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Heat stress-resilient maize hybrids for Asian farmers

August 21, 2014

The Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia (HTMA) project, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future (FTF) initiative, is a public-private alliance that targets resource-poor people of South Asia who face weather extremes and climate-change effects. HTMA aims to create stable income and food security for resource-poor maize farmers in South Asia through development and deployment of heat-resilient maize hybrids.

The project connects several public sector agricultural research institutions in South Asia, such as the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute; the Maize & Millets Research Institute, Pakistan; National Maize Research Program, Nepal; and Bhutan Maize Program. Also involved in the project are two state agriculture universities from India – Bihar Agriculture University, Sabor and University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Raichur – as well as seed companies in the region including DuPont Pioneer, Vibha Agritech, Kaveri Seeds and Ajeet Seeds and international institutions including Purdue University and CIMMYT.

The “2nd Annual Progress Review and Planning Meeting for the HTMA Project” was held 22-23 July at UAS, Raichur in Karnataka, India. The meeting was attended by scientists and representatives from the collaborating institutions in South Asia, Purdue University and CIMMYT. Dr. Nora Lapitan represented USAID at the meeting. To take advantage of the presence of renowned scientists at this newly established agricultural university, the inaugural session of the meeting was organized as a special seminar on “Global initiatives on climate resilient crops.”

Dr. B.V. Patil, director of education at the university, organized the seminar for UAS staff and students. In his welcome speech Dr. Patil highlighted the importance of the HTMA public-private alliance, especially for addressing such complex issues as developing and deploying heat stress-resilient maize. Dr. BM Prasanna, director of the CIMMYT Global Maize Program, lectured on “Adapting Maize to the Changing Climate,” talking about the importance of climate change effects and CIMMYT initiatives on different continents in the development and deployment of stress-resilient maize hybrids.

This was followed by another highprofile lecture on “Climate-Resilient Crops: A Key Strategy for Feed the Future,” which was delivered by Lapitan. She spoke about the priorities of the FTF initiative, including efforts to reduce poverty and malnutrition in children in target countries through accelerated inclusive agricultural growth and a high-quality diet. The inaugural session was followed by a series of HTMA annual review and planning technical sessions. In the first, Dr. P.H. Zaidi, HTMA project leader and CIMMYT senior maize physiologist, presented updates on the project’s execution and the progress achieved at the end of the second year. The project has met agreed milestones, and is even ahead on some fronts.

This was followed by detailed progress reports on objectives given by each collaborating partner. Professor Mitch Tuinstra of Purdue University presented on membrane lipid profiling in relation to heat stress, as well as identifying quantitative trait loci for heat stress tolerance and component traits by joint linkage analysis. The leads from each of the public and private sector partners presented the results of the HTMA trials conducted at their locations, and also shared a list of top-ranking, best-bet heat-tolerant maize hybrids to take forward for large-scale testing and deployment. During the project’s first two years, each partner identified promising and unique maize hybrids suitable for their target environment. In molecular breeding, Zaidi presented the results of the association mapping panel, and Dr. Raman Babu, CIMMYT molecular maize breeder, presented the progress made on genotyping and association analysis. Dr. M.T. Vinayan, CIMMYT maize stress specialist for South Asia, presented a progress report on genomic selection for heat stress tolerance.

Nora Lapitan of USAID addressing the audience in HTMA seminar at UAS Raichur. Photo: UAS, Raichur photographer

Dr. K. Seetharaman, CIMMYT special project scientist in abiotic stress breeding and Dr. A.R. Sadananda, CIMMYT maize seed system specialist , presented jointly on the HTMA-product pipeline, including the promising heat stress-resilient hybrids ready for deployment, and a series of new hybrids ready for testing across locations in target environments. Dr. Christian Boeber, CIMMYT socio-economist, talked about progress in HTMA product targeting, pricing and adoption, summarizing the ongoing work on crop-modelling, reviewed work on the IMPACT model component, presented the survey tool and reviewed study sites in heat stress-prone ecologies of South Asia. Zaidi and Tuinstra presented the progress in project capacity building, including nine Ph.D. student fellowships. three workshops/training courses including in-country courses on “Precision phenotyping for heat stress tolerance” in Nepal and Pakistan, and a course on “Statistical analysis and genomic selection.” Project progress was critically reviewed by the project steering committee (PSC) headed by Prasanna, who expressed high satisfaction on its overall development. Speaking for USAID, Lapitan said: “I am highly impressed with the progress in the HTMA project. Within a period of two years there is a first wave of heat-tolerant hybrids ready for large-scale testing and deployment. This is one of the 26 projects in our climate-resilient cereals portfolio, but this project successfully demonstrated excellent balance between up-stream and down-stream research. We have made impressive progress, and are rather ahead on some milestones. I consider it a model project.”

Other PSC members also expressed their satisfaction, and agreed that HTMA has made tremendous progress in products for heat stress ecologies in the partners’ target environments. After discussing the progress in detail, project partners discussed the work plan and research activities for the third year. A parallel group discussion on objectives helped finalize the workplans and activities for each partner during the project’s third year.

HTMA-Project Steering Committee meeting.

Finally, the PSC met and discussed the overall progress of the project in detail. In addition to Prasanna chairing the PSC, members include Dr. Mohammda Munir, chief scientific officer, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council; Dr. Yagna Gajadhar Khadka, director, crops and horticulture, Nepal Agricultural Research Council; Dr. Khalid Sultan, research director, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute; Dr. B.V. Patil, director of education at UAS; Tuinstra; Dr. N.P. Sarma, Kaveri Seeds; and Zaidi as member secretary.

Overall, the PSC members expressed their satisfaction with ongoing activities and the progress being made by HTMA, particularly the close collaboration with partner institutions. “I sincerely hope that the same momentum is maintained for rest of the project, which is certainly going to have a strong impact on the maize farming community in stressprone agro-ecologies of South Asia,” said Munir.

The meeting was also attended by special guests, including Drs. Navin Hada and Danielle Knueppel from USAID in Nepal, and Dr. Mahendra Prasad Khanal and Mr. Dilaram Bhandari from the Agricultural Ministry of Nepal. They stated their appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the meeting for the project model and noted HTMA’s fast-track progress. Khanal said, “We need to have a similar project for maize research and development in Nepal, since we are also pushing for hybrid varieties, and we should use a similar public-private partnership model for the product development and deployment.”