Global Crop Improvement Networks to Bridge Technology Gaps

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The Special Session was sponsored by the OECD Co-operative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, whose financial support made it possible for most of the invited speakers to participate in the Special Session.

Abstract The International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN), an alliance of national agricultural research systems (NARSs), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and advanced research institutes (ARIs), continues to deploy cutting-edge science alongside practical multi-disciplinary applications, resulting in the development of germplasm that has made major contributions during the Green Revolution. The continuous supply of improved germplasm for nearly half a century has also enabled developing countries to have a sustained increase of wheat production and productivity and thereby improving food security and farmers' livelihoods. Wheat production levels have increased from 235 million tons in 1961 to 691 million tons in 2012. Yet, global food consumption has exceeded production for 6 of the last 11 years (2004–2010), and food reserves are now 'dangerously low,' particularly for staple grains such as wheat and maize. Changing diets, urbanization, and other factors mean that demand for wheat is likely to only multiply further, and therefore wheat yields must increase from the current global average of 3 t per hectare. According to some estimates, the global wheat production must increase at least by 1.6 % annually to meet a projected yearly wheat demand of 760 million tons by 2020. In the year 2050, the world population is estimated to be nine billion and the demand for wheat reaches more than 900 million tons. Fulfilling this demand is very challenging with the current scenario of climate change, increasing drought/ water shortage, soil degradation, reduced supply & increasing cost of fertilizers, increasing demand for bio-fuel, and emergence of new virulent diseases and pests. This paper presents a review and insight about the past and current contributions of IWIN, breeding progresses and genetic gains, and its future role in offsetting the major global challenges of wheat production.


Wheat is one of the leading cereal crops which have provided daily sustenance for a large proportion of the world's population for millennia. According to FAO (2012), about 651 million tons of wheat was produced on average of 217 million ha with productivity level of 3.1 t ha−1. The Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region produces more than 100 million tons of wheat in a total area of 55 million hectares at a productivity level of 2 t/ha which is less than the worlds average (3 t/ha) (Fig. 44.1).

Most of the wheat production in the developed world is rainfed while in the developing world, especially in the large producers India and China, more than half of the wheat area is irrigated. Wheat productivity varies not only between irrigated and rainfed production systems but also between countries applying similar agronomic practices. For example, among major rainfed wheat producers, the average national yield ranges from about 0.9 t ha−1 in Kazakhstan to 2.6 t ha−1 in Canada and up to 7.9 t ha−1 in the United Kingdom (FAO, 2005). Among major irrigated wheat

Fig. 44.1 Production area and yield of wheat in the world and CWANA, 1961–2010

producers, India has an average yield of 2.6 t ha−1 compared with 6.5 t ha−1 in Egypt. This clearly indicates the possibility of increasing wheat productivity in many countries by improving their respective wheat production packages.

The low productivity of wheat in the developing countries especially those in the CWANA region is due to abiotic stresses (drought, cold, heat, salinity) and biotic stresses (yellow rust, leaf rust, stem rust, root rots, Russian Wheat Aphid, Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus, Sunn pest, and Hessian Fly). Principally, drought and yellow rust are the most important wheat yield limiting factors. With the current climate change, it is anticipated that new pests and diseases will emerge as already exemplified in the recent epidemics of yellow rust across the CWANA region and Ug99 epidemic in East African countries. The effect of climate change is also evident on the quality of wheat as increased heat results in shriveled wheat grains.

The International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN), which is an alliance of International Research Centers (CIMMYT & ICARDA), national agricultural research systems (NARSs) and ARIs, has contributed significantly to the development of germplasm that has made major contributions to the green revolution and to improving food security and farmers' livelihoods in many developing countries (Dixon et al. 2009). In this specific instance, it is noteworthy to mention Dr. Norman Borlaug, who has developed the semi-dwarf input responsive wheat cultivars for the Green Revolution in Mexico, India, Pakistan, and Turkey and many other developing countries.

Starting from 2011, CIMMYT and ICARDA are implementing the WHEAT Consortium Research Program (CRP WHEAT) which is part of a concerted effort of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to implement a new, results-oriented strategy through a series of CRPs that fully exploit the potential of international agricultural research for development to enhance global food security and environmental sustainability. WHEAT draws on and potentiate the capacities and commitment of two leading international centers (CIMMYT and ICARDA), in partnership with farming communities, national research systems, advanced research institutes, private companies, policy makers, and diverse development organizations.

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