Linking breeding, plant genetic resources, and biotechnology in Kazakhstan

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Agronomy, Asia, Biotechnology, Events

During 6-14 June 2011, a group of 24 national specialists from different institutions and regions traversed 1,400 kilometers of southeast, south, and southwest Kazakhstan in a travelling seminar organized by CIMMYT on breeding, plant genetic resources (PGR), and biotechnology. The aim was to evaluate the status of those research pursuits in the region, as well as prospects for their development, and to promote innovative technologies. The group visited farms and the region’s leading agricultural research organizations: the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, the Kazakh Advanced Research Institute for Farming and Crop Production, the Krasnovodopad Agricultural Experimental Station, the Southwest Agricultural Research Center for Livestock and Crop Production, and the Kazakh Advanced Research Institute for Rice Production.

Seminar participants agreed that one of the most important tasks today is to increase crop yields by developing new varieties, mobilizing plant genetic resources, and using advanced biotechnologies—work now hindered by the weak link between biotechnology, breeding, and use of plant genetic resources in the country. Kazakhstan has stronger biotechnology capacity and more extensive plant collections than other Central Asian countries, but studies in those areas are conducted in parallel, without close interaction between breeders and biotechnologists. In most cases, biotechnology and molecular biology methods and developments stay locked away in the lab, with rare use by breeders and only rudimentary application to study, characterize, or use plant genetic resources for breeding.

Use of modern biological methods could significantly speed breeding, raise crop yields, and improve agronomic and economically-valuable traits. With Kazakhstan agriculture being categorized as ”risk farming,” biotechnology could help in breeding high-yielding, stress tolerant crop varieties.

ATMA project 2nd Phase launched

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, Announcements, Asia, collaborative projects, Maize

By P.H. Zaidi

The project launch for Phase Two of Abiotic Stress Tolerant Maize for Asia (ATMA) was held at the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of Hohenheim (UH) in Stuttgart, Germany during 30 May-01 June 2011. Phase One of the project, also known by its unabridged name, “Abiotic stress tolerant maize for increasing income and food security among the poor in South and Southeast Asia,” began in 2008 and is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 The meeting was attended by scientists from collaborating institutions including India’s Directorate of Maize Research (DMR), Vietnam’s National Maize Research Institute (NMRI), the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of Philippines, the University of Hohemheim (UH), and CIMMYT.

To begin the launch, UH’s Albrecht E. Melchinger welcomed all the participants with a recap of the over 20 years of collaborative research partnership between his institution and CIMMYT. M. Kruse, UH Dean of Studies, then gave an overview of the research activities at the Institute and its current collaborations with CGIAR institutions.

In the opening session, the participants discussed “Target environment and country perspectives,” with special reference to drought and water-logging prone maize growing areas in South and Southeast Asia. This was followed by country profiles during which a representative from each participating country gave an overview of their nation’s progress. tour of the facilities; including farm, seed storage, bio-gas plant, and farm machinery. Participants then visited the UH research station to see ongoing field activities focused on utilizing doubled haploid (DH) technology to advance maize. Participants were excited to learn about DH technique and see UH’s breeding facilities first hand. The meeting proved a wonderful success as the participants revisited the accomplishments of Phase One and solidified plans to make Phase two equally successful. Thanks to everyone who participated! Phase Two was kicked-off with an air of excitement as the meeting recapped the many success of Phase One, such as the development of new germplasm tolerant to drought and water-logging stress, the improvement of crop management strategies specifically tailored to abiotic stress-prone environments, QTL-mapping achievements, and socio-economic progress.

CIMMYT Senior Maize Physiologist P.H. Zaidi then switched the focus to the future of ATMA by discussing the objectives, project activities, outputs and intended project milestones of Phase Two.

The group discussed important components to Phase Two such as the project work-plan, the creation of an ATMA webpage, and the project budget and governance.

The third day was devoted to field visits, in which participants visited Dow Seeds, also in Stuttgart. The visit included a presentation on Dow’s global maize program and a tour of the facilities; including farm, seed storage, bio-gas plant, and farm machinery. Participants then visited the UH research station to see ongoing field activities focused on utilizing doubled haploid (DH) technology to advance maize. Participants were excited to learn about DH technique and see UH’s breeding facilities first hand.

The meeting proved a wonderful success as the participants revisited the accomplishments of Phase One and solidified plans to make Phase two equally successful. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Improved maize varieties for Oaxaca

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, collaborative projects, Events, improved seed, Maize

Following on from the story “Improved seed reaches the Pacific” in issue 1750 of the Informa, we would like to recognize the hard work of all those involved in the project “Modernization of maize production in Oaxaca with adapted maize cultivars to increase yields”. The project aims to help farmers in the coastal, Papaloapan and Mixtecas regions of Oaxaca to access and produce improved maize cultivars through a participatory maize breeding (PMB) initiative, and to ensure the in situ conservation of maize diversity. The project was initiated in 2009 and is a collaboration between CIMMYT and the research extension services of the Autonomous University of Chapingo’s South Regional Center (CRUS-UACh) in Oaxaca. It is led by Suketoshi Taba in CIMMYT and Humberto Castro in CRUS-UACh, with the participation of Víctor Chávez of CIMMYT and Eliud Oliva and Iván Vásquez of CRUSUACh, and other staff of both institutions.

Drawing on a diverse gene pool, pre-breeding work at CIMMYT’s maize germplasm bank produced breeder seed of improved open pollinated varieties (OPVs) and inter-variety hybrids (IVHs). Project partners at CRUS-UACh produced declared seed (an intermediate category in the national seed system with less purity than certified seed) of these cultivars and delivered them to farmers, along with promising cultivars from other Mexican institutions and landraces collected from the communities. In addition to evaluation at CIMMYT, many trials, demonstration plots, and seed increase nurseries have been planted in farmers’ fields in different maize-producing regions in Oaxaca. The best-performing cultivars have been increased to make seed available to farmers and to the germplasm banks for conservation and enhancement. Unlike landraces, the improved varieties have genetic traits that allow mechanization and adoption of modern maize production practices, and high yield potentials similar to commercial hybrids.

The PMB approach has captured the attention of many farmers, students, extension workers, and government personnel who have participated in the project. It has proved its worth as an alternative approach to providing useful exotic germplasm to small-scale farmers in Oaxaca, linking them with public maize research and breeding without generating intellectual property rights claims. It can help in the evolution and conservation of local cultivars through crossing with new germplasm by farmer breeders as well as participating researchers. Farmers’ systems of seed exchange within social networks can operate for the adapted cultivars produced through PMB just as they do for other varieties. As a mark of the project’s rapid success, in the last two years 74 tons of seed have been produced and delivered to farmers for grain, forage, and elote (green ear) production.

SIMLESA strengthens project monitoring and evaluation capacity

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Africa, Capacity Building, Events, Maize

SIMLESA strengthens project monitoring and evaluation capacity. A Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Workshop was held in Nairobi, Kenya, during 13-17 June 2011 as part of the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Central Africa (SIMLESA) project. It was facilitated by a team from the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and led by Enock Warinda.

The workshop inspired the development of key M&E frameworks and provided participants with information and tools for better result management. The five-day workshop employed a practical, interactive approach using case studies and analyses of real-life situations. Twentyeight participants were drawn from the SIMLESA country teams of Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, plus representatives from CIMMYT.

SIMLESA program leader Mulugetta Mekuria opened the workshop, emphasizing the Program Steering Committee’s recommendation of a standardized M&E protocol. The workshop enhanced participants’ skills to develop the requisite framework, track project progress, and develop effective data-quality-management and performance-monitoring plans. By the end of the workshop, participants had developed action plans for M&E activities in their respective countries.

Tackling complexity in winter wheat

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, Capacity Building, Events, Wheat

Winter wheat constitutes a staple food in the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region, where it is grown on around 18 million hectares in wide-ranging cropping systems. It can be found in climates that span cold, dry environments; temperate areas with heavy rainfall; and irrigated, highyielding lands constrained by different biotic and abiotic stresses. These varied landscapes contribute significantly to the grain’s diversity and complexity.

To address the constraints upon and future outlook of this multifaceted crop, wheat researchers convened at the 1st Regional Winter Wheat Symposium on 25-27 June 2011 in Tabriz, Iran. The event drew more than 100 participants from 12 countries in the CWANA region. Held at the El Guli Hotel, the symposium hosted 24 research presentations on winter wheat breeding, agronomy, pathology, genetics, and production.

Activities also included a one-day field visit to farmers’ fields and the Maragheh Research Station, operated by the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute (DARI), in Hashtrood, Iran. The excursion illuminated the production constraints on winter wheat and opportunities for research and development.

The presentations and discussions produced a wealth of dialogue among attendees. By the symposium’s conclusion, participants had developed and agreed upon recommendations to further address national and international issues relating to winter wheat production and research.

The symposium was sponsored and supported by the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute (DARI), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), CIMMYT, the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute (SPII), the Jihad Agriculture Organization of East Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture, and the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization (AREEO).

CIMMYT to lead global MAIZE alliance as CGIAR enters fifth decade

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, Announcements, CGIAR, Maize

A new era began this week with the launch of the CGIAR Research Program MAIZE, a US$170 million global alliance to expand and accelerate research into maize, on 06 July 2011. The announcement was made during a celebration of the CGIAR’s 40th birthday, held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, marking a new direction for the CGIAR and demonstrating that after four remarkable decades it remains vigorous and committed to addressing emerging challenges.

“This program aims to double the productivity of maize farms, while also making those farms more resilient to climate change and reducing the amount of land used for growing the crop,” said Carlos Perez del Castillo, CGIAR Consortium Board Chair. “As a result, farmers’ incomes are expected to rise and their livelihood opportunities to increase, contributing to rural poverty reduction in developing countries.” Maize is the preferred staple food source for more than 900 million people, including one third of the world’s malnourished children. The program’s first target group is smallholder farmers, among the most vulnerable people in developing countries, particularly those who live in stress-prone environments and have poor market access. Forty million smallholder farm family members are expected to see direct benefits by 2020 and 175 million by 2030.

The program will be implemented by CIMMYT and the International Institute of Tropic Agriculture (IITA), together with over 350 public and private partners worldwide. CIMMYT studies show that the demand for maize in the developing world is expected to double between now and 2050. Meanwhile, agriculture is under pressure from population growth, climate change, and natural resource degradation. Future expansion of maize area will come at the cost of crop diversity, forests, and erodible hill slopes. Fertilizer, water, and labor costs are also rising.

The challenge for MAIZE therefore is to find sustainable ways to grow significantly more maize on less land than ever before. The program is based on nine strategic initiatives, reflecting priorities for maize research. These are: • Socioeconomics and policies for maize futures
• Sustainable intensification and income opportunities for the poor
• Smallholder precision agriculture
• Stress tolerant maize for the poorest
• Towards doubling maize productivity
• Integrated postharvest management • Nutritious maize [bio-fortified varieties]
• Seeds of discovery [mobilizing maize genetic diversity] • New tools and methods for NARS and SMEs

All the strategic initiatives also include capacity building to empower a new generation of women and men scientists. The program is expected to provide enough maize to meet the annual food demands of an additional 135 million consumers by 2020 and 600 million by 2030.

“This is a highly ambitious project to address world hunger,” said Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT Director General. “It will take an enormous amount of work and cooperation between public and private sector institutions to meet the goals. The global challenges facing mankind are immediate and chronic; the time to act is now. Millions of lives depend on our ability to develop sustainable solutions to feed more people with fewer resources than ever before.”

For more information, see the proposal document at: maize-and-wheat-cgiar-programs

Checking in with friends: Update on Wayne Haag

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, Maize, Visits to CIMMYT

After a successful 37-year career and living on 4 continents, most people welcome retirement with open arms. Wayne Haag is not most people. Mission-oriented since childhood, the only question is, where will he end up next?

Assigned to CIMMYT as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in 1973, Haag first worked in Mexico alongside Dr Ernest Sprague and the maize team, and later as a maize specialist representing the center in Egypt, Turkey, the Middle East, and the South American region, where he continued until leaving CIMMYT’s employ in 1989. Since that time, and through the end of 2009, he worked with the Sasakawa Global 2000 program, an effort begun by Ryoichi Sasakawa and enlisting the participation and leadership of US President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, to offer sub-Saharan African farmers technology options for improving their productivity and food security.

During that tenure, in addition to other responsibilities, Haag focused on and promoted quality protein maize (QPM) in 12 project countries. Recently retired from SG 2000, Haag shows no sign of slowing down.

“I’m not ready for full retirement,” says Haag. “I hope to continue to be involved in international agriculture development. What form that will take? I’m not sure quite yet, but am in the process of exploring possibilities.”

Haag served in the US Peace Corps’ first project in Guatemala during 1963-64, an agricultural extension project, at the decree of President John F. Kennedy. Inspired by that experience, he later pursued studies in agricultural development and science at Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University.

Throughout his long travels and career, Haag has preserved close linkages with CIMMYT friends and partners. “Every national maize program I worked with had a very strong partnership with CIMMYT,” he says. “Even though I may have not been employed by CIMMYT for many years, it is almost as if I have never left.”

This week Haag and his wife Maria were in Mexico to touch base with long-time coworker, friend, and retired CIMMYT Distinguished Scientist, Surinder K. Vasal. Vasal and retired CIMMYT cereal chemist Evangelina Villegas shared the 2000 World Food Prize for their work in the 1970-80s to develop QPM, seen as a breakthrough in maize breeding by Haag and maize scientists around the world. During a visit to El Batán, Haag said he is certain the center’s work with QPM is not done.

“It is my sincere hope that CIMMYT will strengthen its activities in quality protein maize. This can be done by increasing the numbers of maize breeders and concentrating on germplasm maintenance, improvement, and development,” he says. Haag believes CIMMYT can produce QPM open-pollinated varieties and hybrids that also contains enhanced levels of methionine, provitamin A, iron, and zinc. “This seed would revolutionize global maize production and add tremendous value to the crop both in terms of human and animal nutrition,” he says.

Cell phones talk agriculture in Hidalgo, México

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Agronomy, Capacity Building, Events

India has recently experienced a boom in cell phone use in the agricultural sector—disseminating information on anything from technology to agronomic practices, weather, or even market prices. Investigating this recent trend’s presence in Mexico, on June 26 a team of CIMMYT socioeconomists including Tina Beuchelt, Surabhi Mittal, Dagoberto Flores, and Jennifer Zehner visited the Chimalpa Valley in the municipality of Apan, state of Hidalgo, Mexico, an area largely known for being a barley production belt, to gauge the prevalence of cell phone use for agricultural purposes.

The trip involved a focus-group discussion with 12 farmers. The farmers were frustrated that extension services and information were not reaching them because of inadequate communication. They said they relied on their friends and family as their principle source of agricultural information. All participating farmers had cell phones, which they use for some agriculture-related purposes. Cell phone costs are relatively high, but the farmers save time and money by calling their technician, rather than having to travel by car to other towns seeking information. Apart from phone calls, there is not a great interest in sending or receiving agricultural information through SMS due to its high cost. Furthermore, it emerged that none of the farmers were using the existing SAGARPA SMS information service or were even aware of its existence.

As the CIMMYT team and farmers’ discussion progressed, farmers revealed that they would, indeed, like an agency that circulates relevant information, such as rainfall forecasts to make better planting decisions, crop prices, where to buy inputs, input applications, government subsidy programs, and relevant agricultural events. This information would allow farmers to be more efficient in their production. The farmers said they would also appreciate other modes of communication, such as a local agronomic television show or radio programs during the weekend from which they could obtain important agricultural information.

The farmers mentioned important constraints to information sharing, indicating the need for trustworthy external sources. They mentioned a lack of trust among neighboring farmers and that farming networks (or unions) are not well established. By the end of the discussion, farmers started showing more interest in how to obtain agricultural information via cell phone. While they were reticent about the use of cell phones and their cost, they mentioned that if cell phones could be used profitably, they might be willing to pay for such services in the future. This interaction between CIMMYT and the farmers is the initial step in understanding Mexican farmers’ perspectives towards cell phone use as a means of better communication and information dissemination.

New maize varieties keeping Kenyan inmates fed

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Africa, Agronomy, Maize

The Government of Kenya Prison in Machakos, Kenya, is not your average prison. Here, the inmates have their food security in their hands—quite literally. This is because they work the prison farm, which grows, among other food crops, three new CIMMYT maize varieties.

The prison is situated in a droughtprone area and with 1,000 inmates there at any one time, the prison management needs all the help it can get to feed its inmates. “We need 5 bags of maize daily—for the three meals—for all the inmates.

These new varieties give good yields even when rain is scarce,” says Paul Mukiti, the prison farm manager.

He refers to KDV1, KDV4 and KH500-21A—drought tolerant maize varieties developed by CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), marketed by Dryland Seeds Ltd in eastern Kenya.

The prisoners till the maize fields planted with these varieties under the watchful eye of Mukiti and their wardens.

It all began when Dryland Seeds contacted Mukiti to grow KDV1 and KDV4 on his personal farmland. Impressed by their performance and business potential, Mukiti convinced his superiors to allow him try the grain varieties on the prison farm. Mukiti and his men grew KDV1 in April 2010 and KH500-21A in October of the same year.

“KH-500 needs more rain and takes longer but gives very good yields and that’s why we grew it in October,” says Mukiti. Last year, the prison’s maize farm yielded 170 bags of the two varieties. The prison had enough maize to feed the inmates and a surplus which it sold for extra income.

“This maize has helped us to save a lot of money which we would have been using to buy maize for the inmates,” says Mukiti. Currently, a 90-kilogram bag is retailing at KSh 2,700 (USD 30) and the prison would have spent at least  KSh 13,500 (USD 150) per day to feed the prisoners.  Last April, Mukiti and his men planted three acres to KDV 1 and two acres to KDV 4 and in June the crop was doing well, despite the prevailing drought. Mukiti is thankful for the new seed and confidently awaiting next month’s harvest.

Spreading the word on CA from Mexico

Written by ccastro on . Posted in Capacity Building, Conservation Agriculture

“It is very difficult to find conservation agriculture machinery. You have to go to China or India to get it,” said Mahesh Kumar Gathala, new CIMMYTBangladesh-based cropping systems agronomist for South Asia. Gathala, a native of India, was just one of the 15 participants invited to attend a five-week conservation agriculture course at CIMMYT-El Batán, Mexico, where improving machinery and professional capacity were hot topics.

Begun in late May 2011, the course combined research advances in multidisciplinary approaches to sustainable crop management with the vast experience of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The main aim was to enhance participants’ understanding of the use and application of conservation agriculture sowing technologies and relevant agricultural implements in irrigated and rainfed wheat and maize production systems.

The participants came from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Tunisia, India, and Turkey. For many, it was their first time in Mexico. They spent most of their time at CIMMYT-El Batán, but also visited the Toluca station and farmers’ fields in Hidalgo to see CA practices in action and share experiences from their own countries.

Gathala noted the major differences in CA farming in Mexico and South Asia. “Fields are much smaller in Bangladesh, and crop residues are in much higher demand as animal feed,” he said. “These conditions make CA more difficult to push.” A CA practitioner for a decade, Gathala nonetheless felt the course was useful: “There is always something new to learn and share.”

Participant Raju Teggelli of India agreed. “I enjoyed the coursework, especially the practical experience. I found the instrument calibration and the hands-on training most useful,” said the Entomologist from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur, in Karnataka, India.

Sincere thanks to all who made the course possible, and especially to the participants for their valuable and engaging contributions.

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: Genevieve Renard. 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.

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Copyright © 2014