Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Building on a decade long partnership — Afghanistan government agencies lead wheat trials

Improved wheat varieties are contributing to Afghanistan’s food security and economic growth.  Australia has been a major supporter of wheat varietal improvement, working in partnership with Afghanistan government agencies for well over a decade.

This program of improving wheat yields is implemented through an ACIAR brokered partnership between ARIA (the research institute of the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock - MAIL) and CIMMYT (the CGIAR centre dedicated to wheat and maize improvement, ACIAR project CIM/2011/026). 

Wheat is the staple commodity in Afghanistan – in excess of 20 million rural people (or about 7 million households) depend directly on the crop. On average about 1.17 million ha of irrigated wheat is grown each year, while up to 1.38 million ha is planted and not irrigated,or rainfed, depending on the season. Rainfed systems are the most challenging to improve because of the associated risk and their very low productivity.

Afghanistan’s wheat yields face significant challenges – low yields from both irrigated and rainfed crops have been further challenged by susceptibility to disease. Of concern are the common strains of yellow rust and the looming regional threat from the aggressive UG99 strain of stem rust.

A ten year partnership ARIA/MAIL, CIMMYT & ACIAR

Research progress has been slow but solid, broadening the range and quality of the wheat varieties available for field trials.  On a recent visit to Afghanistan, it was very impressive to visit the Darulaman Research Station, as a guest of ARIA Director General Mr Obaidi and of CIMMYT.   The MAIL/ARIA team took the lead in describing all of the work undertaken – it was clear that they have full ownership of the wheat trials. 

The MAIL/ARIA team led by Director General Obaidi (second on left) at Darulaman Research Station in Kabul

In 2013, Australian sponsored research resulted in the release of 7 improved wheat varieties. The wheat lines released included irrigated varieties with the potential to produce over 6t/ha, and rainfed varieties with the potential to produce 3.8t/ha.

These yields are about 10% better than any current variety and are more than double the current average yields of 2-3t/ha for irrigated wheat and 1-1.5t/ha for non irrigated wheat.

Assisting adoption of new varieties

The MAIL/ARIA program is managing trials in 10 locations representing 4 major agro-climatic zones of Afghanistan. To accelerate adoption of the new varieties, the project has established 4 technical support hubs where the varieties and appropriate wheat growing methods are tested on farmer’s fields and demonstrated to farmers.

Rainfed wheat production in Char Kent, Balkh Province

Adoption of new varieties is, however, very slow. It is constrained by factors such as – seed availability and quality, timeliness of distribution, cost of seed, and localised agro-climatic requirements.

ACIAR estimates that adoption could reach up to 20% of the planted area in the medium to long term. If this occurs then up to 1.5 million households will benefit.

David Swete Kelly undertakes Monitoring and Evaluation on behalf of DFAT for the Afghanistan Research for Development Program

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