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The Impact of the Green Revolution

Although the Green Revolution's roots were in Mexico, South Asia's abundant wheat harvests were its hallmarks and key milestones in global agricultural development.

Fig. 2.2 Genealogy of early semi-dwarf CIMMYT wheat varieties (University of Minnesota 2012)

In the early 1960s South Asia was facing mass starvation and extreme food insecurity. To combat this challenge, scientists and governments in the region began assessing the value of the Mexican semi-dwarf wheat varieties for their countries. Trials in India and Pakistan were convincing and demonstrated high yields that offered the potential for a dramatic breakthrough in wheat production (CIMMYT 1989).

Borlaug's first visited the region in 1960, when he toured India and Pakistan as part of a team of FAO-Rockefeller Foundation scientists (CIMMYT 1989). Following the visit, Borlaug agreed to provide training for regional wheat scientists and in response Manzoor A. Bajwa became the first Pakistani researcher to arrive in Mexico in 1961. While working alongside Dr. Borlaug and his team in Obregon, M.A. Bajwa identified a medium-to-hard white grain line with a high gluten content that was ideal for making chapatis (flatbread). The new variety also showed promising resistance to rust and powdery mildew. To mark this momentous collaboration, the line was named MexiPak – to indicate that the line selection took place in Mexico by a Pakistani Researcher. In Pakistan, the name MexiPak is synonymous with the successes of the Green Revolution.

Borlaug returned to the region in 1963, at the invitation of a 38-year old Indian wheat cytogeneticist, MS Swaminathan (CIMMYT 1989). Borlaug had sent a few dozen seeds of his high-yielding, disease-resistant semi-dwarf wheat varieties to India to test their resistance to local rust strains. Swaminathan, who like many wheat breeders of the time was interested in testing the semi-dwarf wheat varieties, immediately grasped their potential for Indian agriculture, and wrote Borlaug, inviting him to India. When the unexpected invitation reached him, Borlaug soon boarded a Pan Am Boeing 707 to India.

To accelerate the potential of Borlaug's wheat, in 1967 Pakistan imported about 42,000 t of semi-dwarf varieties from Mexico – including 40,000 t of Indus-66, 1,500 t of MexiPak-65, 200 t of Sonora-64 and 20 t of Inia-66. At the time this was the largest seed purchase in the history of agriculture (CIMMYT 1989).

Wheat yield improvement in both India and Pakistan was unlike anything seen before. In just 4 years between 1963 and 1967, India's wheat harvest doubled to 20 million tons and the nation went from dependence on wheat imports to selfsufficiency. The trend has continued to recent times. In 2012, Indian farmers harvested about 95 million tons of wheat (FAO 2013). A similar effect was experienced in Pakistan. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat production in Pakistan increased from

4.6 million tons to 6.7 million tons (CIMMYT 1989). In 2012, Pakistani farmers harvested over 25 million tons of wheat (FAO 2013).


In spite of these dramatic impacts the world is still facing enormous challenges in wheat production and we must devise new ways to feed a growing population, with less land, less water and under more difficult circumstances than ever. Production must keep up with increasing demands from population growth and changing diets. Extreme weather events, land scarcity, decreasing groundwater supplies, soil degradation, the impact of diseases, pests and weeds, and a decline in yield improvement are challenges facing global wheat food security.

CIMMYT's Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT are working to boost farm-level wheat productivity while fortifying wheat's resistance to important diseases and pests and to enhance its adaption to climate change. To meet these challenges CIMMYT is working with national agricultural institutions and the private sector to help develop and apply all appropriate technologies, including molecular breeding, biotechnology, precision agronomy, conservation agriculture and cellphone-based decision support tools.

CIMMYT is leading a global affiliation of top-flight scientists that aims to increase wheat's genetic yield potential by 50 %. Approaches being pursued include:

1. Improving photosynthesis to increase total biomass.

2. Improving the partitioning of photosynthates and resistance to lodging, while ensuring that extra biomass is translated to greater grain yield.

3. Stabilizing the physiological and molecular improvements which allow for the expression of agronomic traits responsible for raising wheat yield potential.

CIMMYT's Germplasm Bank constitutes an invaluable resource for wheat improvement. In the Bank, CIMMYT holds in trust one of the largest collections of wheat with 137,692 accessions (CIMMYT 2013). It is a Noah's Ark of genetic

resources for two of the planet's most important crops (maize and wheat) and CIMMYT seed is made freely available to researchers, private companies and public sector agricultural institutions around the world. The CIMMYT Germplasm Bank is one of only three gene banks globally to achieve ISO certification (and the first outside of Europe) and the only one that has global breeding programs directly attached.

The SeeD project led by CIMMYT is discovering new genes that will help increase yield and prevent crop losses from climate change or disease. Over onethird of the Bank's maize and wheat accessions (60,000) have been tested for heat and drought tolerance and the genome of more than 40,000 have been characterized. In close collaboration with Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT) and Cornell University, the SeeD project has developed a genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) method for the molecular characterization of wheat varieties. Seed of genotyped plants is then collected and multiplied for subsequent study and use.


In 1935, when Gonjiro Inazuka selected the semi-dwarf that became Norin 10, little did he imagine that semi-dwarf genes would not only revolutionize the world of wheat but that they would help save more than one billion lives from hunger and starvation. His work has also improved food security for millions of resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, Dr. Norman Borlaug said that β€œman can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past.”

Today, CIMMYT is building on Dr. Borlaug's vision and carrying forth groundbreaking wheat research. Through state of the art technologies and sound agronomic practices, wheat production can match demand and contribute significantly to global food security and poverty reduction.

For 50 years CIMMYT has been working to eliminate hunger and poverty. Humanity has the creative potential to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in spite of climate change and rising demand, but we need research investment to empower agricultural systems and farmers. The goal is not simply to avoid another food crisis. The goal is to grow enough food sustainably and efficiently to feed the planet.

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