agricultural research systems (NARS) of Kenya and Tanzania, and CIMMYT scientists from Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe met between 14-17 October in Arusha, Tanzania, to finalize activities to meet the objectives of the second phase of CIMMYT’s Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project.

The joint meeting for the Kenya and Tanzania country teams was the third and last launch and planning meeting. It was also a follow-up of two previous operational meetings held in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Hawassa, Ethiopia.

Gender Matters in Farm Power

Written by editor on . Posted in Gender

Frédéric Baudron

The goals of the Farm Power and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification (FACASI) project are to address the issues of declining farm power in eastern and southern Africa, and to reduce the labor burden that comes with low farm mechanization, by promoting small-scale mechanization based on two-wheel tractors. Farm power is particularly scarce for female-headed households (FHHs), That have limited access to human labor and often don’t own (or are culturally forbidden to operate) draft animals. FHHs are often the last households to access land preparation services, which leads to lower yields. Even in households headed by men, women supply most of the farm labor and perform highly labor-intensive tasks, such as weeding, threshing, shelling or transport of inputs and agricultural commodities to and from the market by head-loading.

Gender group gathered

Front row, from left to right: Mulunesh Tsegaye, FACASI gender and agriculture specialist; Katrine Danielsen KIT; Elizabeth Mukewa consultant; Mahlet Mariam, consultant; and David Kahan CIMMYT, business model specialist. Back row, from left to right: Anouka van Eerdewijk KIT; Lone Badstue CIMMYT strategic leader, gender research and mainstreaming; and Frédéric Baudron, FACASI project leader. Photo: Steffen Schulz/CIMMYT

Although mechanization has the potential to close the gender gap in agriculture, past efforts based on large four-wheel tractors have generally led to inequitable access to mechanization, favoring wealthier farmers, and have often widened the gender gap. Similarly, although most of the labor burden in agriculture is placed on women, it is often men’s tasks that are mechanized. Will small-scale mechanization follow the same pattern? Or will the use of less expensive two-wheel tractors promote equitable access to mechanization and contribute to closing the gender gap? In addition, will the versatility of these small machines accelerate the mechanization of tasks done by women? Or is women’s current labor burden unlikely to translate into demand for mechanization, regardless of its form, because of socio-cultural norms affecting gender dynamics? Finally, if women’s tasks are mechanized, will this create opportunities for them, or alienate them in their household chores?

National Geographic Examines the Challenge of Feeding the World

Written by editor on . Posted in food security

Jennifer Johnson

“With the population expected to rise by about a third by 2050, crop production worldwide will need to double to keep up with the rising demand for grains – which are also fed to animals – as the developing world becomes prosperous enough to eat more meat” warned an article published in National Geographic on 3 October. The article, “Here’s Why We Haven’t Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People” by Dennis Dilmick, addressed the growing need for investment in agricultural research while lamenting the lack of public funding and interest in such initiatives in recent years.

Dilmick praised CIMMYT and Norman Borlaug for their work that saved millions from starvation during the Green Revolution, and argued that similar action is still needed today in a world that faces rising food prices and an uncertain future climate. Advances in biotechnology can help to keep up with the demand, but must be combined with the provision of appropriate, usable information to farmers in the developing world, that can help them improve their yields and livelihoods. This cannot be done without increases in public funding for agricultural research.

A new Green Revolution is in order, Dilmick argues, but one based more on small incremental changes that can provide huge benefits to farmers in developing countries such as improved post-harvest management practices, the use of new mobile technology to communicate information and better roads and markets; rather than the research breakthroughs that characterized the original revolution. However, one element of the original revolution must stay the same: “When Norman Borlaug worked to develop high-yield ‘Green Revolution’ wheat varieties more than 50 years ago, he was driven by a sense of urgency. We could all benefit by adopting his sense of urgency in making agricultural research a priority once again.”

MasAgro-Maize Partners Attend Maize Germplasm Development and Evaluation Course

Written by editor on . Posted in Maize, MasAgro

Guillermina Sosa Mendoza

From 22-26 September, MasAgro-Maize partners and representatives from national seed companies and the University of Guadalajara (UdG) attended a Maize Germplasm Development and Evaluation course. Attendees met with CIMMYT’s maize breeders, experts and scientists, as well as invited lecturers. The course was organized by the Global Maize Program and included an exhibit of maize germplasm developed for Mexico’s different agro-climatic conditions.

Florencio Recéndiz Hurtado, UdG academic coordinator, opened the course with a presentation on the importance of improved maize germplasm and the various methods involved in its development. CIMMYT’s maize breeders José Luis Torres, Thanda Dhliwayo and Félix San Vicente presented on parental line and hybrid development methods and evaluation techniques in the highlands, subtropical and tropical lowlands respectively.

CIMMYT distinguished scientist Surinder Vasal (co-winner of the 2000 World Food Prize for his work on quality protein maize) shared his extensive experience and made some recommendations on maize hybrid breeding and evaluation. During field tours of experimental stations at El Batán, Tlaltizapán and Agua Fría, attendees also saw first-hand the results from improved materials.

Vijay Chaikam, CIMMYT doubled haploid (DH) specialist, who coordinated the training course, explained the advantages of DH technology in maize breeding. During a tour of the Maize Nutrition Quality Laboratory, Natalia Palacios, head of the laboratory, explained the process to improve maize nutrition quality, as well as the different methods to evaluate nutritional quality. Carlos De León, maize pathologist from the Colegio de Posgraduados, focused on the most important maize diseases and the more susceptible materials. Physiologist Samuel Trachsel presented on physiological approaches to maize improvement, while maize molecular breeder Gordon Huestis and maize genomic selection breeder Xuecai Zhang highlighted the importance of molecular markers and genomic selection.

Speaking about the course, Arturo Silva Hinojosa, MasAgro leader of the Strategy to Increase Maize Yields, said: “The difference between countries with low or high maize yield, is that those with high yields use a considerable percentage of hybrids.” In the Mexican states where more hybrids are sown, farmers harvest 11 million tons (50 percent of the national production). Silva Hinojosa also said, “We have to increase crop yields by convincing farmers to convert from using open-pollinated varieties to hybrids, so that we make our seed industry more competitive and give farmers access to high-quality and certified seeds. We want the hybrids produced by MasAgro to meet these specifications during their production and commercialization.”

At the end of the course, Félix San Vicente invited participants to observe a moment of silence for Dr. Alejandro Ortega and Dr. Fidel Márquez, who made great contributions to maize breeding in México and passed away this year.
Participants thanked the organizers for the opportunity to learn about the themes included in the course and said they were keen to use their knowledge in the work place.

Young Researchers Trained to Develop Resilient Farming Systems

Written by editor on . Posted in Conservation Agriculture

H.S. Jat, P.C. Sharma, Love Kumar Singh

From 27 September to 4 October, scientists from India’s national agricultural research systems attended the “Conservation Agriculture: Developing Resilient Systems” training program at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI) in Karnal, India. Participants learned about crop management technologies based on conservation agriculture (CA) and acquired skills to plan strategic CA research trials.

Farmers operate a seed drill

Participants of the conservation agriculture training program learn how to use a seed drill machine. Photo: Love Kumar Sing/CIMMYT

The training program was organized by CIMMYT’s Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and CSSRI. Eighteen researchers from the Division of Natural Resource Management, International Rice Research Institute and CIMMYT attended the course.

Opening the course, ICAR Assistant Director General (Seeds) Dr. J.S. Chauhan, highlighted the importanc eof CA training for improving the productivity of crops and cropping systems in different agro-ecological regions of India. Conservation agriculture can sustain the livelihood of smallholders while maintaining and improving the quality of the environment and natural resources. CSSRI Director Dr. D.K. Sharma explained that CA has the ability to slow the depletion of underground water, declining soil fertility associated with multiple nutrient deficiencies, pest outbreaks and increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He also focused on how to design diversified and resilient cropping systems that use resources more efficiently, as an alternative to intensive rice-wheat systems.

Globally, the positive impact of CA-based techniques on natural resources, adaptation and mitigation of climate change effects has been widely acknowledged. In India, strategic research on CA such as precise nutrient application, water, cultivars and weed management has been initiated. However, CA still remains a relatively new concept in the country. Andrew McDonald, CSISA project leader, talked about how continuous cultivation of rice-wheat cropping systems for almost five decades in the Indo-Gangetic Plains has caused the degradation of natural resources such as water and soil, thus affecting climate and biodiversity. He said, “This training program offers a unique opportunity for members of the country’s scientific community who are working in the area of natural resource management to help address the issues of water, labor and energy through the use of advanced crop production technologies.”

The training covered basic principles of CA, included field exercises and modern CA techniques for efficient climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, impact assessment of CA technologies and sustainable management of natural resources to ensure food security, profitability and productivity. Participants were given hands-on training on the use of different technologies including the laser land leveler, turbo seeder, multi-crop planter, limit plot planter, bed planter and mechanical transplanter. They also learned how to measure greenhouse gas emissions.

Attendees also participated in strategic research trials at Kulvehri and Taraori in Karnal. H.S. Sidhu, farm development engineer of the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) and M.L. Jat, CIMMYT Senior cropping system agronomist, talked about the longterm strategic research trial on CA for intensive cereal systems, shared their experiences and outcomes related to BISA research and commented on the development work at Ladhowal, Ludhiana. Jat also spoke about using conservation agriculture and climate-smart agriculture, to achieve food sufficiency by 2050 through input-based management systems in diverse production systems and environments.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) edits and publishes an internet periodical in blog format entitled “CIMMYT.” The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center is domiciled at Km. 45 Carretera México-Veracruz, Col, el Batán, Texcoco, Estado de México, México, C.P. 56237; phone + 52 (55) 5804-2004; www.cimmyt.org. Responsible Editor: Scott Mall. Reserved Right for Exclusive Use granted by the Mexican Copyright Office (valid in Mexico) no. 04-2013-091212312700-203. Responsible for updating this blog: Carissa Wodehouse, communications officer, Km. 45 Carretera México -Veracruz, El Batán, Texcoco, Estado de México. C. P. 56150, México. Weekly update. © CIMMYT 2014.

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