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CIMMYT maize projects creating synergies for enhanced impacts in South Asia

By AbduRahman Beshir and P.H. Zaidi/CIMMYT

South Asia is particularly vulnerable to climate fluctuations, and extreme weather conditions can cause abiotic stress in rain-fed crops such as maize. Recognizing these challenges to crop production, CIMMYT has partnered with national programs in South Asia to develop and deploy climate-smart agricultural technologies through two projects supported by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative – Agricultural Innovation Program (AIP) for Pakistan and Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia (HTMA).

HTMA is an alliance between private and public research and development institutes in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan whose goal is to develop new generations of maize hybrids that can withstand heat stress. AIP for Pakistan is a multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary project partly focused on deploying the most promising technologies, including stress-resilient maize cultivars, suitable for the country’s environment. Recognizing an opportunity for the two initiatives to collaborate, the Maize and Millets Research Institute (MMRI) and CIMMYT organized a workshop for 35 AIP and HTMA project partners 29-31 May at Sahiwal, Pakistan.

Dr. P.H. Zaidi explaining about phenotypic traits. Photos: AbduRahman Beshir

Dr. Abid Mehmood, director general of agricultural research of Punjab Province, Pakistan, told the Pakistani maize scientists that “maize is one of the important crops for the food security of Pakistan” and said the workshop was “an excellent platform to learn and work together and share knowledge among scientists.” Mian Muhammad Shafique, director of MMRI, gave an overview on maize research and development at MMRI and its importance for Pakistan, and for Punjab in particular.Drs. P.H. Zaidi, B.S. Vivek and Raman Babu from CIMMYT-India and AbduRahman Beshir from CIMMYT-Pakistan shared current developments associated with conventional and molecular breeding for abiotic stress tolerance to help the scientists understand various principles, tools and techniques involved in developing climate-smart maize hybrids, with enhanced tolerance to major stresses such as drought and heat. The training also addressed the basic principles of quality maize seed production.

The workshop was followed by a field visit at the MMRI experimental farm, where participants got practical experience in identifying important phenotypic traits for climate-resilient maize and evaluated the performance of AIP, HTMA and MMRI maize trials at the institute. Zaidi commended the MMRI team for the way it managed the field trials, saying, “The longtime research work from MMRI and other centers is a primary reference for people working on developing heat stress-tolerant maize, and this effort has to continue at an accelerated pace.”

Participants of the international refresher course on Statistical and Genomic Analysis. Photo: CIMMYT

The participants also appreciated the performance of some of the germplasms in Sahiwal, where the maximum temperature often exceeds 45oC during May and June. Dr. Beshir explained how the scientists can access CIMMYT’s germplasm and encouraged public and private institutions to further engage in the development and deployment of CIMMYT maize materials.

In the closing session, Dr. Sartaj Khan, national coordinator for cereal systems at the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), thanked CIMMYT for organizing the course and urged participants to use the knowledge gained in their day-to-day activities. He also requested more training sessions with participants from diverse disciplines.