Biotechnology lab at Santa Catalina, Ecuador

Biotechnology lab at Santa Catalina, Ecuador

Image by CIMMYT
Esteban Falconí (right), cereals program leader for Ecuador’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIAP), at work in a new biotechnology lab established at INIAP’s Santa Catalina Experiment Station, not far from the city of Quito, Ecuador.

Until 2008, wheat research in Ecuador was in decline, as was wheat cultivation, thanks to cheap imports. While other staples were relatively unaffected, the global food price crisis of 2008 revealed this hole in the country’s food security. When wheat prices spiked, Ecuador’s government cushioned the blow by temporarily subsidizing imported wheat at great cost. Its long-term response was to institute a vigorous program to revitalize the nation’s wheat production. Working with INIAP, the government set out realistic goals and provided about USD 4.3 million over 5 years for intensified wheat research and promotion.

The central aim of the new initiative is to expand Ecuador’s wheat area to about 50,000 hectares, enough to satisfy at least 30% of domestic demand, up from 3%. Less than two years after the 2008 decision, INIAP was already releasing improved varieties, the first in Ecuador since the early 1990s, including Vivar for southern Ecuador and San Jacinto for the country’s central and northern zones, both based on CIMMYT materials.

INIAP was able to release Vivar and San Jacinto so soon after the start of the initiative for two reasons. One was the government’s decision to thoroughly refurbish INIAP’s research infrastructure as well as to hire and train dozens more scientists and technicians. Equally crucial was CIMMYT’s unswerving support for local wheat research even during its time of relative dormancy in Ecuador. If that service had ceased, INIAP’s new wheat team would have been forced to start essentially from scratch, adding many years to the process of variety development.

Photo credit: Nathan Russell/CIMMYT.

For more information, see CIMMYT’s 2010 e-news story "Ecuador’s wheat awakening," available online at:….

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