Effective 01 July 2009, the Management Committee endorsed the closing of the Genetic Resources Program (GRP). It also supported the reorganization of scientists and support staff’s reporting lines, in part to link them more closely with CIMMYT’s crop breeding activities. Though their job descriptions have not changed, staff of GRP projects that specifically address maize or wheat will now report to the respective global program for each crop. Those GRP projects that cut across both maize and wheat—in particular the germplasm bank, the Seed Health laboratory, and the Crop Research Informatics Laboratory will collectively report to the future deputy director general for research and partnerships. A new position of “laboratory manager” will be opened to facilitate the operation of laboratories in El Batán.
Last week, nearly 90 students from all around the world visited El Batán to learn about CIMMYT’s research and mission. They were all members of the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS) which is having its World Congress in Mexico. At CIMMYT, participants viewed the germplasm bank, learned about wide crosses and diversity analysis work at the Applied Biotechnology Center, and visited conservation agriculture experiments in the field.
IAAS provides a platform for students to share experiences, knowledge, and social responsibility. The students, who are from more than 20 countries, will spend three weeks visiting Mexico City, Queretaro, and Jalisco exploring this year’s theme: “Biodiversity now, food tomorrow.”
About 17 people from the American Confederation of Associations in Sustainable Agriculture (CAAPAS, by its Portuguese acronym) visited El Batán on 23 July 2009. The group visited CIMMYT as part of their international meeting on direct seeding and sustainable agriculture.
Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program, officially welcomed CAAPAS to the center. Ken Sayre, conservation agriculture (CA) specialist, then spoke to participants about CIMMYT’s CA program. He was followed by Petr Kosina, knowledge, information, and training manager, who informed them about the center’s origins, mission, and research focus. As well, Bram Govaerts, cropping systems management specialist, showed the group CIMMYT’s long-term CA trials in the field.
“It was a good opportunity to meet some new people interested in conservation agriculture,” said Sayre. “CIMMYT may work with a group like this in the future if there is money to support such collaboration.” After the morning’s presentations, there was a lively debate on the definition of CA and CA practices in different areas.
Ivo Mello, CAAPAS president, spoke about ‘quality zero-tillage.’ “We have to do what is necessary to respect the soil, conserve microorganisms and worms, etc., that aid crop production,” he said. “We must eliminate the use of chemicals and strive for soils with biological equilibrium, which is not going again nature.”
The Crop Science Society of America has selected He Zhonghu, CIMMYT principal scientist and country representative for the CIMMYT-China office, as a fellow in 2009 for his achievements in cultivar development, training, and especially in wheat quality testing methods and molecular markers. Zhonghu expressed his gratitude to CIMMYT distinguished scientist Ravi Singh for initiating the nomination, and to supporters Sanjaya Rajaram and Tony Fischer (former directors of the Wheat Program), senior scientist Peng Shaobing (International Rice Research Institute, IRRI), and to the CIMMYT community at large. “Thanks to all for your great support over these many years,” he said. “I am honored to serve CIMMYT.”
CIMMYT staff in Kazakhstan organized an international conference on conservation agriculture (CA) 08-10 July 2009 in northern Kazakhstan at the Institute for Grain Farming. The conference, “No-till with soil cover and crop rotation: A basis for policy support to conservation agriculture for sustainable production intensification,” was financed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), CIMMYT, and the International Collaboration for Agricultural Research in Central Asia and the Caucuses (ICAR) project, which is managed by Washington State University. There were 150 participants including scientists from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan along with 70 farmers from Kazakhstan and Russia. Dr. Akylbek Kurishbayev, Kazakhstan’s minister of agriculture and an old friend of CIMMYT, opened the conference and stressed that the government of Kazakhstan is firmly committed to supporting the spread of CA; it already gives a higher subsidy to small farmers who use CA than it does to those who use conventional tillage.
“There was a lot of discussion on the definition of CA, not only because of some confusion with conservation tillage—the common tillage method for wheat in northern Kazakhstan—but also because of the problem of expressing the term in other languages, including Russian,” said Pat Wall, director of CIMMYT’s CA program. The papers presented at the conference, however, showed that CA is gaining in acceptance and application in Central Asia, both in dryland and irrigated situations, he said.
The conference highlighted the many problems still to be overcome for CA dissemination including the need for reorganization of many of the research and extension systems. Necessary diversification of cropping systems is often hampered by governmental policies and/or undeveloped markets. Weeds continue to be a problem and there is a lack of information on the adaptation of different crop varieties to CA, according to Wall.
Special thanks to CIMMYT staff in Kazakhstan who worked strenuously to make the conference a success: congratulations to Murat Karabayev, Arman Baitassov, Sagat Ishmuhanbetov, Mekhlis Suleimenov, Larissa Geronina, Zhumagali Ospanbayev, Tansara Murzatayeva, and Zina Telgarayeva.
As part of the conservation agriculture (CA) hub initiative in the central Mexican highlands, 15 technicians who supervise CA demonstration modules met at CIMMYT-El Batán on 06 July 2009. CIMMYT has been partnering with ASGROW (a Monsanto seed company) to implement CA for highland maize cropping systems in this area for a little over a year. The module technicians, who are all also ASGROW representatives, each summarized their experiences with the recently planted CA demonstration areas.
“Each module is different,” said Bram Govaerts, cropping systems management specialist. “It’s a dynamic learning process for us and for the farmers as we work together to find out what works. This is the concept of the hub: to have our long-term trials as a training platform, to install modules with farmers in order to adapt CA to their systems, and to invite different partners to join us in disseminating CA.”
“I wanted to try something new to improve my products and yields,” said Alejandro Gómez Cornejo, a particularly motivated farmer who attended the event and has participated in previous tours of CIMMYT’s experimental station in Toluca. “I became interested when I saw the quality of the products they were getting and bit by bit I began implementing CA. The first year was difficult but we’ve been getting better bit by bit.”
It is farmers like Cornejo that some of the technician participants want to help. “As an agronomist, I want to improve rural areas that have low crop yields and subsistence problems,” said technician Arturo González Capistrán.
The day also included an information session on a Googleearth CA hub database. This tool will soon show all the farmer CA modules as well as information such as soil, altitude, latitude, previous cropping season results, socio-economic data, etc. “The database enables a steady flow of information between our technicians, partners, and farmers and is another way to disseminate CA,” said Govaerts.
About 20 scientists from FENALCE learned how to use Fieldbook—software for managing maize breeding activities—at CIMMYT-Colombia from 10-12 June 2009. FENALCE, Colombia’s National Federation of Cereal and Legume Breeders, has been one of CIMMYT’s main partners for the past 20 years, and has supported the center’s research, capacity-building, and technology transfer activities. The course was set up to support the Federation’s newly created maize improvement program.
CIMMYT technician Néstor Romero presented the course material along with colleagues Alba Lucía Arcos, breeder; and Luis Narro, senior scientist. Participants learned about inventory management, preparation of seed for international trials, taking data in the field and in the lab, and analysis and interpretation of experiment data. The course covered Fieldbook use for maize cultivation and participants practiced compiling field data and analyzing it with the program. CIMMYT-Colombia staff showed researchers a new printer for creating labels for station experimental plots and envelopes for seed shipments. Participants were also interested in a new machine that quickly and accurately counts seed.
Katherine Girón, technical director of FENALCE, coordinated the training which also marked Henry Vanegas’ beginning as the federation’s general manager. Our best wishes to Henry in his new position!
CIMMYT staff at all levels increasingly need to describe and explain center objectives, activities, and accomplishments to a broad public that includes students, scientific colleagues, decision makers, donors, and the media, among others. It may seem simple, but such communication requires considerable knowledge of the center and its global and local contexts, as well as sensitivity about the audience and skill in crafting and presenting messages.
To help personnel frequently called upon to interact with the media in Mexico, CIMMYT held a four-hour media training workshop at El Batán on 09 July 2009. Organized by Karen García, head of communications of AgroBIO-México, and Mike Listman, the event was conducted in Spanish by communications expert Alejandro Romero of the Mexican public relations firm Llorente & Cuenca. After a detailed, theoretical presentation and discussion, participants Victor Chávez and Bibiana Espinosa, research assistants who frequently show visitors the germplasm bank, as well as Bram Govaerts and Kevin Pixley, took part in individual, simulated television interviews that were filmed and subsequently critiqued by Romero and the group. All received advice and specific techniques on how to stay on message, to steer interviews in the desired direction, and to deal with leading questions and sensitive issues, like genetically modified maize in Mexico.
The workshop is just a beginning, and highlighted the need to formulate concise, effective messages on key topics and, especially, for more practice in handling interviews. “You always have to remember that you’re representing an organization, and not your personal views,” Romero told the group. Other CIMMYT participants on this occasion were Nele Verhulst, Andrea Chocobar Guerra, Susanne Dreisigacker, Natalia Palacios, George Mahuku, Claudia Bedoya, Laura Yates, and Allison Gillies. Special thanks to AgroBIO-México, which put on the event free-of-charge.
Raymundo López, Agua Fría station superintendent, facilitated training for 13 farmers from the small communities of Hixtololoyax and Pantepec, in the state of Puebla on 25 June 2009. The farmers learned about developing, disseminating, and sowing quality protein maize (QPM). They also learned about intersynthetic and synthetic maize varieties that are tolerant to drought, low nitrogen, pests, and disease. Lastly, the course dealt with proper application of agro-chemicals.
The training was part of a longterm initiative organized by the state government to improve maize yields in the poorest part of Puebla. CIMMYT is interacting with farmers in these small mountain communities to teach them about the production of improved maize varieties. With the new skills learned from the course, farmers can experiment in their respective communities under local conditions.
It’s that time of year again. Some CIMMYT staff are preparing their international wheat trials, which is the seed the center sends to its partners around the world. A 42-ton shipment of wheat seed arrived at El Batán on 29 June 2009 from a multiplication area in Baja California, northern Mexico. This seed will make up the winter nursery for 2009-10. This year’s consignment also contained materials for the wheat germplasm bank, and was twice as big as last year’s shipment.
Unloading the 261 boxes and 2,700 bags of seed from the truck was no small task. A huge thank you to all who participated from the following units: international wheat trials (11); bread wheat (4); durum wheat (3); germplasm bank (3); physiology (2); fusarium (2), and irrigated bread wheat (2).