Six new improved wheat varieties released in Nepal

By Laxman Datt Pant

Six new improved wheat varieties released in Nepal

Offering increased production for Nepal’s almost one million wheat farmers and boosting nutrition for its 28 million wheat consumers, on December 11 the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) announced the release of six new wheat varieties for multiplication and distribution to the country’s wheat farmers. Of these, five high-zinc, bio-fortified varieties were developed through conventional crop breeding by crossing modern high yielding wheat with high zinc progenitors such as landraces, spelt wheat, and emmer wheat.

The varieties have been derived from materials developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and include five that have been bred for elevated levels of the crucial micronutrient zinc. The sixth variety, Borlaug 2020, is of a strain that is well known to be high yielding, drought and heat resilient and resistant to wheat blast as well as being high in zinc.

NARC Executive Director Deepak Bhandari said that this was an impressive achievement by the NARC breeders and technicians during the time of COVID-19 related challenges and restrictions. Releasing six new varieties at the same time was historic news for Nepal, commented CIMMYT Asia Regional Representative and Principal Scientist, Arun Joshi. Commenting that the number of new varieties and the record release time was amazing, he added, “We now have varieties that will help Nepal’s farmers well into the future.”

Acknowledging that this had been a joint effort by many scientists, Roshan Basnet, Head of the National Wheat Research Program based in Bhairahawa of Nepal, said, “Scientists played a critical role in generating proper data, and making a strong case for these varieties to the release committee.” Similarly, Dhruba Thapa, Head of Wheat Breeding at NARC’s National Plant Breeding and Genetic Research Center, commented, “We are very glad that our hard work has paid off for our country’s farmers.” CIMMYT Head of Wheat Improvement, Ravi Singh, thanked the NARC partners for collecting the data in the first year that then reduced the time it took to release these new varieties.

Bearing in mind that zinc deficiency is a serious problem in Nepal, with 21% of children having been found to be zinc deficient in 2016, CIMMYT Senior Scientist and wheat breeder, Velu Govindan, said, “Biofortification of staple crops such as wheat is a proven method to help reverse and prevent this deficiency, especially for those without access to a more diverse diet.”

The varieties are said to have been tailored to meet a range of conditions for wheat-growing regions in the country from the hotter lowland regions to the irrigated as well as dryer mid- and high-elevation areas to avoid problems such as wheat rust diseases and wheat blast. Meanwhile, NARC has already started the process of seed breeding and conducting participatory varietal selection trials with farmers so they can benefit from production from these seeds.

  • Although Nepal produces 1.96 million tons of wheat on more than 750,000 hectares, most wheat farmers are mainly smallholders with holdings of less than 1 hectare who have limited access to inputs or mechanization.
  • Most of the popular wheat varieties grown in the country have become vulnerable to new strains of wheat rust disease.
  • The new varieties, namely Zinc Gahun 1, Zinc Gahun 2, Bheri-Ganga, Himganga, Khumal-Shakti, and Borlaug 2020, were bred and tested using a “fast-track” approach, with CIMMYT and NARC scientists moving material from trials in CIMMYT’s research station in Mexico to multiple locations in Nepal and other Target Population of Environments (TPEs) for testing.
  • Borlaug 2020 is equivalent to Borlaug 100, a highly prized variety released in 2014 in Mexico to commemorate the centennial year of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.

Growing since time immemorial in lowland region, river basins, mid-hills, and the high hills of Nepal during the winter season, wheat is one of the main cereal crops after rice and maize. Wheat ranks third in the hills and mountains and second in the lowland regions of Nepal in terms of human consumption.

The CIMMYT breeding program of bio-fortified varieties was funded by HarvestPlus. Variety release and seed breeding activities in Nepal were carried out in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank’s Natural Resources Principal and Agriculture Specialist, Michiko Katagami. NARC is an autonomous organization engaged in agricultural research in the country to improve the economic status of the people.