New wheat varieties help farmers save and earn more in Fergana Valley Action Site

Date: 09.06.2015.

Farmers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are making more profits from growing yellow-rust-resistant winter wheat varieties developed through international collaboration. Photo by Ram Sharma.

Farmers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are making more profits from growing yellow-rust-resistant winter wheat varieties developed through international collaboration and evaluated in farmers' field trials under the CGIAR Research Program 'Dryland Systems' led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and financially supported by a contribution from the Russian Federation.

Stripe rust, also known as yellow rust, a serious wheat disease, is a scourge on wheat production in Central and West Asia. The pathogen has been the most severe disease constraint to winter wheat production for the past 15 years. In a study on global incidence of wheat rusts, Morgounov et al. (2012) reported increased incidence of yellow rust between 2001 and 2010 in Central and West Asia, leading to substantial losses throughout the two regions. Central Asia has seen several outbreaks since 1999. The most recent regional epidemics struck in 2009 and 2010. And Tajikistan and Uzbekistan saw further outbreaks in the spring of 2013, 2014 and 2015. Adding to the problem is the cost of fungicides widely used to control the disease. And changing weather patterns and ineffective monitoring make things worse.

Finding wheat that is both resistant to the pathogen and can bring in good harvests is a daunting task. This has been a focus of winter wheat research programs in Central and West Asia in recent years. For example, under the Dryland Systems program, researchers from ICARDA and its partners continue to work on introducing more resistant varieties through adaptive farmers' field demonstration trials in the Fergana Valley Action Site in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. And there are already some positive results. Varieties like 'Bunyodkor', 'Gozgon' and 'Yaksart' in Uzbekistan and 'Chumon', 'Alex' and 'Ormon' in Tajikistan, which fared very well during the outbreaks in 2013, 2014 and 2015, have shown promising results in farmers' fields. They yielded up to 8 tons per ha, which was 15 to 25% more than the local wheat varieties. Seed multiplication of these varieties is well under way in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Scientists from ICARDA and their national research partners now focus more on promoting these varieties among farmers and improving farmers' knowledge and skills through training events and field days. During two field days in Sughd Region, Tajikistan, and Quva District of Fergana Province, Uzbekistan, on 6 and 9 June 2015 respectively, more than 60 farmers, including women, visited fields cultivated with new varieties and learnt how they can benefit from growing them. First, some farmers in Sughd Region reported that by growing yellow-rust-resistant varieties they managed to save around 100-120 USD per ha on fungicides (a saving of some 25% on production costs). By not using fungicides farmers can also reduce environmental impact and health hazards as not all farmers are well versed in how to apply chemicals. Second, despite an outbreak of yellow rust in some areas, new varieties were unscathed. What is more, farmers were expecting to get high yields. In Quva District, forecasted yields were as much as 7-8 tons per ha.

These results show great promise as the cultivation of the new, better adapted varieties can significantly increase wheat growers' incomes. More importantly, these varieties will help to remove the need for costly fungicides and protect the environment. The more farmers grow these new varieties, the higher their contributions would be to food security, environmental safety and improved living standards in rural areas in the region.

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