How Kingbird moved across East Africa

Linda McCandless
Tuesday, August 25, 2015

East Africa: The 2015 release of Kingbird in Ethiopia illustrates the complex pipeline that has evolved under the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) for the development and release of new wheat varieties.

When the BGRI initiated screening for Ug99 resistance at Njoro, Kenya in 2006, two sister selections from a CIMMYT cross — which would later be named Kingbird — showed near-immune levels of resistance to stem rust in field trials despite showing susceptibility in seedlings under greenhouse tests. Kingbird’s ability to remain highly resistant in the field was evident in subsequent years, including the 2008 season when the stem rust epidemic was very severe in farmers’ fields in Njoro.

“Kingbird’s resistance to stem rust was later found to be based on the combination of durable adult plant resistance (APR) gene Sr2 and at least four additional APR loci, one of which corresponds to the cloned durable pleiotropic multi-pathogen resistance locus Lr34/Yr18/Sr57/Pm38/Sb1/Bdv1 known to confer partial resistance to all three rusts, powdery mildew, spot blotch and tolerance to barley-yellow dwarf virus,” said Ravi Singh, senior wheat scientist at CIMMYT, whose team is instrumental in making the initial crosses for most new wheat introductions in the developing world.

“This multi-disease resistance attributes combined with good bread-making quality and good yield performance led to Kingbird’s release in South Africa and Kenya a few years back,” said Singh.

Kingbird resists new Ug99 variant, TKTTF

Kingbird then became one of five entries in trials to evaluate the yield potential of several APR varieties planted at two locations in Ethiopia. Of them, Kingbird was the best performing variety, suffering the least yield loss in these inoculated trials. Based on the above results and the results from other countries and screening nurseries, Kingbird was a logical variety to introduce into Ethiopia after the evolution of the new TKTTF race.

Peter Njau, plant breeder at the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), had Kingbird under seed multiplication at Njoro, and was willing to make five tons of Kingbird seed available to Ethiopia. The BGRI agreed to provide the funds to purchase and transport the seed from Kenya to the Kulumsa Agricultural Research Station in Ethiopia. Njau and Bekele Abeyo, CIMMYT wheat breeder and pathologist for sub-Saharan Africa, assisted with the considerable logistics of importing the seed across the border. It was at this point that USAID, understanding the magnitude of the problem, became involved.

“Realizing the existing rust situation, cultivar performance and new lines of wheat in the pipeline, CIMMYT-Ethiopia provided financial support to the Kulumsa Agricultural Research Station through the ‘Emergency seed support and demonstration of rust resistant wheat varieties in stem rust affected areas of Ethiopia’, funded by USAID,” said Abeyo.

Seed multiplication: a critical step

This support included accelerated early generation seed multiplication of Kingbird on 37 hectares (91 acres) of land. Through this support, CIMMYT locked down an agreement with EIAR to secure the seed of Kingbird for future dissemination and popularization once the variety was officially released. The seed is being used for a new USAID-funded CIMMYT/EIAR wheat seed project for Ethiopia in the coming wheat season.

Dr. Bedada Girma Buta, at the Kulumsa Agricultural Research Station, coordinated the planting, rogueing and harvest of the 37 hectares sown with the five tons of imported seed through Ethiopia’s National Wheat Research Program (NWRP). The NWRP, under Dr. Bedada’s guidance, was also responsible for testing Kingbird at multi-locations and generating convincing data for registration of this APR variety for mid-altitude and lowland wheat areas of Ethiopia.

“Some 80 tons of seed were harvested and distributed to farmers in the appropriate agro-ecological zones for further multiplication and adoption,” said Buta. Depending on seeding rate, he noted that 80 tons of seed could cover approximately 600 hectares (~1483 acres). “Making the Kingbird variety a success is the fruit of institutional and global collaboration in ‘research’ targeting resource-poor farmers of the world as end users of the wheat technology.”

Global coordination and support is key

“The coordinated efforts of individuals, projects, and institutions from initiating the idea of ‘technology shopping,’ and convincing national programs to import seed of new candidate varieties, place them under multiplication and produce 80 tons of seed ready for dissemination at the time of the official release in early May indicates the willingness and team effort of all toward transforming the wheat system in Ethiopia to a more productive and durably resistant system,” said Abeyo.  

The pipeline for the development of varieties like Kingbird has been directed by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell University, acting as the secretariat for the BGRI, since 2008. CIMMYT, the international Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), national agricultural research systems, and 22 other institutions globally assist in the effort. Generous support is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department of International Development (DFID).


VIDEO: CIMMYT wheat breeder Sridhar Bhavani talks about the recently discovered virulence of TKTTF on Robin and Digelu, and the new Kingbird release

#bgri2015: New variants in the Ug99 race group and new races of stem rust will be topics of discussion during the 2015 BGRI Technical Workshop in Sydney, Australia, 17-20 September.   

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