Wheat improvement programs in Central Asia have made notable advances in recent years. This is thanks to, in part, continued joint work between national and international research institutions. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) collaborate with national partners on wheat improvement. Several new varieties have been released in the region as a result. And a few are on the way. Most recently, researchers identified two winter wheat lines tolerant of medium-level soil salinity and frost in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
While research is making progress, practice in the field still lags behind. Farmers usually lack either knowledge about improved varieties and technologies or do not have access to seeds of the improved varieties. But sometimes they have neither. This means that scientists need to engage more with farmers and train young agronomists who can really help farmers.
First, scientists are now doing more to promote their research findings among farmers and to keep them up to date with best practices. More and more farms are also becoming testing grounds for new technologies and varieties. These farms often serve as examples of the advantages of improved varieties at events like Farmers' Field Days. For instance, ICARDA organized a series of such events in May and early June 2014. Two, held in Chimbay district, Karakalpakstan, and Urgench, Khorezm Region of Uzbekistan, aimed to demonstrate the performance of winter wheat varieties tolerant of frost and salinity. These brought together around 100 participants, including men and women farmers, young researchers, seed producers, and policy makers from the local administrations. Another two were arranged in Fergana, Uzbekistan, and Sughd Region, Tajikistan, to show the performance of yellow rust resistant, high-yielding winter wheat varieties. Some 70 people, including many women farmers, attended both events.
Second, scientists also offer more training to young researchers and farmers. For example, training courses on quality wheat seed production were held in Fergana, Nukus and Urgench from 5 to 9 August 2014, with more than 200 people. It is estimated that quality seeds of improved varieties can increase yields by as much as 20-25 per cent. And wheat farmers in Uzbekistan are widely involved in producing quality wheat seed. So the objectives of the training courses were to make wheat seed-producing farmers aware of different considerations in production of high-quality wheat seed and to help them understand different agronomic practices to be followed in this process. As it turned out, not all farmers know that growing wheat for grain and seed requires different agro-technologies. Many farmers acknowledged that they use the same technologies for grain and seed production. A different training course on scientific management of field experiments brought together 22 young researchers from 12 national institutions in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 3-6 September 2014. The objective was to introduce young researchers to principles and practices of designing, managing and collecting data on field crop experiments.
Lastly, researchers also meet to share their research findings with colleagues from other countries. For example, the 14th International Meeting of the Kazakhstan-Siberian Network on Wheat Improvement (KASIB) was held on 4-6 August, 2014, at the Siberian Research Institute of Crop Production and Breeding in Novosibirsk, Russia. The meeting was attended by some 40 Russian and Kazakh scientists from more than 20 different institutions. KASIB was established by CIMMYT in 2000, and currently unites 19 breeding programs of Kazakhstan, Western Siberia, Ural, Altai, and Volga regions, covering a territory of more than 20 million ha of spring wheat. The main goal of KASIB is to increase efficiency and speed up the process of wheat breeding through active exchange of the best breeding materials and their coordinated evaluation and testing. In particular, the meeting discussed ways of improving wheat resistance to rust diseases and grain quality through effective collaboration. Drought tolerance, climate change and further KASIB network improvement aspects were also on the agenda.
These knowledge-sharing efforts are expected to contribute to getting the research results into the field. Researchers are willing to share. And as experience shows, farmers are keen to learn. Now they need to put what they already know into practice.