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A Grain of Hope Will Save the World! - Repatriating wheat from Japan to Afghanistan after more than half a century -

Exploiting the Potential of Wheat to Avert Food Crises!

Wheat germplasm once more taking root and beginning to sprout in Afghan soil. With the support and cooperation of numerous people, wheat germplasms have returned to Afghan soil for the first time in more than half a century and firmly taken root. This is a valuable genetic resource that will underpin future food production in Afghanistan.

World population growth and climate change on a planetary scale have exacerbated the risk of food crises. It is essential that science and technology be employed to double grain production over the next 50 years to avert these crises. This project focuses on wheat, a grain that accounts for 25% of calories consumed in developing countries, and seeks to utilize the characteristics of wheat native to Afghanistan to develop varieties of wheat resilient to aridity and disease. Developing varieties able to grow robustly even in Afghanistan, a land where sustained and reliable grain production is very difficult, will likely help promote greater food security on a global level.

Professor BAN TomohiroPrincipal investigator (Japan): Professor BAN Tomohiro Kihara Institute for Biological Research, Yokohama City University

After earning his master's at Gifu University's Graduate School of Agriculture, he served as a research fellow at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' National Agricultural Research Center, as a research fellow at the Kyushu Agricultural Experiment Station, and as chief researcher at the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences before obtaining his doctorate in agricultural sciences in 2000 and subsequently assuming his present position.

Mr. Abdul Ghani GhurianiPrincipal investigator (Afghanistan): Mr. Abdul Ghani GhurianiDeputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Afghanistan

After graduating from Kabul University in 1989, he served in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock as Director of Forest Improvements, Deputy Director of the Natural Resource Management Directorate, and Director General of the Policy and Planning Directorate before assuming his present position in 2010.


Japan perspective

Avert the risk of food crises!
World population growth and climate change on a global scale have given rise to concerns about food crises and surging commodity prices on international markets.
We hope to alleviate the risk of future food crises by developing robust, high-quality wheat varieties in a joint project with Afghanistan.


Afghanistan perspective

Stabilize food supply and rebuild Afghanistan!
Wheat has become one of the most important agricultural commodities in Afghanistan, a country in upheaval ever since the 1979 Soviet invasion, but not enough wheat is presently being produced to meet demand.
Given the harsh natural conditions and the social context of ongoing reconstruction, we will strive to enrich people's lives by doubling wheat production from the present two tons per hectare to four tons per hectare and stabilizing food supply.

Project Summary

Project interview

What inspired you to undertake this project?

Kyoto University Karakoram Hindu Kush expeditionary partyKyoto University Karakoram Hindu Kush Expedition led by Dr. Hitoshi Kihara carrying out the first comprehensive post-war scientific survey. In this 1955 search for the ancestor of bread wheat, the germplasms of wheat varieties native to Afghanistan and related wild varieties were collected.There was actually a JICA reconstruction project begun in 2004 at a national experimental station in Afghanistan. Wheat samples brought back to Japan about 60 years ago from a scientific survey in Afghanistan by Dr. Hitoshi Kihara, a biologist at Yokohama City University, have been carefully preserved, and this inspired us to think that we might be able to find a use for these wheat varieties. We thus began this project in 2010, building on these much earlier research results and ideas.

What is the present food situation in Afghanistan?

Wheat harvest sceneryScene from wheat harvest in Kapisa Province (adjacent to Kabul); the photo shows a tall native variety in use. Straw is such a valuable byproduct in rural Afghanistan ? for cattle feed and construction material, among other uses ? that in some places it is traded at the same price as the grain.The yield of wheat, Afghanistan’s staple food, is about half the target figure. Four tons per hectare would be ideal, but water, soil, and climate issues have kept the yield at about two tons. Supplemental wheat supplies to make up for shortfalls as well as seeds for sowing are imported from neighboring countries, and Afghanistan faces absolute shortages in volume as well as inadequacies in the stability and continuity of supply. Food security is also livelihood security, making it a serious issue indeed.

What was the greatest difficulty in repatriating wheat to Afghanistan?

The international rules applicable to cross-border transport of varieties have become stricter. Risk management procedures to protect against disease from new varieties being brought in and a system for allocating intellectual property rights for these varieties in a way that allows everyone to use them have not been fully put into place, and we hope to see steady progress made in developing a system of rules through human resource development.

What are the benefits of joint development by Japan and Afghanistan?

Afghanistan's protracted civil war created a long "blank period" during which skills in cultivating wheat varieties and information on the numbers of Afghanistan's wheat germplasms were not passed on. We would like to use Japan's science and technology and our own human resources development plan to fill in this blank period and enable Afghans themselves to develop new wheat varieties suited to environmental conditions in Afghanistan. The new scientific knowledge that the Japanese participants might gain through making on-site assessments of the characteristics of the Afghan wheat preserved at the Kihara Institute and those of the wheat being newly developed by SATREPS could assist future wheat development efforts in Japan. The project expects via mutual cooperation to achieve results that will help stabilize food supply, and providing Afghanistan with reconstruction assistance through a new means ? scientific and technological diplomacy ? would prove another major benefit.

What does the future hold for this project?

Personal safety concerns mean that we are not able to enter Afghanistan frequently to carry out joint research and human resources development, so we must give concrete thought to what steps can be taken to achieve results in future that do not require our on-the-ground presence. For instance, we are now exploring the possibility of setting up a training course for Afghan personnel in some third country featuring environmental diversity similar to that of Afghanistan that is ahead of Afghanistan in developing wheat varieties. Just as Dr. Hitoshi Kihara served as a bridge for science between post-war Japan and the rest of the world in sparking a green revolution, our plan is to strive through our activities to launch a second green revolution.

Buss to whom Japanese was written A familiar daily sight. Vehicles once driven in Japan have now made their way to Afghanistan. The Japanese-language markings identify genuine Japanese vehicles, a true treasure for local residents.Numerous Japanese vehicles with Japanese markings can be seen on Afghanistan’s roads, and local residents reportedly regard Japanese markings as a sign of a high-quality vehicle. What a happy thought!

Comments from an intern

Ikumi Sugie My name is Ikumi Sugie, and I worked on the Afghanistan project.

This project was the one with which I was most deeply involved after becoming an intern, so I was very pleased to be allowed to write an introduction. I remember being moved through a variety of events ? visits to laboratories, interactions with exchange students, participation in citizens' forums and photo exhibitions, etc. ? by the vast extent of the project, linking efforts 60 years ago with those of today, and by the enthusiasm of people engaged in the project. The words of Professor Ban, chief researcher, remain deeply implanted in my mind: "Hunger causes anger. Minor research on wheat will save Afghanistan."

My intern activities gave me a new-found acquaintance with science/technology and international cooperation. I would be very pleased indeed if this article helps readers relate even a little to these global-scale issues.

(Ikumi Sugie, SATREPS Intern)


Project for the Development of Wheat Breeding Materials for Sustainable Food Production Sowing “Seeds of Hope” in Afghanistan, Wheat Seed is Food for Life!


Principal Investigator (Affiliation) Prof. BAN Tomohiro / Kihara Institute for Biological Research, Yokohama City University
Collaborators RIKEN, Tottori University
Adoption fiscal year FY 2010
Research Period 5 Years
ODA Recipient Country Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Counterpart Research Institutions Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), etc

* 'Research Period' indicates the period of collaboration finalized between the research institutes.

Project Details