Action needed to adapt maize breeding to climate change, report shows
by Matthew O’Leary / June 20, 2016
Listen to a podcast of CIMMYT maize breeder Biswanath Das discussing the importance of adapting maize breeding and seed systems to climate change here.
EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – Breeding and seed systems must be adapted to survive projected climate change if major loss of maize yields is to be avoided, a new report shows.
Tools that forecast the response of crops to different weather and climate conditions, coupled with crop yield modeling have enabled agricultural scientists to predict and formulate plans for potential future climate change.
“Responding better to changes in climate by improving efficiency of the breeding cycle and reducing the amount of time it takes to get improved maize into the hands of farmers is key to ensuring a food secure future,” said International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) maize breeder and co-author of the study Biswanath Das.
Projections for Africa demonstrate climate-change related increases in temperature will negatively impact on-farm yields as heat and drought stress shorten crop production time, the length of time between maize planting and harvesting, Das said.
Shorter and hotter growing seasons are expected to become a reality over the next 15 years, which could mean that maize varieties currently being developed may struggle to adapt, particularly since current breeding and commercialization cycles to improve maize in Africa can take several decades.
The report published in Nature Climate Change, led by Andy Challinor from the University of Leeds in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and CIMMYT, calls for an acceleration of breeding, delivery and adoption processes. The authors suggest that all stages could be sped up using a variety of techniques, requiring elaborate planning and coordination involving numerous actors and interest groups.
“Current warming will reduce yields unless maize breeding and seed systems adapt immediately,” Das said. “Increased collaboration among different breeding institutes and public-private collaborations are needed so that we share information, technologies and germplasm to make the best germplasm and technology available to the widest number of scientists as possible.”
“Seed systems could be working with regulators to reduce the amount of time it takes for varieties to become available to farmers and developing new ways of producing seed more cheaply and efficiently while maintaining quality.”
Public seed systems should continue working closely with the private sector to encourage the latest genetic advances to become available to farmers in the shortest time possible, Das added.
CIMMYT has undertaken other work in this area. An intensive breeding effort through the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project developed a large phenotyping network and breeding pipeline to produce new maize varieties with heat and drought tolerance. In collaboration with over 100 national seed companies, the project supported the production of 54,000 tons of drought-tolerant maize in 2014 alone, benefiting an estimated 5.4 million households – or 43 million people – across 13 countries in Africa.
In 2015, a new project was started to expand the success of DTMA so that more smallholder farmers in Africa would have access to affordable improved maize varieties through a network of national seed companies.
Despite the considerable efforts being made to adapt maize farming to changing climates, Das warned that they must be sustained and encouraged on a larger scale in order for breeding programs to produce climate-ready maize varieties for the future.
This research is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors, CCAFS Donors, MAIZE CRP Donors and through bilateral funding agreements. Funding for this project came from: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Ireland Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs; New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Thailand; UK Department of International Development; The United States Agency for International Development and the European Union. The Program is carried out with technical support from The International Fund for Agricultural Development.
DTMA was funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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Current warming will reduce yields unless maize breeding and seed systems adapt immediately
- J. Challinor1,2, A.-K Koehler1, J. Ramirez-Villegas1,2, S. Whitfield3 and B. Das4
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