Five farmer field days focus on rice and maize

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Agronomy, Capacity Building, Maize

untitledVarious research and extensions workers collaborating with the project “Sustainable Intensification of Rice-Maize Systems in Bangladesh” organized five farmer field days throughout March and April 2010. The events took place in the districts of Comilla, Rangpur, and Rajshahi and attracted over 350 farmers.

During the field days, farmers gathered in front of maize fields with site-specific nitrogen management (SSNM) and conservation agriculture (CA) trials and shared their experiences, both positive and negative, with the researchers and extension workers. At all the project sites, there are CA farmer-participatory adaptive trials and researcher-managed SSNM trials for maize and rice. Some of the key new and improved CA technological options being introduced and promoted through these trials include maize planted under minimum tillage using a powertiller operated seeder (PTOS), strip tillage, zero tillage, fresh beds, and permanent beds. In all trials, farmers’ common practice is compared with CA technologies, and researcher-managed SSNM trials have treatments ranging from zero to reduced levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

“These field days provided ample opportunities for farmers, stakeholders, and researchers to share their experiences with each other on these new CA technologies being introduced and promoted by the project,” said Jagadish Timsina, IRRI-CIMMYT senior cropping system agronomist and project leader. “Grain yield and cost of production data are being collected from these trials that will allow us to compare the production and profitability of various CA technological options against farmers’ current practice of growing maize.”

untitled2Though the project, which started in November 2008, initially focused on adaptive research in farmers’ fields, it is now starting to emphasize dissemination of improved CA practicies and SSNM technologies to farmers as well. This will be done through training and capacity building with researchers, farmers, extension workers, machinery manufacturers, and service providers.

The project is run jointly by CIMMYT and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) with national partners from governmental and non-governmental organizations. This project was recently featured in The New Nation: Bangladesh’s Independent News Source.

Preserving diversity and helping farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Events, Genetic resources, Maize

oaxaca field 043On 24 April 2010, roughly 80 farmers and technicians gathered in a maize field surrounded by mountains for a farmers’ field day. The event was held in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico, and was part of an effort to increase the genetic diversity in farmers’ fields and provide them with additional seed selection options.

The day revolved around the introduction of four maize seed varieties—H-318 (INIFAP hybrid), Pool 31 and Pool 32×31 (CIMMYT), and San José (Chapingo University). The seeds are open pollinated varieties and were selected for high yield and high forage to meet the subsistence and livestock feed needs of farmers in central Oaxaca. Humberto Castro García (pictured bottom, right) from the Autonomous University of Chapingo, Oaxaca campus, and event organizer, partnered with local farmers to multiple the seeds, which then went through testing procedures required by Mexican law, and were packaged for distribution and sale.

“The idea is to try and bring more improved diversity to the area,” said Suketoshi Taba (pictured middle photo, far left), head of the CIMMYT maize germplasm bank. “Most farmers here grow for self-consumption with low inputs, so the power of the seed is important.” Mexico is the center of diversity for maize, and Oaxaca is the Mexican state with the most natural maize diversity, he added.

After opening announcements and addresses, García took farmers around the maize plots and introduced each variety to the group, detailing the characteristics, qualities, and differences between each one. oaxaca field 153All the attendees had received an information sheet that included varietal information such as grain type, plant height, cob length, and flowering period, and many carried these around throughout the presentation to make additional notes. Several also took photos of the varieties.

“I came here because I didn’t know how to make the most of my land or how to obtain better production,” said Severo Mendoza, an attendee who farms one hectare of land in Santiago Apóstol Ocotlán, Oaxaca. “I produce my own food but, with what my land produces, I am not self-sufficient. And since I have no access to technology or knowledge, I have to buy additional food.”

Mendoza’s day ended on a happy note; he not only learned about new available varieties, but he was also one of 13 attendees to receive a free 20-kg bag of seed, enough to plant his hectare of land. These volunteer farmers will plant the seed in May and will host field demonstrations at the end of the growing season. Eight other farmers chose to purchase bags of seed.

To round out the day, the participants also saw a demonstration on small machinery for husking maize and chopping forage, as well as metal tin storage containers, which are used to store grain without the use of chemicals. oaxaca field 102The airtight containers force any bugs to crawl to the surface for survival, where they then die from lack of oxygen, efficiently separating the bugs from the grain. The event ended with a delicious lunch and casual socializing.

García will facilitate five other field days in central Oaxaca throughout April and May. Taba and García hope to later visit the fields of the farmers growing the seed to see how the introduced varieties benefit livelihoods and on-field diversity. The event was part of a larger in-situ maize conservation project with farmers in Oaxaca that includes on-farm variety testing, collection of landrace germplasm, and the production and distribution of improved seed and landraces.

DNA fingerprinting – sifting the fake from the genuine

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Biotechnology, Maize

An improved tool can play a key role in distinguishing open-pollinated maize varieties (OPVs) and ensuring that seed being sold is genuine. DNA fingerprinting, also referred to as DNA profiling, enables one maize variety to be distinguished from another using molecular markers. It is an important way to help ensure that only certified seed enters the market, and to identify individuals or companies that sell fake seed.

A team of CIMMYT scientists has tested a new technique to differentiate OPVs using a more costefficient method of DNA fingerprinting. Their work was published in Crop Science 50: 1-11, and is accessible at the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project website.

In January 2010, 61 samples of the OPV ZM 521 taken from various seed lots in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe underwent the new cost-efficient DNA fingerprinting at Proteios, a laboratory in South Africa. Peter Setimela, maize breeder, and John MacRobert, seed systems specialist, presented the results of these tests to the Zimbabwe Emergency Agricultural Input Project (ZEAIP), the World Bank, and SeedCo Ltd., a seed company in Zimbabwe. ZEIAIP wants to ensure that the seed purchased for relief is genetically pure and genuine, which is also of interested to the World Bank, as it supports seed relief efforts in the country and tries to reduce the dissemination of fake seed.

Using this methodology, the scientists were able to conclusively identify the OPVs, thus ensuring that the correct high-yielding seed of locally-adapted varieties could reach the farmers. Results from the fingerprinting also determined, however, that one hybrid had been mislabeled as ZM521. If this seed had been planted, it would have yielded much lower than expected, and is just one example of the importance of seed purity testing.

In Africa, many farmers grow OPVs rather than hybrid varieties because the seed can be saved and replanted without the yield loss associated with the replanting of hybrid maize seed. Compared to hybrids, OPVs are less uniform and it is easier for seed companies to sell fake or non-certified seed.

John Woolston’s fourth retirement!

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Events

DSC_0228Staff and other members of the CIMMYT community gathered near the library entrance in El Batán on 22 April 2010 for a ceremony to bid fond farewell to volunteer and information specialist, John Woolston, who is retiring and returning to Canada on 24 April after 18 years at CIMMYT. The ceremony included the formal renaming of the library as the “John E. Woolston International Library,” in honor of Woolston’s many contributions to the center’s work and to the greater CIMMYT community. A plaque with the new name is now located at the library’s entrance and carries special words chosen by Woolston that reflect the importance of publishing and sharing information: “Reading records of past research could inspire your next big idea.”

Scott Ferguson, deputy director general for support services, recounted highlights of Woolston’s career, which included work as director of the division of scientific and technical information at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, and as vicepresident, information programs, at the International Development Research Center (IDRC), in Ottawa, Canada. “From what I can gather, John has already retired three times previously,” Ferguson said. “So I’m not sure where this next move is going to take him.” He mentioned Woolston’s legacy at CIMMYT, particularly the databases of publications on CIMMYT wheat cultivars (IWIS-Bib), of staff journal articles, of pedigrees of CWANA region wheat cultivars, and of doctoral theses supervised by CIMMYT staff.

Deputy director general for research and partnerships, Marianne Bänziger, referred to Woolston’s qualities as a caring human being who provided generous support to visiting scientists and training course participants, including additional assistance for some when critical moments of personal crises called for it. “I have known John for 18 years and have enjoyed and treasured our friendship,” she said. Acting head of corporate communications, Mike Listman, read special messages from Edith Hesse, former head of the CIMMYT library, and from Clive James, former CIMMYT deputy director general, both of whom were instrumental in Woolston’s coming to CIMMYT and who interacted with him over the years. Everyone recalled Woolston’s Tuesday evening Texcoco dinner outings with new staff and visitors, which practically became an institutional tradition. On behalf of the global wheat program, associate director Etienne Duveiller presented Woolston with a lovely shirt.

Copy of DSC_0259Upon unveiling the library name plaque, Woolston was clearly moved and spoke of his surprise. “As far as I know, the only persons who have had parts of these buildings named after them are Norman Borlaug, Edwin Wellhausen, and Glenn Anderson*, so I’m extremely honored and humbled to be in such hallowed company!”

Bänziger expressed the shared sentiments of many when she said how much the CIMMYT community would miss Woolston. “Though you’ll be a bit distant from us, we hope you’ll still keep in touch and support our work,” she said.

All the best from your dear friends and colleagues, John!

*Editor’s note: Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa also has a seminar room at El Batán named after him.

Exchange of knowledge at Mexican-based maize molecular breeding course

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Capacity Building, Maize

Over 20 participants from 15 national agricultural research programs convened at CIMMYT-El Batán during 05-16 April 2010 for a maize molecular breeding course. The training presented an overview of recent molecular approaches for maize improvement and how such approaches can be incorporated into current national breeding programs, especially for tropical and subtropical regions. Molecular breeding uses DNA marker technology to aid the efficient and effective incorporation of valuable traits into improved crop cultivars.

“The discussions during the course ranged from basic statistics and quantitative genetics to advanced topics such as association mapping and genome-wide selection,” said Raman Babu, maize molecular breeder and course organizer. These topics were covered by over 20 CIMMYT scientists who shared their expertise throughout the course, which included a day at Agua Fría.

In addition to lectures, participants had the opportunity to test various software programs in hands-on practical sessions. “This training exposed us to the latest technologies, and it will help us use them in our regular research programs back home,” said Senthil Natesan, associate professor of biotechnology at Tamilnadu Agricultural University, India. “The statistical analysis tools such as Fieldbook will be very helpful.” Natesan, who had never been to Mexico before, also added that in addition to the scientific content of the course, that he also enjoyed the weekend travel activities and was impressed by the Mexican culture and people.

Sidney Parentoni from Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, said the course was a good opportunity for face-to-face interactions with CIMMYT staff and fellow agriculturalists, a sentiment expressed by most participants. Countries represented included India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Iran, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and France.

The course closure was attended by Director General Tom Lumpkin, who distributed certifications and program CDs, along with Marianne Bänziger, deputy director of research and partnerships; Boddupalli Prasanna, GMP director; and Wilfred Mwangi, GMP associate director. They urged the participants to organize regional and local training programs to maximize the reach and impact of the course.

“The importance of such training programs by CIMMYT cannot be over-emphasized,” Prasanna said. “I have been an attendee of such training programs myself, way back in 1995, and it helped me build my career as well as a national research program.”

Though course ended on Friday, 16 April, ashy skies over Europe caused the cancellation of several flights, stranding many of the participants in Mexico. Special thanks to everyone for their patience and assistance in rearranging flights and accommodations.C__Documents and Settings_lyates_Local Settings_Temporary Internet Files_Content

Storing maize in a metal can?

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maize sioloWould you store grain in a metal can? That was the question posed during a humorous skit presented at a stakeholders’ workshop in Homa Bay, Kenya. The can in question is the metal silo and the performance was part of an awareness exercise organized by the Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay. The diocese partners with CIMMYT in the Effective Grain Storage project, where CIMMYT previously facilitated the training of artisans. The project has since continued its work on improved grain storage and creating awareness about the metal silo.

Forty-five participants attended the April 2010 metal silo workshop, including government officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, community-based organizations, and artisans, as well as Tadele Tefera, Effective Grain Storage project coordinator, and Judie-Lynn Rabar, CIMMYT-Kenya science writer/editor. Also present were representatives of a local bank, who spoke about the micro-finance opportunities available for agricultural produce, including the metal silo.

The metal silo is gradually gaining ground in the Homa Bay area as a viable postharvest storage technique. This was evident from responses and reactions by both users and artisans. Take the case of Sister Barbara Okomo, the principal of St. Theresa’s Girls’ Secondary School. She is an ardent supporter of and advocate for the metal silo as a storage facility for grain, having used them for over five years.

“With other storage methods, we would lose up to 90% of our stored grain—now we lose nothing,” she said. Sister Okomo has 10 silos at her school to store grain used to feed the students throughout the year. In her opinion, local craftsmen would benefit from formal training on fabrication of the metal silo.

Nicholas Omondi is one beneficiary of the training for artisans that was facilitated by CIMMYT. Despite never having heard of metal silos before CIMMYT’s involvement, he is glad that the diocese selected him for training. Apart from his work as a metal smith, he also grows maize on a one-acre plot of land, mainly for subsistence. “I trained in metal work, but my returns were very low. Now that I am trained in making silos, my income has almost tripled,” he said, adding that he advises small-scale farmers, like himself, to try using the silo and assures them that they will not regret it.

Borlaug fête brings out old friends and fond memories

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Achievements & Awards, Announcements, Events


During the three day of ceremonies and celebration in Ciudad Obregón, northern Mexico, to commemorate the late Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, there was one special event that bore witness to the great man’s continued capacity to bring people together. In the “Dr. Ernesto Samayoa” auditorium on 24 March 2010, some 70 former friends and associates of Borlaug and of CIMMYT gathered for an entire afternoon to share personal reminiscences about work and other interactions with Borlaug.

Global wheat program director Hans Braun led off with a presentation on Borlaug’s life, on CIMMYT’s inception tracing back to Borlaug’s work, and on the center’s recent structure. After that, the microphone was passed around to anyone who wished to speak, giving rise to personal accounts of Borlaug’s intensity, his dedication to his work and to farmers, and his ability to inspire those around him to work as hard as he did.

“You couldn’t be around Norm without being involved. He was a great teacher and he was always there and available,” remembered Willie McCuistion, adding that Norm was so driven that he would keep everyone out in the field until dark every night.

All the participants had been associated with CIMMYT in some way during their careers, but subsequent professional pursuits had led most on diverging pathways. What brought them together on that afternoon was their affection and reverence for Borlaug. “The feeling was that of a reunion of old friends who need more reasons to see each other on a regular basis,” said CIMMYT intern Mary Attaway, who filmed the testimonials.

This was precisely the intention of former CIMMYT wheat scientist Art Klatt, who served as associate director of the CIMMYT wheat program in the 1980s and led much of the investigative work to locate old center and Borlaug associates for the Obregón gathering. “I hope to start a database or web page that would help these folks stay in touch,” said Klatt, who now works in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

The three days of memorial events surrounding the gathering on 24 March included a “get reacquainted” welcome cocktail, several field tours, a special Obregón “carne asada” (barbecue), and culminated in the renaming of the Obregón experiment station in Borlaug’s honor and the unveiling by his daughter, Jeannie Borlaug Laube, of a Borlaug statue and monument (see CIMMYT Informa 1695). To view a video of the full remembrance event, visit:

Comprehensive crop portal presentation

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Audio-Video Media & IT

CIMMYT staff got a sneak peak at the new crop resource portal GENESYS on Tuesday 13 April 2010. Mohamed Fawzy Farag Nawar from Bioversity International demonstrated how easy it is to use the new portal and explained why Bioversity, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have teamed up for this project.

“The number one reason we created this system is because, until now, other systems didn’t have complete characterization and trait data,” Nawar said. “GENESYS will make the huge amount of currently existing work and date available to the public.”

GENESYS is built upon previous crop data systems, such as the CGIAR’s SINGER. The idea is to create a comprehensive portal where users can easily find accessions using improved search tools that incorporate characterization and evaluation data along with environmental data from the accession’s collection point. The portal contains 22 crops and 2 million accessions. For more information visit:

Traveling workshop in Bangladesh unites researchers

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1The ACIAR-funded project “Sustainable intensification of rice-maize (R-M) systems in Bangladesh” held a traveling workshop in Bangladesh during 03-08 April. Fifteen researchers attended and traveled to four featured project sites in the Bangladesh districts of Comilla, Gazipur, Rajshahi, and Rangpur.

Participants visited fields at many collaborating institutions, as well as farmers’ fields. The selected visits focused on rice and maize cropping systems sown with conservation agriculture (often in comparison to farmers’ practice) and site-specific nutrient management (SSNM). At each site, they formed three groups to critically evaluate key trials and they often had the opportunity to talk with local farmers.

The workshop took participants to numerous sites and field locations, including several Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) research locations, Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Services (RDRS) trials, and project sites of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), among others. Participants came from four collaborating organizations: the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD), BRRI, and RDRS. Jagadish Timsina, IRRI-CIMMYT senior cropping system agronomist and project leader, led and coordinated the workshop.

2This workshop was modeled off of a previous rice-wheat consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plains and a fruitful experience from the ACIAR rice-maize project conducted in October 2009.The course helped established further links among researchers and the Cereal System Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project.

BRAC International team visits CIMMYT-Kenya

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BRAC-09April-CIM-KEN visitOn 09 April 2010, a team of four executives from BRAC International (formerly Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) visited CIMMYT-Kenya’s Nairobi office to discuss increased collaboration.

In 2009, BRAC-Tanzania collaborated with CIMMYT offices in Kenya and Zimbabwe on regional maize trials. Thirteen of these trials performed well and will be planted again this year in five locations in Tanzania to test some of the best CIMMYT hybrids. After testing these new hybrids for drought tolerance, BRAC plans to release and market hybrid seed of these varieties in Tanzania.

After winning a competitive grant from the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Project through the Maize Working Group, the BRAC team requested stronger collaboration with CIMMYT – mainly through the sharing of maize germplasm and the training of their maize breeders and technicians. They will now work closely with CIMMYT maize breeder Dan Makumbi and, the Selian Agricultural Research Institute in Arusha, Tanzania, one of CIMMYT’s partners.

BRAC International, the largest non-governmental development organization in the world, is committed to fighting poverty through improvements in agriculture, health, education, and income. Founded in Bangladesh, BRAC’s work is mainly in Asia and Africa, with offices in 11 countries. In Africa, BRAC is working in Tanzania, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

“We are excited by this collaboration, and we appreciate CIMMYT-Kenya’s support to BRAC in Tanzania on maize research and seed production,” said Aminul Alam, executive director of BRAC International Programs. “As we expand to cover five more African countries, and to develop and promote suitable maize varieties, we look forward to continuing this collaboration.”

Attendees of the CIMMYT-BRAC meeting included Wilfred Mwangi, Global Maize Program associate director, Makumbi, Alam, and Imran Matin, BRAC deputy director. BRACTanzania was represented by Abdus Salam, senior production agriculture manager, and Mizanur Rahman, livestock senior manager.

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.

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