CIMMYT at 50: New pathways to sustainable food and nutritional security
In 2016, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) marked 50 years of applying excellence in maize and wheat science to improve the livelihoods of the disadvantaged. The work has brought remarkable returns on the funding we receive. A study published this year showed that as many as 63 percent of wheat varieties grown by farmers worldwide carry genetic contributions from the breeding programs of CIMMYT or of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). Additionally, it showed that global use of the Centers’ wheat lines brings annual economic benefits as high as $3.1 billion, even by conservative estimates.
However, sobering concerns put any self-congratulatory impulse on hold. In 2016, news reports described the tragic effects of severe drought in Africa caused by the El Niño weather system. Worsening political instability in 2016 affected development initiatives in several countries whose inhabitants already suffered from chronic poverty and conflict.
Dominating our awareness as well are several weighty facts: 800 million people go hungry today and, by 2030, projections indicate there will be 8.4 billion people to feed – 1 billion more than at present. While we do what we can to increase yields of two of the world’s key staple crops, achieving widespread food and nutritional security is more complex than simply boosting production.
Martin Kropff hosts Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa.
Key collaborations and science
CIMMYT pursues strong partnerships and better science to create and share innovations that farmers can use now and in the future to grow more, earn more and reduce environmental impacts. Highlights from 2016 included these examples:
- Biofortification research to raise zinc and iron content in maize and wheat grain resulted in the release of zinc-enhanced wheat varieties embraced by farmers in India and Pakistan, to help improve the nutrition of low-income wheat eaters.
- In eastern Africa, CIMMYT and its partners released five new varieties that resist maize lethal necrosis, bringing security to maize farmers with crops affected by the disease.
- With models predicting rising temperatures in South Asia, CIMMYT has intensified work with partners to produce affordable drought- and heat-tolerant maize seed for the region’s farmers.
- CIMMYT and Henan Agricultural University in China jointly launched a new maize and wheat research center in the historic Yellow River Valley.
- To deliver new heat-tolerant and disease-resistant wheat varieties, CIMMYT has expanded work in advanced physiological breeding, high-throughput phenotyping, and drawing out genetic traits from heirloom varieties and native grasses.
- Conservation agriculture and drought-tolerant maize varieties from CIMMYT were used by many farmers in southern Africa to obtain harvests even during the El Niño drought.
- The Center helped to develop and now leads the new CGIAR “Excellence in Breeding Platform,” designed to modernize crop and livestock breeding and increase its impact on food and nutrition security, climate change adaptation and development.