South Asian region enjoys a strategic position as the largest contiguous wheat producing region grown on over 32 million hectares in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and production of over 102 million tons (FAO, 2017). To optimize the potential of wheat in the region, it is essential to increase productivity through genetic gains, accelerated breeding and introduction of resistant varieties. Over the past decade, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects have significantly impacted wheat production and use of disease resistant varieties through convergence of regional power and synergistic efforts towards wheat improvement.
Leveraging the high regional connectivity and interdependency, the project engaged with national agricultural research systems (NARS) in these countries to shift breeding focus from yield gains to multiple disease resistance, nutrition improvement and abiotic factors in the last decade. The project enabled screening and selection of advanced breeding lines for rust resistance at wheat rust hotspots in Kenya. Research capacity enhancement on advanced breeding, disease scoring techniques and pathogen genomics further brought a radical change in the research systems. Introduction and deployment of pathogen tracking systems and capacity building have led to bring in a sense of vigilance on crop protection among national centers. Establishment of an innovative seed system model in Nepal have enhanced accessibility to quality wheat seed to small holder farmers and improved capacity for wheat seed systems among stakeholders. Today, these efforts have resulted in replacement of older, vulnerable varieties with agronomically superior, disease resistant and climate resilient varieties and enhanced preparedness of national research systems to combat the impact of biotic and abiotic stresses.