CRIL keeps busy

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Capacity Building, Genetic resources

The Crops Research Informatics Laboratory (CRIL) has been very busy lately, with staff crisscrossing the globe to participate in training and information exchange. From 05 February to 05 March, CRIL members were involved in at least five information sharing events. Several involved collaboration with other CGIAR centers.

In early March, Arllet Portugal, and Juan Carlos Alarcón attended an International Crop Information System (ICIS) meeting in Perth, Australia, during which they met with staff from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Bayer CropScience and members of the Department of Agriculture & Agrifood from the countries of Brunei and Australia. Talks focused on future development of ICIS and user needs. In February, Portugal had previously worked with data managers and breeders from CGIAR centers and other national agriculture research institutes to help them manage data in the current version of ICIS.

Further training on ICIS took place at CIMMYT-El Batán led by Claudio Ayala, Ismael Barrera, and Andrés Corona, and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, where it was led by Hector Sánchez. One of CRIL’s goals is to integrate CIMMYT and IITA’s maize programs in ICIS to facilitate information sharing. At IITA, the training included scientists focused on maize, cassava, banana, and cowpea, and IITA expressed interest in following the CRIL approach to implement ICIS for these crops. Additionally, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) will implement ICIS for sorghum and chickpea.

Last month Guy Davenport presented plans for a new, user-friendly and configurable version of ICIS at the Molecular Breeding Platform (MBP) launch workshop in Hyderabad, India. And in Maputo, Mozambique, Sánchez outlined data management for the Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project (WEMA) at that project’s annual progress meeting.

Global Futures project launched

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Capacity Building, Socio-economics

C__Documents and Settings_lyates_Local Settings_Temporary Internet Files_ContentThe Socioeconomics Program (SEP) is collaborating in a new project aimed to evaluate promising technologies, investment, and policy options for improving agricultural productivity and global food security.

The Global Futures for Agriculture project, launched in early March 2010, is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and builds upon the already existing economic model IMPACT (International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade). This model has been used in the past for projecting future production, consumption, and trade of key agricultural commodities while taking into account the effects of climate change, water availability, population growth, urbanization, and other major drivers of global change. The Global Futures for Agriculture project improves upon this model by including location-specific biophysical data; current and future technology options; climate risk; and the impact of potential agricultural investments on global food supply and demand, food prices, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.

The SEP will play a major role in assessing the future outlooks for maize and wheat, and will work on improving database information and creating model scenarios for these two crops. Crop and water availability simulation models will also complement modeling of climate change risks on crop yields and production. All will be important for refining and calibrating the IMPACT model.

A new associate scientist to be based in Nairobi, Kenya, will be hired to work with other scientists on this project, and will closely collaborate with CIMMYT breeders, agronomists, and economists to improve the center’s foresight on alternative futures for maize and wheat in terms of improving global food security and system sustainability. Additionally, CIMMYT will work with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) to set up a High Performance Cluster of computers able to run the IMPACT model in Nairobi.

Biotechnology: Potential boon for smallholder farmers, if prioritized

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Biotechnology, Events

Picture1Though not a magic bullet “cure all,” agricultural biotechnologies can and should be used in developing countries to improve smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, but farmers themselves need to be involved in decision making, according to participants at an international technical conference on agricultural biotechnologies last week.

During 01-04 March 2010, roughly 300 people from nearly 70 countries attended the International Technical Conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10), organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and held in Guadalajara, Mexico. Attendees included representatives from international organizations, civil society, national governments, and national agricultural research programs. Their goal in gathering was to assess the progress of biotechnologies across various agricultural sectors—crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries, and agro-industries—and to generate a forward-looking consensus on ways that biotechnologies can assist smallholder famers in developing countries.

Investment in and improvement of agriculture is vital for the more than one billion people who go to bed hungry each night, as well as for many farming families who survive on only a few dollars a day. Adoption of effective and cost-efficient agricultural biotechnologies is one way to address the food demands of a rapidly expanding and more affluent world population, while also confronting the challenges of increasing land degradation and climate variability.

“Two billion people live on small farms, about one-third of our population,” said Rodney Cooke, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), while addressing the general session. “Investment in agriculture is two-anda- half-to-three times more effective in increasing the income of the poor than non-agricultural investments.”Picture2

The FAO predicts that by 2050 there will be a 70% increase in food demand, requiring at least 170 million more acres of cropland. Meeting this demand looks difficult, because crop yields have slowed from an annual increase of 3-6% to only 1-2%, in the last decade.

Agricultural biotechnologies can sustainably improve food security and help smallholder farmers escape poverty. However, many of these advanced technologies are underutilized in developing countries, where a large portion of smallholder farmers live. Overcoming this will require increased investments, international cooperation, effective national policies and regulatory frameworks, and collaboration with farmers and the various value-chain actors, said ABDC-10 participants. Several farmers and farmer representatives in attendance repeatedly stressed the importance of bottom-up development in applying biotechnology.

During the conference, participants divided their time between plenary sessions in the morning and small group meetings in the afternoon. Topics included region and sector-specific issues, as well as multidisciplinary topics such as empowering public participation in decision making; prioritizing the role of the farmer; PICT2695and development of genomic resources. All participants discussed successes and failures in biotechnology projects in developing countries. The CGIAR was responsible for leading several group sessions; participating CG members included the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), CIMMYT, and the Generation Challenge Program (CGP).

CIMMYT director general Tom Lumpkin addressed the plenary session in a presentation on the use of biotechnology in the CGIAR. Tom Payne, head of CIMMYT’s wheat germplasm bank, was a panel member for a group session on the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources. Jean-Marcel Ribaut, Carmen de Vicente, and Rajeev Varshney (ICRISAT) of the GCP also presented on accessing genetic resources, genomic applications, and molecular breeding in developing countries, respectively.

“To meet the challenges of increased food demand in a sustainable way, biotechnologies are essential for the future,” Lumpkin said, stressing as well that such technologies need to show tangible results and the efficient use of time and money.

Payne explained that the CGIAR has 11 gene banks conserving over 530,000 samples of wild and domesticated crops in public trust, PICT2705but that these genetic resources are not always accessible or useful to breeders. “There are so many accessions but so little information,” he said, adding that the CGIAR is collaborating on a new portal to improve access to the genetic resources (

Additionally, CIMMYT was represented at the ABDC-10’s knowledge share fair, providing publications and information on the center’s biotechnology work. Highlighted projects included rust resistance wheat, nitrogen use efficient maize for African soils, water-efficient maize for Africa, and the conservation and use of maize and wheat genetic resources.

Recognizing Women

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

Zubeda-LRMonday 08 March is International Women’s Day (IWD). On this date, the global community takes a moment to celebrate the economic, political, and social advances women have made worldwide. It also provides an opportunity to address gender issues that are not yet fully resolved.


OaxacanataliaIWD is an official holiday in more than 15 countries and is informally celebrated in many more.  Various organizations take the day as an opportunity to increase awareness of human rights issues. This year, for example, the International Committee of the Red Cross is focusing on women who have been displaced by armed conflicts; while the United Nations’ theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.”

SIDUCIMMYT is proud of its numerous women scientists—a profession in which women are still often underrepresented—as well as its female staff and colleagues. We invite you to read our 2008 Newsletter article on women in the CGIAR and to investigate what IWD events are happening near you.

CIMMYT-Iran sets work plan for 2010

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

_DSC0151During the Iran-CIMMYT Joint Meeting on 16-17 February 2010, CIMMYT and Iran vowed to continue their collaborative efforts and signed a CIMMYTIran work plan for 2010.

The meeting, which was held at the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute (SPII) in Karaj, Iran, also included discussion among CIMMYT and International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) representatives, Iranian officials, and senior scientists from six Iranian research institutes. Representative of attending institutions presented institute overviews and possible areas for further collaboration. Also agreed upon was a 2009-2012 work plan for Iran and IWWIP.

The meeting was chaired by Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program, and Mostafa Aghaee, director general of SPII. Also in attendance were Alexei Morgounov (head IWWIP), Beyhan Akin (CIMMYT-Turkey), Yuksel Kaya (Turkey), Mesut Keser (ICARDA-Turkey), Mohammad Reza Jalal Kamali (CIMMYT-Iran), and Mohammad Ali Kamali, deputy head of Iran’s Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization (AREEO).

_DSC0132Over 30 other participants represented Iran’s Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture, SPII, the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute (DARI), the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII), the Agricultural Engineering Research Institute (AERI), the Soil and Water Research Institute (SWRI), and the Iranian Research Institute for Plant Protection (IRIPP).

Aflatoxins: the invisible enemy

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Capacity Building

micotoxinasThey infiltrate our food supply through staple crops and lay waste to unsuspecting consumers. Dubbed the invisible enemy, aflatoxin is one of the most potent naturally-occurring toxins. It is produced by fungi belonging to the genus Aspergillus, and is a damaging type of mycotoxin. To better protect the food supply from this threat, during 01-13 February 2010, CIMMYT-El Batán hosted a workshop on mycotoxin detection in maize for members of its maize and wheat pathology teams.

The course, led by Veera Reddy of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), focused on implementing the ELISA technique to identify resistant genotypes that result in reduced mycotoxins in grain. Though several tools for assaying mycotoxins in grain exist, the ELISA technique is cheaper than other options and allows large samples to be tested.

Breeding maize resistant to mycotoxins, specifically aflatoxins and fumonisins, is vital for ensuring a safe food supply. Both are wide-spread in nature, thrive in humid conditions, and frequently inhabit fields of cereal crops, such as maize. Mycotoxins in general are extremely resilient and once grain is contaminated, which can happen in the field and during storage, they prevail through digestion, cooking, and freezing. In this way, mycotoxins can reach humans not only through grain, but also through milk or meat from livestock raised on infected feed. And once consumed by humans, mycotoxins can cause cancer, liver disorder, birth defects, weakened immune systems, and even death.

The objective of the course was to implement at CIMMYT the ELISA assay for routine screening of maize in order to detect sources of resistance and make progress in the management of mycotoxin contamination. Participants agreed that the course presented valuable information and that they are now ready to apply the ELISA technique.

“We needed a cheap, simple, and robust assay that could be used to test large numbers of samples and could easily be implemented in our breeding program,” said George Mahuku, senior maize scientist/ pathologist. “We are very happy that through this course we were able to achieve our objectives and now the pathology group is motivated and ready to go.”

A new face at CRIL

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Announcements

Peter Wenzl 2Peter Wenzl joins CIMMYT as the new manager of the Crop Research Informatics Laboratory (CRIL), though part of his time will be dedicated to a new initiative called Seeds of Discovery.

Wenzl will primarily focus on facilitating user interaction with the Global Maize and Wheat Programs, the Genetic Resources Center, the Generation Challenge Program, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). He will also oversee the strengthening of CRIL as CIMMYT increases its engagement in molecular breeding and embarks on ambitious new initiatives. His work will include crafting a CIMMYT-wide strategy for informatics, and identifying appropriate CRIL priorities that are within current staff and funding means. Wenzl will also strengthen links with other data and knowledge management units in CIMMYT, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the CIMMYT website team.

As CRIL manager, Wenzl will work with Guy Davenport who continues to oversee the Crops Informatics and Computational Biology team, José Crossa who oversees the Biometrics and Statistics team, and Jiankang Wang who oversees Simulation and Modeling.

Understanding seed policies in SSA

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Maize

To better understand variety release procedures for improved maize seed in sub-Saharan Africa, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and CIMMYT conducted a study of 13 countries during 2007-08. Findings from this study, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, were recently published in a report titled Variety Testing and Release Approaches in DTMA Project Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the report’s major findings is that efficient and timely variety release is hindered by variable, inconsistent, and misunderstood seed laws and procedures. Such constraints deny farmers access to and benefits from improved germplasm and damage SSA seed marketing.

Of the 13 countries surveyed, only 7 have published guidelines on how testing for distinctness, uniformity, and stability (DUS) should be conducted, and what traits are to be recorded. Such tests are important because they ensure that the varieties being released are unique and differ from all known varieties in at least one characteristic. It was also found that among polled countries expenses for DUS testing ranged from no cost at all to US $600.

The two organizations that are responsible for deciding if maize varieties are suitable for release are the National Seed Authority (NSA) and the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC). The study shows that NVRCs vary widely among SSA countries; some are dominated by the private sector while others are controlled mainly by the public sector, and the frequency of NVRC meetings differ by country. Additionally, the number of new varieties annually released varies, with South Africa releasing more than 60 while other countries may fail to release any.

This convoluted system is costly and duplicative, as the same variety must be tested in all countries where it is being targeted for marketing. This results in a low number of variety releases and delays profits expected by seed companies while they wait for their new varieties to be registered from one country to the next.

The report contains several recommendations on how to improve the rate of varietal release, and thus have more seed of improved varieties available in the market. They include regional harmonization of seed laws; promoting the use of data from other countries; simplification of variety testing; and regular NVRC meetings.

Farewell to a former CIMMYT member

Written by Corporate Communications on . Posted in Data & bioinformatics, From the management

Peter WalkerPeter Walker, who worked at CIMMYT from 1975 to 1980, died at his home in Mexico City on 17 November 2009 after a short illness. He was 77.

During his time at CIMMYT, Walker set up and managed the Statistical Services Unit, using a DG Nova 3 computer to analyze the results of large sets of international cooperative breeders’ trials, initially for maize and later for wheat, durum, barley, and triticale. In addition to managing the unit, he also worked with programming and statistics.

Walker was born in Leeds, England, in 1932. He studied mathematics and statistics at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and began a long and varied career in tropical biometrics in 1960 in Nigeria. He came to CIMMYT following work as an overseas liaison officer at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in the UK. After leaving CIMMYT, his subsequent career took him to Syria, Zimbabwe, back to Nigeria, and finally to Sri Lanka.

He retired in 1994 to live in Mexico. Walker is survived by his wife Nydia, as well as by two sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

Improved Maize for African Soils: Better harvests and livelihoods

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

 On 17 February 2010 CIMMYT launched a new public- private collaborative project for improved food security in Africa. The initiative, known as Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS), will spearhead the creation and sharing of new maize varieties that use fertilizer more efficiently and help smallholder farmers get higher yields, even where soils are poor and little commercial fertilizer is used. For this project, CIMMYT is partnering with the DuPont Business, Pioneer Hi-Bred; the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI); and the South African Agricultural Research Council (ARC). IMAS is funded with USD 19.5 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The launch, which followed two days of IMAS stakeholder meetings, was held at the Serena Hotel in Kenya and attended by Nairobi media. The distinguished panel of speakers was headlined by KARI Director Ephraim Mukisira, and included Shadrack Moephuli, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Mohammed Jeenah, Executive Director for Research and Development, ARC; Lloyd Le Page, Senior Manager, Technology Acceptance and Sustainable Development, Pioneer Hi-Bred; and Marianne Bänziger and Wilfred Mwangi from CIMMYT. “Like many sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya must optimize the use of its soils for agriculture to increase food security, and do this while facing climate change, escalating input costs, and a deteriorating natural   resource base,” Mukisira said, as he officially announced the project to the world. “The IMAS project will apply scientific innovations to provide long-term solutions for African farmers, developing maize varieties suited to Kenya’s diverse farming ecologies.”

The stakeholder meetings brought together some 50 participants from the previously-mentioned organizations. In addition to the high-quality technical and planning discussions, the impressive enthusiasm and project “buy-in” evident among partners pleased project leader Gary Atlin, associate director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program. “We will succeed, and we will have impact,” Atlin said, in a wrap-up session after the first day. Former CIMMYT maize physiologist and “father” of the center’s research on drought and low-nitrogen tolerance in maize, Greg Edmeades, took part as a special consultant.



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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