Report from the field: Wheat stem rust resistance screening at Njoro, Kenya

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According to Kenyan researcher Joseph Macharia, a new, highlyvirulent form of the wheat disease known as stem rust is driving Kenyan wheat farmers off their land. “If farmers can’t grow wheat, they just abandon the field, or some may switch to maize,” says Macharia. “Wheat is a high-investment cereal, so if farmers lose their crop, they lose their investment and can’t continue.”

The culprit is Ug99, a strain of stem rust—a millenary disease of the crop worldwide—that first appeared in Uganda in 1998. It was subsequently detected in Kenya in 2002 and Ethiopia in 2005, in Sudan and Yemen in 2006, and in Iran in 2007. The pathogen is expected to continue its migration to South and Central Asia, through the Middle East and North Africa, riding on the winds or by other means. Most currently grown varieties in its path are susceptible, and the wheat areas at risk represent 20% of the global total and provide sustenance for 1 billion people.

In Kenya, Peter Njau, plant breeder and deputy director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) research station at Njoro, says the loss of wheat harvests to the pathogen affect both farmers and the national economy. “Wheat is the second-most important crop in Kenya—we produce 350,000 tons every year,” he says, “but we need to import 450,000 tons more to meet national consumption demands.”

This year, Njau and his team worked with CIMMYT at the Njoro station to test 20,000 wheat lines from more than 15 countries for resistance to Ug99. Wheat scientists from most of these countries came to Kenya to evaluate their material and see first-hand the pathogen’s damage. “This is a hot-spot for the disease,” Njau says, referring to Nakuru District in the Central Rift Valley region of Kenya. “Disease incidence was so intense this year that 85% percent of the lines proved susceptible, and many supposedly resistant lines showed 20% greater infection than they normally would. New variants are appearing that overcome some of the most effective resistance genes in wheat.” But there is hope, too, according to Njau. “The experimental wheat variety Kingbird looked good under this year’s conditions, and has performed well in tests elsewhere.” Derived from CIMMYT germplasm, Kingbird is being used by the center to develop new varieties whose seed can be multiplied and quickly distributed to farmers in Ug99’s probable path of migration. Njau has also identified an experimental wheat variety from CIMMYT’s international stem rust resistance screening nursery that out-yielded the best reference variety by 27% and the average yield of varieties in the trial by 80%.

“Kenya and Ethiopia are doing the world a great service by conducting these trials,” says CIMMYT wheat breeder Davinder Singh, who is working in eastern Africa to combat Ug99. “The countries also benefit by having access to seed of resistant lines from international sources.” Ethiopian wheat researchers are also partners with CIMMYT in efforts to evaluate their research stations’ wheat germplasm from around the world for resistance to the pathogen. The work is part of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, led by Cornell University and supported by a growing number of donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the USAID-seed project, USDA, ICAR-India, Australia, Canada, Arab Funds for Agricultural Development, FAO-training, and even a northwestern Mexican farmer association known as the Patronato

Outreach to outreach

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1Jon Hellin, acting director of the Impacts, Targeting and Assessment Unit (ITAU), recently spoke with the staff of the BBC World Service Trust in London, England. His topic was Agriculture, Poverty, and Livelihood Security in Sub- Saharan Africa and it was designed to help the World Service Trust better understand the meaning and methodologies involved in livelihood approaches to poverty reduction in rural settings.

The World Service Trust is the BBC’s international charity and development organization. It uses the creative power of media to address poverty, health, human rights, livelihood, and humanitarian needs in developing countries and countries in conflict. It has offices in 20 countries and carries out projects in nearly 40.

In introducing Hellin, David Mowbray, the Africa director for the World Service Trust, said he knew the talk would contribute to the Trust’s development of a coherent, forward-thinking strategy for livelihood broadcasts and multi-media interventions. After the seminar, Hellin joined the World Service Trust’s livelihoods task force for a working lunch to further the discussion. Traditionally, rural or farm radio broadcasts have been top-down, expert-driven programs. As an outcome of the London discussions, Hellin and Mowbray agreed to continue a dialogue that might lead to better integration of broadcast outreach into agricultural research for development projects.


Workshop on abiotic stress tolerant maize

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A total of 16 breeders, agronomists, physiologists, and socio-economists from public and private sectors attended a workshop on abiotic stress tolerant maize on 11-12 November 2008 at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Gazipur, Bangladesh. The workshop was given by CIMMYT’s Asian Regional Maize Program (ARMP) and BARI and organized under the GTZ-funded project “Abiotic Stress Tolerant Maize for Improving Maize Productivity in Eastern Indian and Bangladesh.” The German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) is an international cooperation enterprise with a corporate objective to improve people’s living conditions on a sustainable basis.

1“Maize has emerged as the second most important crop after rice,” said Dr. Azizur Rahman, BARI research director. “But more than 80% of maize is grown during the winter cycle, strongly competing with our main food staple crop, rice,” he said. Thus, the GTZ project aims to develop new maize varieties suitable for cultivation during the summer as most of the cultivated land goes fallow during this time. “Abiotic stress tolerant maize suitable for growing during the summer season will certainly be a boon for the food security of Bangladesh,” said Rahman.

During the workshop participants listened to lectures and learned tools and techniques for stress breeding, conservation agriculture (CA), and socio-economics. P.H. Zaidi, maize physiologist from CIMMYT-Hyderabad, India and coordinator of the GTZ project, spoke about abiotic stress breeding, stress management, screening techniques, selection criteria, breeding methodology, and demonstrated basic tools and techniques involved in developing drought and waterlogging tolerant maize germplasm. Other speakers included Ken Sayre, CIMMYT agronomist, Enam-ul Haq, senior program officer for CIMMYTBangladesh, and Olaf Erenstein, CIMMYT-India economist.

Participants agreed that the right cultivar under the right agronomic management is a strong concept, and that stress tolerant maize grown with resource-efficient agronomic practices will certainly result in multiplicative outcomes. “I am confident that by next year we will be able show output of this training, which will certainly be translated into outcomes,” said Mr. Salimuddin, BARI maize breeder, who participated in the course.

DG Tom Lumpkin visits eastern Africa

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To welcome Lumpkin to the region and so he could meet CIMMYT partners, on 18 November 2008 the Global Maize Program (GMP) organized a gala dinner attended by more than 20 dignitaries, including representatives of Kenya’s agricultural research program, seed-producer organizations, universities and research institutes, and other international centers and major development projects. Joseph DeVries, director of the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), observed that Lumpkin had joined CIMMYT “…at a particularly exciting time for agriculture in Africa,” a theme echoed by several other guests. After drinks and food, Lumpkin spoke of his origins and professional experience, and described important issues and directions for CIMMYT and others working in sub-Saharan Africa. “ All our passion and efforts as partners must come together on increasing agricultural productivity in Africa – to ensure that the poor too have access to affordable food, especially now that we are facing new global challenges: the economic crisis, sky-rocketing food and fuel prices and climate change.


GMP director Marianne Bänziger thanked those attending, saying that “… nothing would be possible without our partners, such as the seed companies, KEPHIS (the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services), and KARI (the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute).” As a prelude to the upcoming retirement of CIMMYT maize breeder Alpha Diallo, Bänziger and Lumpkin awarded him a compact version of a memorial plaque he will receive in December 2008. “CIMMYT is my family,” said Diallo, whose work has contributed to many improved varieties—particularly of stress tolerant and quality protein maize— in sub-Saharan Africa. “When I joined the center as a postdoc in 1983, I was among the first Africans to work here. If I was able to achieve anything, it was because I found people who believed in what they were doing and in what I wanted to do. When I leave, I’m going to be a CIMMYT ambassador.”

Before visiting Nairobi, Lumpkin spent four days in Ethiopia with CIMMYT colleagues and partners who included government officials, donor representatives, national agricultural research teams, seed producers, and farmers. In all interactions it was clear that strong partnerships and good relations between CIMMYT and collaborators were at work. In fact, CIMMYT agronomist Dennis Friesen says that, in Ethiopia, CIMMYT and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) “…are viewed as one.”

Course teaches new technology

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Several CIMMYT breeders, pathologists, students from the Colegio de Postgraduado (Mexico), and Monsanto researchers from Argentina and the USA attended a statistical data analysis course on three-way interactions at El Batán 15-18 November. Analysis of plant performance in different locations is typically arranged in two-way tables of plant genotype and location. Taking this a step further, the workshop introduced participants to a statistical model and new computer software that can add another factor, such as the year, into the equation.

1“The program will help us to determine a genotype’s stability across different environments and years,” says José Crossa, head of Biometrics and Statistics of the Crop Research Informatics Lab of CIMMYT and coordinator of the course, which was jointly funded by CIMMYT and Monsanto.

The technology, adapted for agricultural analysis by Dr. Mario Varela of the Department of Mathematics at the National Institute of Agriculture Science in La Havana, Cuba and the main instructor of the course, builds upon previous multiplicative models, such as the Additive Main effect and Multiplicative Interaction Model (AMMI) and the Sites Regression model (SREG). Course participants spent two days learning the statistical theory behind the program and the following two days testing real data in the 3-way software.

The software, though fully-functional, is still a work in progress. “The practical component isn’t commercial software, but rather software that simply exemplifies the theoretical part that was given in the course,” says Varela, who until recently was only using the program in his personal research. Expressed interest by Monsanto and CIMMYT researchers prompted Varela and Crossa to update the program and organize the 3-way course. Both have expressed plans to further improve the program.

“During the course, questions came up that will help us improve the software. The idea is not to commercialize it; but once it’s improved, it will be sent to those interested,” says Varela. “I think the proper dissemination of the course will depend on the participants who are going to transmit it to other colleagues.” Alberto Pepper, manager of development strategies for Monsanto- Argentina and course participant, said he gained valuable information that will benefit his company. “We’re going to be using this program with our databases that cover different years and trials, allowing us to run more efficient analysis. This is going to help us to better position our materials and identify in each zone the advantages our materials have in comparison to other materials, enabling us to better advise farmers.”

Lumpkin on the move

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1After attending the Ug99 conference in New Delhi (5-8 November), DG Tom Lumpkin traveled to Ethiopia to meet with CIMMYT collaborators and visit regional offices. His travels across Africa will also include Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, where he will attend the Annual General Meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) 4-5 December in Maputo before returning to Mexico in mid- December. During his absence Jonathan Crouch, director of CIMMYT’s Genetic Resources, will assume designated DG responsibilities.

While in Ethiopia, Lumpkin learned first-hand about the work of CIMMYT maize breeder Strafford Twumasi Afriyie, pictured here with BH660, a popular hybrid. Afriyie and his team are converting the hybrid into quality protein maize (QPM) as part of a CIDA-funded project that also involves village-level QPM effectiveness studies, taste trials with njira (the local starchy staple) made from QPM, and other breeding efforts.

Monsanto-Mexico delegation visits El Batán

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A delegation from Monsanto-Mexico visited CIMMYT El Batán on 30 October 2008 to discuss CIMMYT-ASGROW joint efforts to disseminate conservation agriculture (CA) for maize in Mexican highlands. This effort is part of the rainfed maize CA hub in development in central Mexico which is one of several hubs that CIMMYT is using to promote and adapt CA practices for different farming systems and agro-ecological zones in Mexico. ASGROW is a subsidiary of Monsanto that sells hybrid seed.

“CIMMYT offers CA technologies to farmers in central Mexico in part through ASGROW’s network of technicians and seed and implement distributors,” explains Bram Govaerts, cropping systems management specialist. During the meeting partners updated each other on the project, discussed possible funding for other CA hubs in Mexico, and explored opportunities for joint research in the future, he says.

During the visit, CIMMYT DG Tom Lumpkin and Govaerts gave a presentation on the center’s work and its collaboration with Monsanto. The company’s delegation included Dr. Jesús Eduardo Pérez Pico, director of technology development and regulatory issues for northern Latin America; Angela María Bastidas, technology development and stewardship for the Andean region; Ernesto Alegrette, commercial manager at ASGROW; and Eduardo Vega, distribution representative. The group visited the longterm CA sustainability trial (D5) and Bibiana Espinoza, principal research assistant of the Genetic Resources and Enhancement Unit, gave them a tour of the germplasm bank.

“Results from our collaboration with CIMMYT in the high valleys are very encouraging and we look forward to continuing to support this effort for farmers to adopt conservation tillage practices and increase corn productivity,” says Dr. Jesús Eduardo Pérez Pico. “Likewise we will look for opportunities to expand our collaboration with CIMMYT in the northwest of Mexico.”

The rainfed maize-based hub in the highlands is in full swing and enables public and private players to come together to promote CA, says Govaerts. “We have implemented 25 CA modules on farmers’ fields all over central Mexico and have given several courses on CA to local farmers, technicians, and other actors of the maize production chain,” he says, adding that they are always looking for partners to strengthen the CA hubs.

CIMMYT honors Patronato’s Jorge Artee and Manuel Valenzuela

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Jorge Artee, the outgoing president of the Agricultural Research and Experimentation Board of the State of Sonora (Patronato), was honored on 30 October at a special dinner in Obregón organized by CIMMYT, along with Manuel Valenzuela, Patronato’s manager. Patronato is a group of private farmers that have significantly contributed to CIMMYT’s research through resources and financial support. Hans Braun, director of the Global Wheat Program, gave a speech on behalf of CIMMYT praising and thanking Artee for his support and contributions to CIMMYT and agriculture in general over the years.

He also read out a card from CIMMYT DG Tom Lumpkin. Before the honored guests, some of the former presidents of Patronato, Braun presented Artee with a figure of a Yaqui Indian that he said the figure was “… a symbol that we in the wheat program have chosen to honor our employees and colleagues, and as a way to show how close we feel to Obregón.” The Yaqui Valley Indian is a symbol of pride for Sonorans, and Artee is the first non-CIMMYT employee to receive this important recognition.

Among the guests were Homero Melis, president of the Asociación de Organismos de Agricultores del Sur de Sonora (AOASS) which is the umbrella institution for farmer unions in the South of Sonora; Erasmo Valenzuela, northeast regional director of the Mexican National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research (INIFAP); and the presidents of all the farmer unions that make up AOASS.

Global Global conservation agriculture efforts

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1Outreach efforts for conservation agriculture (CA) took place in India, Africa and Mexico throughout the month of October. In Bihar, India, nearly 100 farmers attended a traveling seminar on CA 20-21 October 2008. Attendees, all from districts that use resource-conserving technologies (RCTs), visited CIMMYT-India experiments on zero-tillage rice (ZTR) in ricewheat or rice-maize systems and local fields that use permanent bed planting or zerotillage.

In Begusarai, the farmers interacted with scientists and viewed ZTR trials for weed management, seed multiplication, nitrogen management, and other trials. Many expressed special interest in new cultivars and new herbicides for controlling weeds.

At Rajendra Agriculture University (RAU), the seminar covered crop establishment experiments of rice-wheat and rice-maize systems and a weed management trial on double zero-tillage rice-wheat systems. RAU Director of Research, Dr. B.C. Chaudhry, urged farmers to adopt RCTs in winter crops to ensure timely planting and resource conservation and suggested incorporating other methods, such as intercropping. The Director of Extension, Dr. A.K. Chaudhry further emphasized the need for farmers to test, adopt, and spread the message among fellow farmers about RCTs. Ravi Gopal, CIMMYT research scientist, outlined the center’s program in Bihar and shared results from permanent trials at RAU.

Training with Total LandCare
3Meanwhile, in Salima, Malawi, Pat Wall of CIMMYT and Christian Thierfelder of CIAT led two 2-day courses on CA at the request of regional NGO Total LandCare. CIMMYT began working with Total LandCare in 2005, and the organization has since successfully extended the use of CA in several communities in Malawi. Attended by 54 Total LandCare technical staff, the latest course trained the NGO’s “front-line” personnel who will use their knowledge to bring CA to other communities in Malawi.

Despite scorching temperatures, participants visited fields in the community of Zidyana near Nkhotakota to examine the effect of tillage—done here with hand hoes—on soil structure and soil quality and discussed and practiced using and calibrating knapsack sprayers and jab planters. Later, sitting comfortably on crop residues under the shade of local farmer Excelina Azele’s mango tree, participants listened to her describe her experiences with CA and why she is expanding its use on her farm. By the end of the course, participants said they better understood CA aims and were now in a stronger position to start working with farmers on CA in their communities.

CA off the field
2Bram Govaerts (left in the photo), CIMMYT conservation agriculture specialist, represented CIMMYT during 28-30 October 2008 at the Conservation Agriculture Carbon Offset Expert Consultation, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Conservation Technology Information Center. The event, held at the Beck Agricultural Center in West Lafayette, Indiana, gathered scientists, researchers, and CA experts from Africa, Australia, Canada, Central America, India, South America, and the USA, among others, and focused on how CA can engage in the global carbon offset market.

Key topics included the latest research on the impacts of CA on carbon and greenhouse gases around the world; tools for monitoring and measuring carbon sequestration to enable credit trading; demand for a carbon market; how carbon markets are functioning in different regions; barriers and opportunities to adopting low-emissions farming techniques; and a tour of Purdue’s no-till research plots.

Govaerts also attended the First Socio-cultural and Scientific Conference, a scientific-academic forum convened by the Mexican District Federal Government in Mexico City 8-9 October 2008 titled “Maize Forum: From Quetzalcóatl to Transgenics: Science and Culture of Maize in Mexico.” The event focused on the future of maize in Mexico and included a discussion about the risks of transgenic maize. Govaerts shared CIMMYT’s work on CA and explained that if Mexican farmers would use this technology—which keeps crop residues on the soil surface and avoids excessive movement of soil—their yields would increase significantly.

Special visit of FAO DG

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In a recent visit to CIMMYT, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO, said the organization was very interested in continuing its partnership with CIMMYT in research to combat Ug99, the new virulent strain of wheat stem rust from eastern Africa, and in working with the center to improve the systems by which seed of improved varieties reaches farmers in developing countries. Diouf and his staff, accompanied by representatives of the FAO in Mexico, spent a halfday at El Batán on 26 October 2008, as part of a longer tour to interact with decision makers and research organizations in the country.

ITAU Director John Dixon said the visitors were quite impressed with what they saw and the opportunities for collaboration. “Coming out of the summit meetings on Ug99 in 2005, FAO has really stepped up to the mark on this issue,” said Dixon. “Other major topics mentioned by Diouf for joint work were seed systems and capacity building.” In his tour of the facilities, Diouf also took special note of research by maize entomologist George Mahuku adapting the use of an IRRI-originated technology—heavy grade, hermetically-sealed plastic bags—for storage of maize grain and seed by small-scale farmers. “Any storage pests in the grain quickly use up available oxygen and die,” said Mahuku. “There’s still lots more testing and adapting to be done, but the practice looks promising.”

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