Annual Report 2017

Message from the WHEAT Director

Quality science and partnerships deliver better seed, cropping systems, and nutrition

Hans Braun, Director of the CGIAR Agri-Food Systems Research Program on Wheat

Photo: Alfonso Cortés/CIMMYT

In 2017, national research agencies in 19 countries released 63 new wheat varieties, derived all or in part from the research of CIMMYT and its principal WHEAT partner, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

2017 wheat varietal releases derived from WHEAT research. Based on best information from partners and farmers as of March 2018.

In response to Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years and a critical shortage of maize and wheat seed, Ethiopian organizations, seed producers, and CIMMYT delivered over 3,400 tons of high-quality seed that farmers planted on 100,300 hectares, benefiting 1.6 million people. Bangladesh released a high-yielding, micronutrient-enhanced wheat variety that resists wheat blast, a fungal disease from the Americas that now threatens some 7 million hectares of wheat land in South Asia. Researchers from ICARDA received the 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security, in recognition of heat tolerant durum wheat varieties they developed for Africa’s Senegal River Basin. The wheat-related report of a major gender study showed that seed of improved wheat varieties figured among the innovations most valued by women and men farmers.

A zinc-enhanced wheat variety released in Pakistan is spreading among farmers, who like its good yields, health benefits, and delicious taste. It is one of six zinc-enhanced varieties released in South Asia and stems from research to biofortify wheat and thus benefit the poor who cannot afford dietary supplements or cannot access sufficiently diverse foods.

Of course, breeding alone cannot address the need for sustainable crop productivity. A historical overview of WHEAT and predecessors’ research and promotion of conservation agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India concluded that much greater adoption in the region’s rice-wheat cropping systems is possible, if key constraints are tackled.

With gracious permission from AACC International, in 2017 CIMMYT published “The wheat and nutrition series: A compilation of studies on wheat and health,” part of a larger, multi-year science-based campaign about wheat-based foods that are nutritious and healthy.

I wish to thank WHEAT’s numerous partners and funders for these and many other exciting achievements. In particular, stable CGIAR Window 1 and 2 funding enables WHEAT to react quickly to urgent needs, as well as to improve program level coordination and learning, ensuring impact. The following countries and organizations are Window 1 funders of CGIAR: Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, France, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank. Funding agencies of Australia, the United Kingdom (DFID), USA (USAID), and China contribute vital Window 2 funding.

Thank you for taking time to read this Annual Report. Your continued support and participation are crucial and greatly appreciated.

Hans-Joachim Braun

Director, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat and Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT

Energizing Ethiopia's wheat seed sector

Marketed in tandem with science-based recommendations for growing wheat, Ethiopia’s annual seed supply has steadily increased since 2014 through the Wheat Seed Scaling Initiative.

Photo: Kemeriya Mohamed stacking harvested wheat. Peter Lowe/ CIMMYT

Zinc-enriched wheat fights malnutrition in Pakistan

A zinc-enhanced wheat variety released in Pakistan is spreading among farmers, who like its good yields, health benefits, and delicious taste. It is one of six zinc-enhanced varieties released in South Asia and stems from research to biofortify wheat and thus benefit the poor who cannot afford dietary supplements or cannot access sufficiently diverse foods.

Scientists confirm value of whole grains and wheat for nutrition and health

Photo: A little girl eats a freshly-made roti and watches as the women of her family prepare more at her home in the village of Chapor, in the district of Dinajpur, Bangladesh. S. Mojumder/Drik/CIMMYT

An exhaustive review of scientific studies on cereal grains and health has shown that gluten- or wheat-free diets are not inherently healthier for the general populace and may actually put individuals at risk of dietary deficiencies.

According to a compilation of 12 reports published in the scientific journal Cereal Foods World during 2014-2017, eating whole grains is actually beneficial for brain health and associated with reduced risk of diverse types of cancer, coronary disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and overall mortality.

“Clear and solid data show that eating whole-grain wheat products as part of a balanced diet improves health and can help maintain a healthy body weight, apart from the 1 percent of people who suffer from celiac disease and another 2 to 3 percent who are sensitive to wheat,” said Carlos Guzmán, wheat nutrition and quality specialist at the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which produced the compilation.

Photo: Bakers mix, roll and bake bread at La Conchita bakery in Texcoco, Mexico. Mike Listman/CIMMYT

Wheat accounts for a fifth of the world’s food and is the main source of protein in many developing and developed countries and second only to rice as a source of calories. “Among wheat’s greatest benefits, according to the research, is fiber from the bran and other grain parts,” Guzmán explained. “Diets in industrialized countries are generally deficient in such fiber, which helps to regulate digestion and promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.”

Inhabitants in developing and industrialized countries are experiencing higher incidences of diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel disorder, and obesity. A profitable industry has developed around gluten- and wheat-free food products, which the popular press has promoted as beneficial for addressing such disorders. But scientific evidence contradicts popular writings about these food products.

“Much of the anti-grain messaging comes from publications produced by supposed ‘specialists’ who are not nutritionists, and are often built on faulty premises.” according to Julie Miller Jones, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University, U.S.A., and a key contributor to the review studies in the compilation.

First blast resistant, biofortified wheat variety released in Bangladesh

Photo: Bleached spikes infected with wheat blast hold shriveled grain, if any. Etienne Duveiller/CIMMYT

As wheat farmers in Bangladesh struggle to recover from a 2016 outbreak of a mysterious disease called “wheat blast,” in 2017 the country’s National Seed Board (NSB) released a new, high-yielding, blast-resistant wheat variety.

Called “BARI Gom 33,” the variety was developed by the Bangladesh Wheat Research Centre (WRC), using a CIMMYT breeding line, according to Naresh C. Deb Barma, Director of WRC.

Members of National Technical Committee of NSB evaluating BAW 1260, the breeding line used to develop BARI Gom 33. Photo: CIMMYT

“This represents an incredibly rapid response to blast, which struck in a surprise outbreak on 15,000 hectares of wheat in southwestern Bangladesh just last year, devastating the crop and greatly affecting farmers’ food security and livelihoods, not to mention their confidence in sowing wheat,” Barma said.

Caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype triticum, wheat blast was first identified in Brazil in 1985 and has constrained wheat farming in South America for decades. Little is known about the genetics or interactions of the fungus with wheat or other hosts. Few resistant varieties have been released in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the countries most affected by wheat blast.

Photo: Researchers take part in a Wheat Blast screening and surveillance course in Bangladesh. Tim Krupnik/CIMMYT

The Bangladesh outbreak was its first appearance in South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares, a billion inhabitants eat wheat as a main staple, and the disease will likely spread, according to Pawan Singh, a CIMMYT wheat pathologist.

“Many blast fungal strains are impervious to fungicides,” Singh explained. “The Bangladesh variant is still sensitive to fungicides, but this may not last forever, so we’re rushing to develop and spread new, blast-resistant wheat varieties for South Asia,” Singh explained.

The wheat blast fungus is turning the grain to chaff. Photo: Etienne Duveiller/CIMMYT

Preliminary assessments by CIMMYT have identified 7 million hectares of wheat cropping areas in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan whose agro-climatic conditions resemble those of the Bangladesh outbreak zone. Even modest blast damage of 5-10 percent to wheat in a single season in those areas would cause grain losses amounting to as much as 1.7 million tons and worth $350 million, straining the region’s already fragile food security and forcing up wheat imports and prices.

As an added benefit for the nutrition of wheat consuming households, BARI Gom 33 grain features 30 percent higher levels of zinc than conventional wheat. Zinc is a critical micronutrient missing in the diets of many of the poor throughout South Asia and whose lack particularly harms the health of pregnant women and children under 5 years old.

Key partners and supporters include the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal in Bolivia, Kansas State University (KSU), the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS), USAID through its Feed the Future project, and other national and provincial research organizations in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Stable window 1 and 2 (W1W2) funding from CGIAR enabled CIMMYT and partners to react quickly and screen breeding lines in Bolivia, as well as working with KSU to identify sources of wheat blast resistance. The following W1 funders have made wheat blast resistance breeding possible: Australia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canada, France, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the World Bank. The following funders also contributed vital W2 funding: Australia, China, the United Kingdom (DFID) and USAID.

Pushing for full conservation agriculture in South Asia

Photo: Participants in a CIMMYT conservation agriculture workshop in India examine a multi-use, multi-crop zero tillage seeder. CIMMYT

Research over the last decade has found conservation agriculture solutions for both the wheat and rice phases of the rice-wheat cropping systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, according to a far-reaching review study by WHEAT scientists.

Breeding alone cannot address the need for sustainable crop productivity, and WHEAT partners and predecessors’ have for decades studied and promoted resource-conserving practices for South Asia, a region where rice-wheat cropping rotations cover 13 million hectares and over a billion inhabitants eat wheat as a main staple.

A prime example is the direct seeding of wheat into unplowed paddy fields, including stubble and straw, in a single tractor pass following rice harvest. Known as zero tillage (ZT), the practice replaces the long, laborious, costly, and soil-depleting conventional practice of reforming paddies to plant wheat.

Farmers on some 1.8 million hectares in the region are growing wheat after rice this way, linked to the expanding business of entrepreneurs who provide ZT on contract using specialized, locally-manufactured sowing implements designed and refined by WHEAT partners.

The success of ZT wheat, along with rising labor costs and concerns about soil health and water supplies, are driving farmer and researchers’ interest in radical innovations such as non-flooded, direct seeded rice. Gaining ground as well are precision land leveling and nutrient management for more effective irrigation and fertilizer use, and retaining crop residues on fields to store carbon and prevent noxious smog from residue burning.

The study says that full conservation agriculture for rice-wheat cropping raises yields, profits, and water use efficiency, while reducing labor and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, results show that it’s better to introduce conservation agriculture practices to farmers in a step-wise fashion, so they can test the new technology and understand how it benefits them.

Heat-tolerant wheat can help farmers adapt to climate change

Photo: Farmers grow durum wheat in the oasis. Filippo Bassi/ICARDA

In research recognized with the prestigious Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security in 2017, WHEAT scientists developed a set of durum wheat varieties adapted for Africa’s Senegal River Basin and able to withstand temperatures of up to 40 degrees C.

If scaled up, the technology offers the potential to fight hunger and help farmers adapt to rising temperatures, according to Filippo Maria Youssef Bassi, durum wheat breeder at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and leader of the effort.

The durum wheat team in Senegal.Photo: Filippo Bassi/ICARDA

“This prize is really dedicated to the hard work by Mauritania and Senegal partners,” said Bassi “It’s also validation and recognition for this crazy vision we had five years ago to grow durum wheat in the Savannah at 40 degrees Celsius.”

A short video about the work, which was funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Photo: Filippo Bassi at Terbol Station, Lebanon. Michael Major/Crop Trust

The Senegal River supports cropping on 200,000 hectares of land from Senegal through Guinea, Mauritania, and Mali. Farmers in the region cultivate rice during eight months of the year then leave the land fallow.

Using conventional breeding aided by DNA markers, Bassi and partners developed super-early-maturing and heat-tolerant durum wheat lines and tested them for three years at multiple locations of fallow land in the Basin.

“Because the varieties grow fast, farmers can produce them during the fallow between rice crops,” Bassi said, adding that the varieties yielded over 3 tons per hectare in just 90 days in the Senegal River Valley. “If widely adopted in the region, the varieties could yield up to 600,000 tons of additional food, worth more than $200 million in additional revenue for smallholder farmers, without affecting rice production.”

The varieties and related data are freely available for use in other dryland durum wheat production areas worldwide, according to Bassi.

Financial summary

Total: U.S. $11,154,840

WHEAT greatly appreciates the contributions of all Window 1 and Window 2 funding partners for their support during Phase 1 through the CGIAR Fund. Without these donors 2012-2017 would not have been possible.

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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