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Key wheat & maize scientists attend crop science congress in Australia

29 September 2004

Results for developing countries and Australian farmers

Key international agricultural research centres from around the world will be represented at the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane from 26 September to 1 October 2004.

They will be highlighting their work towards world food security, which benefits both developing country and Australian farmers in major crops such as wheat and rice.

The Congress has brought together over 1000 delegates from 65 countries to focus on the key issues for cropping systems that provide food, feed and fibre for the world.

For more than 20 years, Ravi Singh from the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has worked on controlling wheat rust diseases with genetic resistance. Singh’s work in breeding and distributing wheat cultivars with non-race-specific, durable rust resistance could provide an effective, long-term solution to leaf and stripe rust diseases of wheat.

High yielding disease- and drought-resistant wheat varieties developed by the Mexico-based CIMMYT has boosted yields for poor farmers all over the world. And more than 90% of wheats grown in Australia are from CIMMYT, estimated to have yielded a net benefit to Australian farmers of some $147 million each year.

Wheat cultivars with durable leaf rust resistance derived from CIMMYT germplasm in partnership with developing countries are currently grown on over 15 million hectares in developing countries. These improved varieties have provided abundant, reliable harvests for millions of farmers in rust-prone regions who grow resistant wheat without applying fungicide.

Singh’s program is currently working on replacing more than 60% of the rust-prone spring wheats in developing countries with new cultivars that have high levels of durable, rust-resistance by 2010. This is one of the largest targeted applications of knowledge of durable resistance in any crop. Singh is also collaborating with the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program, which involves the Sydney University Plant Breeding Institute at Cobbitty and CSIRO at Canberra and funded by GRDC, Australia.

A recently published economic study on the value of grain saved through using resistant wheat found that since 1973, the leaf rust resistant wheats have been worth an estimated US$ 5.36 billion to farmers—a benefit-cost ratio of 27:1.

"In addition to this figure, there are the inestimable economic, environmental, and health benefits of reduced fungicide use," says Masa Iwanaga, CIMMYT Director General.

Singh’s achievements include contributing to the development of wheat germplasm with durable resistance to leaf and stripe rusts, identifying new genes for leaf and yellow rust resistance, characterizing leaf rust resistance genes in more than 600 wheat cultivars, and establishing and coordinating a global network for monitoring rust pathogens.

Marianne Bänziger founded the Southern African Drought and Low Soil Fertility Project (SADLF) in 1996 and coordinates the work of this multi-partner initiative to develop, test, and promote robust maize varieties for the drought-prone mid-altitude zones of southern Africa, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Through Bänziger's efforts, breeders in the region have adopted a “stress breeding” approach, whereby experimental varieties are grown in controlled drought and poor soil conditions that reflect farmers' settings, as well as under optimal management.

Another key innovation of the project is a novel approach for smallholder farmers and researchers to assess and compare new and currently grown varieties and share the results with private seed companies and community seed production schemes. The approach has empowered farmers, provided them with access to seed of maize varieties they prefer, and opened new markets for seed producers. National maize research and extension programs throughout southern Africa are applying the method. SADLF's stout, open-pollinated varieties are being grown on 250,000 hectares in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and could cover 800,000 hectares within a year.

CIMMYT is a non-profit research and training center with direct links to about 100 developing countries through offices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We participate in an extensive global network of people and organizations who share similar development goals, including the public and private sector, non-governmental and civil society organizations, relief and health agencies, farmers, and the development assistance community. For more information visit our website:

4ICSC would like to thank all its supporters including the following major sponsors:
AusAID, CSIRO, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and QDPI

More information:
Cathy Reade, Media Manager, 4th International Crop Science Congress
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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