20 Sep 2017

A subtropical breeding legacy

It was a perfect coincidence that when brassica breeding specialist, Wahiduz Zaman moved with his family to Australia in 2006 that Rijk Zwaan was considering a subtropical breeding program.

In just over 10 years, Zaman has created a legacy that will not only benefit cauliflower production for Australians but also the populations living on the Indian subcontinent when he retires from Rijk Zwaan this year.

Born and raised in Bangladesh, Zaman undertook his PhD in genetics and plant breeding in Sweden while working in oil seed brassica breeding at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).

His role at BARI lasted 25 years and subsequently Zaman headed up the Bangladeshi research department for the tropical vegetable seed company East-West Seeds for six years.

“I was looking for a job in Australia and thought of Rijk Zwaan because it’s a good company and maybe my experience would be suitable,” Zaman said.

Traditionally a temperate breeding company, Rijk Zwaan was looking to develop its subtropical breeding with new efforts at the Gatton station, 80 kilometres west of Brisbane

“It was a very good coincidence,” Zaman said.

Gatton has a similar climate to parts of India and as a Selector for Rijk Zwaan, Zaman not only looked at finished varieties but is responsible for selecting parent lines. He has successfully laid the foundations for a gherkin and subtropical cauliflower breeding program.

“In the gherkin program I was assessing hybrids together with the Dutch breeder Kees van der Maas in Gatton during the European off season. Some went on to perform very well in India,” Zaman said.

“It was a huge program and I was screening around 500 different hybrids every year!”

With regards to the cauliflower program, Zaman is feeling optimistic about producing varieties for the Indian subcontinent.

“Our parent lines are ready, and we are multiplying seed this year for the first potential hybrids to test in the market,” he said.

“Cauliflower varieties bred for the temperate climate are usually ready to harvest 90-100 days after transplanting. Contrary the subtropical varieties will be ready to harvest within 60-70 days after transplanting. They don’t require much low temperature for head induction.”

Rijk Zwaan supported Zaman to explore his passion in canola breeding as a side project.

Through interspecies hybridization Zaman has developed short day, photoinsensitive canola (B. napus) for adaptation in Bangladesh which can mature within 85-100 days after sowing and yields 30-50 percent more over traditional Brassica rapa 4. This will help increase oilseeds production not only in Bangladesh, but also in whole subcontinent. In order to adapt to changing climatic conditions, an Australian seed company is using his (photoinsensitive and early) material to change Australian canola varieties.

“I’m very obliged to Rijk Zwaan especially to Arie Baelde for allowing me to keep this personal interest and develop my program of creating canola varieties to the benefit of Bangladeshi farmers,” he said.

Zaman is currently working with international colleagues to establish a collaboration with Bangladeshi public research institutes for the exchange and maintenance of germplasm. Such a project will provide long-term benefits to both Bangladesh and Rijk Zwaan. Zaman’s contacts at these institutes are vital for a successful collaboration.

After retiring Zaman will travel back and forth between Bangladesh and Brisbane and keep a watchful eye over his work in Australia.

While Zaman said he will miss working for a “nice and humanistic company”, he is most looking forward the sharing the work of Rijk Zwaan back home.

“Rijk Zwaan takes good care of its people,” Zaman said.

“I also would like to introduce Rijk Zwaan material in Bangladesh so the people can benefit from its quality,” he said.

R&D Director, Arie Baelde has worked with Zaman over the past 10 years.

“Zaman is idealistic and positive; both these commodities are needed in spades to tackle Bangladesh’s problems such as poverty, malnutrition, import dependency and environmental degradation,” Arie said.

“Through his breeding work, Zaman has made a lasting contribution to the people of Bangladesh.”