Farmers give back through international service work

Guelph PhD student is compiling valuable information to help wheat breeders in Nepal

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Kamal KhadkaKamal Khadka, a PhD student in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph, is devoting his research to helping improve opportunities for cereal farmers in his home country of Nepal.

Previously, Khadka worked in Nepal “as a plant breeder. I was working on breeding rice and maize,” he told Better Farming.

Khadka had the opportunity to complete his PhD at the University of Guelph and chose to study wheat breeding.

“Wheat is the most important cereal crop in Nepal in terms of both area and production. Still, the productivity of wheat is not very impressive compared to neighbouring countries,” he explained.

Breeding efforts in Nepal occur on a small scale using conventional methods. Because of financial limitations, researchers “have not been able to adopt the advanced molecular technologies,” Khadka added. “So, I decided to do a little bit of advanced work on wheat so that (my research) could contribute to Nepal.”

His studies involved characterizing Nepalese wheat germplasm, including wild landraces, traditionally cultivated varieties, and advanced breeding lines provided by CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

“It’s a very diverse population,” he said. “I have characterized the Nepalese wheat population both by phenotyping and genotyping.” Through these methods, he’s investigated both the physical traits and molecular characteristics of the varieties.

Khadka has assessed wheat phenotypes through field trials in both Canada and Nepal, collaborating with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council’s National Wheat Research Program.

wheat testing in a lab
    Kamal Khadka photo

Through this work, he has characterized landraces so they can be used in breeding programs to improve the productivity of wheat in Nepal.

“I have also characterized the population for traits like seedling vigour,” Khadka said. This trait improves wheat’s early-season drought resistance. As drought conditions become more prevalent in South Asia, this trait increases in importance.

“I’ve also tried to see if there are any marker traits driving good yields,” he added.

His data collection assists anyone working on breeding wheat for Nepal, and will eventually lead to the creation of more resilient and productive varieties.

“What I’m doing here is going to help get some new information to Nepalese wheat breeders, or wheat breeders all over the world. … (My research) gives a start,” Khadka said.

“If it can be utilized properly, then definitely it’s going to benefit the farmers.” BF

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