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Jeanie Borlaug visits Central Asia

By Linda McCandless/The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 

Continuing the year-long celebration of what would have been Norman Borlaug’s 100th birthday, his daughter, Jeanie Borlaug, visited wheat research facilities in Turkey and Pakistan with representatives of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and CIMMYT.

From left to right: Zafer Mert, Gordon Cisar, Kathy Cisar, Jeanie Borlaug, Alexei Morgounov and Ronnie Coffman look at leaf rust in the new rust screening facilities at CIMMYT-ICARDA in Ankara, Turkey.

She also attended the 2nd International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium in Izmir, Turkey, on 28 April-1 May.  On 21 April, the group visited the CIMMYT and International Center for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) offices in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP), review the development of rust-resistant varieties and tour related research facilities.

“We are all disciples of Dr. Borlaug,” said CIMMYT’s Alexei Morgounov during his IWWIP presentation. “He made each of us feel personally responsible for the role we play in wheat improvement.”

Jeanie Borlaug (left) with CIMMYT wheat pathologists Esra Karagöz and Nese Kahraman in Ankara, Turkey. Photos: Linda McCandless/BGRI

IWWIP is a joint program of CIMMYT, the Government of Turkey and ICARDA. Its main objective is to develop winter wheat germplasm for Central and West Asia, a region where the average rural farm is 15 to 50 hectares and yields an average of 2.67 kilograms per hectare on more than 15 million hectares.  Since IWWIP’s inception in 1986, more than 60 winter wheat varieties have been released – 27 in Turkey and the rest in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. IWWIP also supplies germplasm to 130 breeding programs in more than 50 countries; participates in global rust surveillance, monitoring and screening activities; and maintains a collection of genetic materials, including wheat landraces in a central gene bank.

“CIMMYT, ICARDA, the BGRI and FAO have a unique collaborative arrangement in Ankara,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI, who traveled with Borlaug and Gordon Cisar. Coffman praised the Turkish government for its contributions to wheat and rust research, for recent investments in new yellow, leaf and stem rust screening facilities and for helping ICARDA relocate personnel, facilities and its germplasm collection from Syria.

Jeanie Borlaug, Ronnie Coffman and Gordon Cisar were among visitors to CIMMYT-ICARDA facilities in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Linda McCandless/BGRI

The BGRI has also invested funds for the rust screening facilities.  Masum Burak, director general of the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies within Turkey’s Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Livestock, noted that wheat is the number one agricultural crop on the Anatolian Plateau. He said wheat production in Turkey was 22 million tons in 2013. This year, Turkey experienced a dry winter, so production in 2014 is predicted at 19 to 20 million tons.

Topics raised during the tour included the gender ratio for women in science in Central Asia, which has always been fairly good and “better than the EU and the U.S.,” according to Ali Osman Sari, deputy director of the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies. Another issue was better management of seed systems and the increasing difficulty of freely moving seeds and germplasm across international boundaries. An inventory of wheat landrace germplasm currently grown in Turkey was conducted by IWWIP and more than 3,000 accessions were deposited into Turkey’s National Gene Bank.