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2nd ARIA-CIMMYT annual maize workshop in Afghanistan: challenges to maize production

April 24, 2013

Group-photoIncreasing maize production in Afghanistan and
defining research imperatives to address its major constraints were the topic of the 2nd Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA)-CIMMYT maize workshop during 09- 10 April 2013 at the Plant Protection and Quarantine Department (PPQD), Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) in Kabul. About 40 participants from ARIA, FAO, CIMMYT, ICARDA, MAIL, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Private Seed Enterprises (PSE) gathered to discuss several challenging issues. Although maize ranks third among the Afghan government’s priorities after wheat and rice, its 2011 production was only about 1.64 tons per hectare which is about 32-33% of both Asian and the world average. Official import figures are not available, but it is assumed that Afghanistan imports large quantities of maize from neighboring countries, as the harvest of 300,000 tons cannot be sufficient for the population of 30 million, especially since Afghanistan harvested between 650,000- 750,000 tons in the 1960s and 1970s when its population was only about 11-13 millions.

The biggest constraint discussed at the workshop technically supported by Saeed Khavari (maize breeder at the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute of Iran) was the unavailability of locally adapted, disease and insect pest resistant high-yielding varieties and their quality seed. Although CIMMYT contributed to the development of four open-pollinated varieties during the last few years, their seed is still largely unavailable. In his opening speech, Mir Haidari (PPQD director and acting deputy minister for technical affairs at MAIL) welcomed the participants and exhorted them to prepare a strong technical program for the upcoming maize season. ARIA director Qasem Obaidi then introduced the workshop agenda and Rajiv Sharma (CIMMYT country liaison officer for Afghanistan) highlighted the salient achievements of the previous season, including the first ever hybrid maize trials. During his speech, Sharma urged ARIA to appoint at least one maize researcher at each research station to ensure successful conduct of experiments. Mahmood Osmanzai discussed the constraints of maize production in Afghanistan, and Mohammad Hashim Azmatyar presented last year’s breeding trial results as well as the proposed technical program for this year. Later, Khavari returned to the stage to present the country’s maize agronomy research agenda and to assist the agronomy group with planning of the technical program for the upcoming crop season. The first day ended with presentations of research results from various parts of the country.

The second day of the workshop opened with Khavari’s lecture on maize diseases and insect pests, which was followed by Said Ali Shah’s presentation on the agronomy technical program. Saidajan Abdiani, PSE president, discussed the expectations of the private sector, highlighting the need for new varieties – and hybrids in particular – to give a stronger push to maize production in the country. After providing an overview of figures regarding maize seed production, FAO’s Assaudullah Habibi stressed the precautions to be observed during maize seed production. Khavari then returned once more with an overview of the essentials of a successful maize breeding program, which was of a particular interest to ARIA researchers who intend to begin such a program of their own. T. S. Pakbin, ARIA advisor, pointed out the need for early maturing open-pollinated maize varieties as only they are suitable for the common cropping sequences in Afghanistan; and afterwards Obaidi closed the workshop by thanking all the participants for their active involvement in the workshop.