South Asian farm lands have been increasingly experiencing climate change related weather extremes. A report from the Asian Development Bank in 2009 warns that if the current trends persist until 2050, major crop yields and food production capacity of South Asia will significantly decrease — by 17% for maize, 12% for wheat, and 10% for rice — due to climate change induced heat and water stress. In response to this situation, USAID’s Feed the Future (FTF) initiative has decided to support the “Heat stress resilient maize for South Asia through a public-private partnership” (Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia, HTMA) project to develop heat resilient maize for South Asia.
HTMA is a public-private CIMMYT-led alliance consisting of Purdue University, Pioneer Hi-Bred, seed companies, and South Asian public sector maize programs. It targets resource-poor people of South Asia who rely on growing maize for subsistence or income in rainfed conditions, and whose welfare is directly dependent on maize yields and negatively affected by crop failures. To develop and deploy heat stress resilient, high-yielding maize hybrids for vulnerable regions in South Asia, the HTMA project will build upon CIMMYT’s elite abiotic stress tolerant maize germplasm base; the technical expertise of the key resource partners (Purdue University, Pioneer Hi-Bred, and CIMMYT); the maize breeding and phenotyping locations and strengths of the national agricultural research systems of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan; and the seed production capacity, strong links with the farming communities, and the market reach of private sector partners (Pioneer Hi-Bred, Vibha AgriTech, Ajeet Seeds, and Kaveri Seeds).
During 23-25 January 2013, project launch meeting took place in Hyderabad, India, where 44 scientists gathered to discuss various aspects of the project, including the genomic selection (GS) approach which is proposed to be one of its major approaches. CIMMYT’s Jose Crossa, Paulino Perez, and Raman Babu discussed the GS concept, its application in breeding programs, and data analysis and management for fast-track breeding progress and product development. The meeting included a presentation on the FTF initiative by Larry Beach (USAID) who explained the role of HTMA in achieving FTF goals in South Asia. B.M. Prasanna (Global Maize Program director) discussed the climate change scenario in South Asia, its potential impact on the farming community, and the importance of HTMA in addressing these challenges. P.H. Zaidi (CIMMYT maize physiologist and HTMA coordinator) then provided an overview of HTMA’s scope, objectives, outputs, and outcomes, which was followed by presentations from participating countries on the current progress status of heat tolerant maize and on suitability of HTMA for country and institutional priorities.
These deliberations set up an excellent platform for further discussions on work plans, activities, and intended outputs and outcomes, including breeding strategies, trial sites, resources, bottlenecks, and potential solutions. The group then agreed on an implementation strategy for each of the planned activity and decided that a project management committee would hold bi-monthly web-based meetings to review implementation of planned activities, perform monitoring visits, and receive updates on activities during crop season at each site. A project steering committee, an overseeing body chaired by B.M. Prasanna, also met to discuss the project structure and execution plan.
The meeting was considered successful by its attendants. USAID’s Beach concluded the meeting with encouraging remarks showing confidence in the alliance and its capability to execute the planned activities and thus achieve the outputs that will eventually help FTF to reach its goals. The HTMA team is looking forward to working on helping resource-poor farmers of South Asia.