2015 Annual Report

Message from the WHEAT director

High returns to global wheat research

Building on more than a half-century of proven impacts, the global wheat improvement system led by CGIAR centers continues to be the chief source for wheat farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America of critical traits such as high yields, disease resistance and enhanced nutrition and quality.

A recently-published study found that CGIAR-derived varieties – nearly all traceable to CIMMYT and ICARDA breeding programs – cover more than 100 million of 220 million hectares worldwide and bring economic benefits of as much as $3.1 billion each year. To achieve impacts in wheat agri-food systems, CIMMYT and ICARDA depend on national partnerships in over 100 countries and critical support from CGIAR Fund Donors and other contributors, whom we sincerely thank on behalf of the world’s wheat farmers and consumers.

A critical juncture

Consumers in particular are benefiting from current low wheat grain prices, thanks in part to the success of WHEAT, but many studies foreshadow a future of rising demand and food price instability that could wreak havoc, particularly among poor consumers.

The unfolding scenario implies a yearly growth in wheat demand of 1.4 percent to 2030, at constant prices. But yield gains in wheat remain below 1 percent per year over the last decade, mainly because the easiest gains in wheat have already been achieved and more dramatic progress will require new approaches.

To ensure the affordable availability of wheat – a food staple that provides around 20 percent of protein and calories consumed worldwide – researchers need to expand field testing for disease resistance and heat and drought tolerance and to significantly raise wheat’s genetic yield potential.

For their part, during 2015 CIMMYT and ICARDA made excellent progress in merging their wheat programs to ensure partners and farmers’ quick and effective access to high-yielding, climate-resilient breeding lines, productive and resource-conserving cropping practices and knowledge needed to face the future of wheat, the vital grain of civilization and food security.

Hans-Joachim Braun

Director, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat

Billions in benefits from CGIAR wheat breeding

Launched in the 1950s by Norman Borlaug, a wheat scientist whose research and development contributions helped save hundreds of millions from starvation in the 1960s-70s, the international wheat improvement network coordinated by the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), both members of CGIAR, has been the main source of improved traits for wheat breeding programs and farmers in developing countries and often high-income nations. This has raised wheat yields, grain quality, and disease resistance, among other traits.

WHEAT pursues progress for women and disadvantaged groups

Despite often performing vital farm work, including cleaning seed to sow, weeding, harvesting and preparing grain for cooking, nearly all women in Pakistan’s rural households are marginalized from economic control or decision-making in agriculture, not being allowed to own land or obtain credit and rarely taken part in selecting which varieties to grow.

Domestic production: A solution to Nigeria's wheat import dependence

High-yielding, heat-tolerant wheat developed in Sudan has convinced Nigeria’s policymakers to invest more in wheat production. Working through the wheat component of the project “Support to Agricultural Research for Development on Strategic Commodities in Africa (SARD-SC),” funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), ICARDA is mobilizing a fast-track seed multiplication program that has already distributed 58 tons of improved seed to 1,600 Nigerian farmers.

Climate-resilient wheat farming for food security in South Asia

The use of resource-conserving practices like zero-tillage can improve livelihoods through efficient and sustainable farming. With an average of just over 2.1 tons per hectare, wheat yields in the eastern Indian state of Bihar are the lowest in the Indo-Gangetic Plains and the state imports more than 800,000 tons of wheat each year to feed its expanding population. But according to a study published in 2015 by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), a practice known as zero-tillage – the direct sowing of seed into unplowed soil and the residues of previous crops – may be able to close the gap between wheat production and consumption.

Taking part in WHEAT training: A professor's dream

Visiting the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) had always been a dream of Daisy Basandrai. Basandrai spent her career at the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University in Northern India researching lentil rusts and diseases, when it became clear there was a need for wheat researchers at the university; an opportunity arose for Basandrai to follow her true passion, wheat. In the spring of 2015 Basandrai was on a plane to Mexico.

Clone of magic wheat disease-resistance gene sheds light on new defense mechanism

Scientists have sequenced and described a gene that can help wheat to resist four serious fungal diseases, potentially saving billions of dollars in yearly grain losses and reducing the need for farmers to use costly fungicides, once the gene is bred into high-yielding varieties. A global research team isolated the wheat gene Lr67, revealing how it hampers fungal pathogen growth through a novel mechanism.

Rescuing wheat seed collections from conflict

With Syria torn apart by civil war, a team of scientists in Mexico and Morocco are rushing to save a vital sample of wheat’s ancient and massive genetic diversity, sealed in seed collections of an international research center formerly based in Aleppo, but forced to leave during 2012-13. Researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) began restoring and genetically characterizing more than 30,000 unique seed collections of wheat from the ICARDA Syrian genebank.

Financial Highlights

Flagship project 1 - Maximizing value for money, and social inclusivity thru prioritizing WHEAT R4D investments.

Flagship project 2 - Novel diversity and tools to adapt to climate change and resource constraints.

Flagship project 3 - Global partnerships to accelerate genetic gains in farmers’ fields.

Flagship project 4 - Sustainable intensification of wheat-based cropping systems.

Flagship project 5 - Human and institutional capacities for seed systems and scaling-out; a new generation of wheat scientists.

*Amounts may not add up precisely due to rounding

WHEAT is a CGIAR Research Program launched in 2012 and led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). Coupling advanced science with field-level research and extension in lower- and middle-income countries, WHEAT works to raise wheat productivity, production and affordable availability for 2.5 billion resource-poor consumers who depend on the crop as a staple food. Partners include the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and a community of more than 200 public and private organizations worldwide, among them national governments, companies, international centers, regional and local agencies and farmers. Funding for WHEAT comes from CGIAR and generous donors including national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

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