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Int’l Wheat Congress: Bangladesh's success sung in Saskatoon

  • Published at 01:22 am July 24th, 2019
International Wheat Congress 2019-Saskatoon, Canada-Reaz Ahmad
The International Wheat Congress 2019's inaugural ceremony in progress at Saskatoon, Canada on Monday, July 22, 2019 Reaz Ahmad

Organizers praised Bangladesh's success in coming up with a resistant variety to effectively fight the blast that played havoc in South American wheat fields for many years since 1985

When Bangladesh's wheat fields were struck by blast in 2016, in the deadly fungal disease's first emergence in Asia, the country was hit hard with its wheat-rich South Asian neighbours India and Pakistan, getting worried at the prospect of a blast spread in the region.

Two years later, Bangladesh's wheat scientists managed developing a resistant variety – Bari Gom 33 – which can now withstand the wheat blast.

As Canada’s breadbasket Saskatchewan's biggest city Saskatoon plays host to what has been touted as the world's biggest ever congregation of wheat scientists this week, organizers praised Bangladesh's success in coming up with a resistant variety to effectively fight the blast that played havoc in South American wheat fields for many years since 1985.

At the very opening session of the International Wheat Congress 2019 (IWC19) in Saskatoon on Monday, the director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Martin Kropff,  told a gathering of 900 wheat scientists that, with CIMMYT support, Bangladesh developed a blast resistant in quickest possible time.

The Bangladesh government went for “wheat holiday” – discouraging farmers in blast-affected districts from growing wheat with neighbouring India, putting up stringent quarantine in place as precaution to possible cross-border blast spread. But thanks to Bari Gom 33, soon the farmers got back confidence and eschewed the policy of wheat holiday.

At the IWC19, the CIMMYT chief, however, cautioned against any complacency over getting success in blast battle, as wheat science has to win bigger war that's fast brewing – climate change fallout on wheat, one of world's most consumed cereal.

Unless stress tolerant varieties are developed, better crop management is put in place, and governments put more money on agricultural research, farmers across developing Asia and Africa are going to ill-afford the climate change impact that may cut wheat productivity by a whooping 30% in South Asia, for instance, by 2050.

Wheat scientists, who converged from over 50 countries including Bangladesh to moot over strategies and science to address future food security challenges, said the world must grow substantially higher volume of cereals – wheat, rice and maize – by 2050 when the global population would be two billion more than what it is today.

Princeton University research scholar Timothy D Searchinger made a thought-provoking deliberation at the first day's proceeding. He emphasized limiting greenhouse gas emissions from farming, stopping deforestation, increasing nitrogen use efficiency and conserving precious resources like soil and water.

In technical sessions, wheat scientists presented papers highlighting advancements made in cutting edge breeding technologies like genome editing. 

Wheat provides 20% of all human calories consumed worldwide. In the Global South, it is one of the main sources of protein and a crucial source of life for 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2 a day.

Bangladesh, which is represented by three of its young wheat scientists in the IWC19, grows little over 1,000,000 tons of wheat a year, thereby compelling itself to depend on6,000,000 tons more of annual wheat import, making the country one of the top five wheat importing nations in the world. 

Over 900 delegates, including researchers from CGIAR Research Program for Wheat, CIMMYT, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP), Cornell University's Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project (DGGW), the University of Saskatchewan and many other organizations worldwide are deliberating on a wide range of wheat and food security issues.