Reaching Out to Smallholder Farmers in Pakistan

Written by editor on . Posted in Asia

Krishna Dev Joshi

CIMMYT entered an important new partnership with Pakistan’s National Rural Support Program (NRSP) on 7 November 2014 for wheat varietal evaluation, promotion and deployment, as well as on-farm agronomic interventions and community-based seed production enterprises.

A not-for-profit development organization established in 1991 that fosters a countrywide network of more than 200,000 grassroots organizations across 56 districts, NRSP enables rural communities to plan, implement and manage development programs for employment, poverty alleviation and improved quality of life. Through direct linkages with some 400,000 smallholder farming families, the organization will help extend the reach of the CIMMYT- led Agricultural Innovation Program for Pakistan (AIP),  according to Dr. Rashid Bajwa, chief executive officer of NRSP. “We can now jointly scale out to a vast number of smallholders with average daily earnings of less than  two dollars a day,” Bajwa said, mentioning the organization’s activities like microfinance enterprise development.

Photo of a Pakistani family

The work of Pakistan’s National Rural Support Program benefits millions of small-scale farmers and landless families. Photo: Mike Listman/CIMMYT.

Aiming to Benefit the Disadvantaged

The partnership paves the way for a new and different kind of innovation platform focusing on smallholders, tenants and the landless, female-headed households and vulnerable groups such as flood victims, said Muhammad Imtiaz, CIMMYT liaison officer for Pakistan and AIP Chief of Party: “This will contribute directly to the Center’s mission of improving the food security and resilience of those most at risk, not to mention opening avenues for other AIP partners to join hands in testing and promoting appropriate agricultural innovations.”

Taking advantage of NRSP’s gender-responsive approach, the partnership will work directly with and seek to empower women farmers, identifying wheat varieties and technologies that help increase their food security and incomes. Work will identify, test and deploy high-yielding and rust resistant wheat varieties across 23 districts and include improved farming practices for diverse settings from rain-fed to fully-irrigated.

A major focus will be to develop community-based seed enterprises linked with NRSP, small seed companies, farmer associations and seed regulatory bodies, serving remote villages that have heretofore lacked access to improved varieties.

“This will contribute directly to the Center’s mission of improving the food security and resilience of those most at risk” –Muhammad Imtiaz CIMMYT liaison officer for Pakistan and AIP Chief of Party

A group photo

A group photo was taken at the NRSP inception meeting and staff training. Photo: Raja Zulfiqar Ali.

Getting Off on the Right Foot

A partnership inception meeting and staff training for NRSP were organized on 10 November in Islamabad, with 32 participants from NRSP and 11 from CIMMYT, including senior management from both the organizations, and with Malik Fateh Khan, NRSP Regional Manager, providing a welcome address.

Imtiaz Hussain, CIMMYT cropping systems agronomist, highlighted conservation agriculture technologies and their relevance for the partnership. Krishna Dev Joshi, CIMMYT wheat improvement specialist, discussed various types of varietal testing, including participatory varietal selection, mother-baby trials and on-farm demonstrations, to creating awareness and demand for improved seed among farmers. Three CIMMYT colleagues who also spoke at the event were: Shamim Akhter, AIP project manager; Amina Nasim Khan, communications specialist; and Ghazi Kamal, monitoring and evaluation specialist.

Improved Maize to Boost Yields in Nitrogen-starved African Soils

Written by editor on . Posted in Africa, Maize

Farmer applying fertilizer

A farmer applies nitrogen fertilizer to her hybrid maize. Photo: CIMMYT/IMAS

Mike Listman

Sub-Saharan African farmers typically apply less than 20 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare of cropland — far less than their peers in any other region of the world. In 2014, partners in the Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) project developed 41 Africa-adapted maize varieties that respond better to low amounts of nitrogen fertilizer and are up for release in nine African countries through 24 seed companies.

After water, nitrogen is the single most important input for maize production; lack of it is the main constraint to cereal yields in Africa, in areas with enough rain to raise a crop. Year after year, infertile soils and high fertilizer prices (in rural areas as much as six times the global average) combine to reduce harvests of maize, sub-Saharan Africa’s number-one cereal crop and chief source of calories and protein for the poor. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), an initiative launched in 2010 has made dramatic progress to address this by exploiting natural genetic variation for nutrient-use efficiency in tropical maize. “Partners have been breeding maize varieties that respond better to the small amounts of nitrogen fertilizer African farmers can afford to apply,” said Biswanath Das, CIMMYT maize breeder and coordinator of the Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) project. “We’re aiming to raise maize yields by 50 percent and benefit up to 60 million maize farmers in eastern and southern Africa.”

Smallholder Farmer Conditions: A Maize “Reality Check”

Map of IMAS phenotyping sitesA public-private partnership that, along with CIMMYT, involves national research organizations such as the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC), African seed companies and DuPont Pioneer, IMAS has advanced quickly in part because participants share breeding lines and technical knowhow, according to Das.

“But a real key to success – and a significant legacy of the project – is that IMAS has established in eastern and southern Africa the world’s largest low-nitrogen screening network for maize,” Das explained. “There are 25 sites in 10 countries1 and a total of over 120,000 experimental plots. Partners can test breeding lines and quickly and reliably spot the ones with superior nitrogen-use efficiency under smallholder farmers’ conditions.” According to Das, nearly a quarter of the plots are managed by seed companies, which recognize the value of nitrogen-use efficiency as a key trait for their farmer clients.

In an exciting 2014 development, regulatory agencies in eastern Africa began evaluating maize national performance trials — which varieties must pass as a prerequisite for release — under nitrogen stress in the IMAS network. “This is a clear recognition by policymakers of poor soil fertility as a critical constraint for African maize farmers,” said Das. “To meet farmers’ needs, IMAS varieties are also bred for drought tolerance and resistance to the region’s major maize diseases.”

Also Yielding Under Well Fertilized Conditions

Partners are augmenting conventional breeding with DNA-marker-assisted selection and use of “doubled haploids,” a high-tech shortcut to genetically-uniform maize inbred lines. Experimental breeding stocks thus developed are field tested under low-nitrogen stress through “high-precision phenotyping,” involving careful measurement of key traits in live plants.

Picture of fields with test maize

Low nitrogen trials in Kiboko, Kenya, where new maize varieties are tested. Photo: CIMMYT/IMAS.

“In this way, we’ve quickly developed maize varieties that yield up to 50 percent more than existing varieties under low-fertility stress, characteristic of smallholder farming systems,” Das explained. “Crucially for farmers, these varieties also perform well under well- fertilized conditions, whilst several carry resistance to maize lethal necrosis, a devastating viral disease spreading through eastern Africa.” In 2014, 41 such varieties were nominated for release in nine countries in Africa, in partnership with 24 seed companies.

This year IMAS also worked with seed companies to support the production and dissemination of 3,000 tons of seed of nitrogen-use efficient maize hybrids in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, potentially benefitting more than 120,000 smallholder maize farmers and helping to enhance food security for over half a million household members, according to Das. “Close collaboration with the private seed sector has been instrumental to IMAS since its inception,” Das said. “These partners host over a quarter of the regional nitrogen stress screening network and have helped with the quick increase of seed of nitrogen-use efficient varieties and with managing farmer demonstrations and field days to support the fast release of new varieties.”


A December 2014 report by the Montpellier Panel – comprising agricultural, trade and ecology experts from Europe and Africa – details the economic and ecological threats of degrading soils in Africa, and is highlighted in an 04 December BBC feature.

Highlights of the 12th Asian Maize Conference

Written by editor on . Posted in Asia, MAIZE CRP

Genevieve Renard

The 12th Asian Maize Conference and Expert Consultation on “Maize for Food, Feed, Nutrition and Environmental Security” convened in Bangkok, Thailand from 31 October to 1 November 2014.

Organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), CIMMYT, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Thai Department of Agriculture (DoA), the Conference brought together around 350 researchers, policy-makers, service providers, innovative farmers and representatives of various organizations from across the public and private sector.

Dr. Tom Lupkin, CIMMYT Director General, with participants Dr. H.S. Gupta, director general of the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) and Dr. H.S. Sidhu, Senior Research Engineer, CIMMYT India.

Dr. Saira Bano receives an award.

Maize scientist Dr. Saira Bano from Pakistan is presented an award for best poster by Dr. Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director General of FAO RAP.


All photos: APAARI

Dr. B.M. Prasanna, Director of the CIMMYT Global Maize Progam, receives a plaque of appreciation from FAO and APAARI for his contributions to the successful organization of the conference and for strengthening regional maize research and development partnerships.

Dr. Mark Holderness, the Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), asks a question.

Dr. Mulugetta Mekuria, SIMLESA Project Leader, presents on sustainable intensification of maize-based systems.

Participants and poster presenters from India, S.V. Manjunatha, M.G. Mallikarjuna and S. Hooda Karambir.

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?

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; 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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