Warmer winter, shrinking acreage result in Bangladesh’s decreasing wheat production; global move underway to develop varieties that withstand climate stresses
At the height of high wheat productivity, Bangladesh witnessed a record yearly output of two million tons in 1999. But since then, the output of the second most consumed food grain in the country continued to fall over the last 20 years, dropping to 1.2 million tons in 2020.
While decrease in wheat acreage partly answers the riddle of wheat production fall, concerns run high over the adverse fallout of climate stresses. Wheat scientists in Bangladesh say the increasingly warmer winters that the country has been witnessing have serious ramifications on wheat yield loss.
With six million tons of imports a year, Bangladesh now stands among top five wheat importing nations of the world.
Against such a challenging scenario, a good news comes from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) that it is making a renewed endeavour to develop climate-resilient wheat, rekindling hopes among the wheat growing nations including Bangladesh, which are facing crop-limiting factors like drought and heat stress.
To address drought and heat-related threats, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) has just awarded a $5 million grant to the CIMMYT for developing climate-resilient wheat. And FFAR’s investment is matched by a $4.5 million contribution from the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, as well as a $7.5 million contribution from Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat, jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), for a total of $17 million investment to advance wheat breeding research.
Mexico-based CIMMYT leads global research programs on maize and wheat, sustainable cropping systems and policies to improve farmers’ livelihoods, and has a long track record of providing assistance to Bangladesh.
In recent years, Bangladesh gained out of the CIMMYT’s rich depository of wheat genetic resources and addressed the emergence of wheat fungal disease – Wheat Blast – by releasing a new resistant variety named BARI Gom-33. The good thing about this wheat variety, at the same time, is that it is rich with zinc, a vital micronutrient, and heat tolerant.
In the United States, The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) was established in the 2014, aimed at increasing public agricultural research investment, filling knowledge gaps and complementing the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research agenda.
Wheat constitutes 20% of all calories and protein consumed, making it a cornerstone of the human diet, according to the United Nations. However, hotter and drier weather, driven by a changing climate, threatens the global wheat supply.
Wheat is among the most widely grown cereal crops in the world, and the third-largest crop grown in Bangladesh after rice and maize.
In a January 11 release, CIMMYT says the demand for wheat is expected to rise in the coming years – as much as 60% by 2050. Without public research, wheat production could decrease by nearly 30% over the same period due to extreme climate conditions, it adds.
FFAR Executive Director Dr Sally Rockey expressed her foundation’s readiness to support wheat farmers by providing them with new wheat varieties, designed keeping future environmental challenges in mind.
CIMMYT researchers and collaborators are applying cutting-edge approaches in genomics, remote sensing and big data analysis to develop new breeding technologies. A key intervention will explore the vast and underutilized reserve of wheat genetic resources to fortify the crop against current and future climate-related stresses.
CIMMYT Director General Dr Martin Kropff expressed the hope that a productive collaboration would move all closer to the mission of maize and wheat science for improved livelihoods.
Two years after Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent country in 1971, its wheat yield was only 111,000 tons. But production marked rapid increase in subsequent years, reaching a peak in 1999.
Wheat scientists in Bangladesh told Dhaka Tribune that, in a show of renewed importance to wheat and maize development in the country, the government upgraded Dinajpur-based Wheat Research Centre into Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI) in 2017.