World grain research collaborations critical

23 Apr, 2016 02:00 AM
Hans Braun, CIMMYT, says a recent fungal disease outbreak in Bangladesh highlights the need for global collaboration on grains research.
Hans Braun, CIMMYT, says a recent fungal disease outbreak in Bangladesh highlights the need for global collaboration on grains research.

THE IMPORTANCE of international collaboration and funding for global agencies in the grains industry has been borne out by a serious fungal disease incursion in Asia recently, according to the global director of the wheat program with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).

Hans Braun said after previously being confined to Latin America, wheat blast had been detected in Bangladesh in February.

“We had predicted there could be issues with the disease in the Indian subcontinent due to the climatic similarities with parts of Latin America where we see wheat blast,” Dr Braun said.

“It is for this reason we need international programs to counter diseases.”

“These diseases can lie relatively dormant before exploding into an epidemic, you look at the stem rust strain 15b, which took years before it really blew up, but then it caused big problems.”

Dr Braun called on governments across the world to continue to fund global grain research agencies.

“Having the flexibility to conduct global research is critical to combating problems such as wheat blast.”

CIMMYT has recently released research that values its research at $A3 billion annually (as of 2010), with funding each year of just $30 million.

The value of germplasm in which CIMMYT is involved is a key component of this cost-benefit analysis.

Dr Braun said the study found CIMMYT affiliated varieties are sown on more than 100 million hectares across the globe.

Domestically, research has found over 90pc of the acreage planted to wheat in WA is made up of CIMMYT-related varieties, highlighted that while the greatest benefits from CIMMYT research go to developing nations, there are benefit to developed cropping nations as well.

Dr Braun said CIMMYT shared its work with others throughout the research pipeline.

“In 2014 CIMMYT distributed free of charge more than 12 tonnes of seed of experimental lines for testing and other research by 346 partners in public and private breeding programs of 79 countries.”

Dr Braun said CIMMYT work on the Bangladesh wheat blast outbreak would now look at specifics of the strain.

“There is a big question there, is it the same wheat blast as we see in Latin America, that can only impact wheat, or is it a local mutant that comes from rice, which also suffers from blast.”

He said that while Bangladesh was not a big wheat producing nation, the outbreak was dangerously close to wheat zones such as Bihar and Varanasi in India and not too far from major production areas such as the Punjab in India and the Sind in Pakistan.

The disease moves fast.

“It is a disease which under favourable conditions can take just a week from first observing symptoms to doing damage to the plant.”

Dr Braun said testing was now going on, mainly in Brazil and Paraguay to try to develop wheat blast resistant lines.

“There is a real threat for the disease to spread into central Asia and Pakistan, along with the lowlands of Ethiopia.”

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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