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KARI science conference highlights joint Kenya-CIMMYT impacts

As a celebration of one of the center’s most valued research partnerships, CIMMYT director general Thomas Lumpkin gave a keynote address during the 13th Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) Biennial Scientific Conference and Agriforum on 22 October 2012 at the institution’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference theme was “Agricultural Innovation System for Improved Productivity and Competitiveness in Pursuit of Vision 2030”, and there were more than 200 speakers and 60 exhibitors including CIMMYT, which was one of the event’s sponsors.

Chief guest and Kenyan Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Hon Gideon Ndambuki, said the conference reflected government aspirations for a forum to share breakthroughs in agricultural research by the national research systems and their partners. He challenged participants to “walk the talk” by adopting on their own farms the technological innovations discussed in the conference.

Ndambuki also lauded KARI’s efforts to supply drought tolerant crops for farmers in arid and semiarid lands. “This is especially crucial at this time when the whole world is going through the global phenomena of climate change effects,” said Ndambuki. “The seeds help farmers to adapt to these changes, have also become appropriate for areas that earlier had high rainfall, and help to demonstrate that the climate change effects are indeed real.”

Synergies for success

KARI director Ephraim Mukisira highlighted the excellent KARI-CIMMYT partnership and its importance to address challenges such as maize lethal necrosis and wheat stem rust. “The Ug99 disease on wheat is now getting under control with new varieties developed by KARI in partnership with CIMMYT,” said Mukisira, adding that resistant varieties have been released to farmers in this planting season.

In his keynote, Lumpkin called for applied science to tackle today’s food security challenges. “Only new technologies, including stress tolerant germplasm and appropriate agronomy, will help farmers produce more food,” he said. He also signaled the rising use of wheat in Africa, due to income growth and the demand for convenience foods as more women enter the workplace. “Africa will pay 12 billion dollars to import 40 million tons of wheat this year,” he said. “This heavy dependence on imports is making the region highly vulnerable to global market and supply shocks. Affected nations need to invest in wheat research and development.”

Finally, Lumpkin cited KARI-CIMMYT collaboration to assess maize lethal necrosis in Kenya and to develop resistant varieties, and praised public-private partnerships in Kenya to generate, test, and deploy elite drought and low nitrogen tolerant maize varieties for smallholder farmers. Many farmers who visited a CIMMYT display at the event were keen to get new varieties for diverse ecological zones, underlining the importance of center partnerships with the seed sector.

Science for speedy breeding

KARI and CIMMYT are establishing a maize doubled haploid facility at the KARI Kiboko Station. A technology that renders homozygous inbred lines in a year, rather than through many years of self-pollination, its use by public maize breeding programs and seed companies in developing countries had been constrained by the lack of tropical/subtropical inducers. CIMMYT and the University of Hohenheim have recently developed tropicalized haploid inducer lines and provided training in their use for African breeders. The doubled haploid approach will speed the delivery of improved maize varieties to farmers, and the Kiboko facility will play a key role, according to Lumpkin. “Through this important facility that will specially serve African institutions, we hope to generate at least 60,000 doubled haploid lines annually by 2016,” he said.