in Detail

ICARDA’s durum and bread wheat breeding programs make extensive use of wild relatives to develop elite germplasm well adapted to the drastic and frequent droughts that affect the region in which ICARDA operates. In the last  10  years alone, more than 60  ICARDA-originated  bread wheat varieties have been released across  the  Central and West Asia, and  North Africa (CWANA) region, and sub-Saharan Africa by national programs in these regions. 

Significant  2020  developments in our work on wheat were:

Improving food security in the Arab region

As well as our work on the Arab Peninsula Regional Program (see highlights), ICARDA works across Arab countries on the  Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries  project to improve food security in the region. Headed by Dr. Habib Halila, phase III of the project is funded by the Arab Fund for Economic & Social Development and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). The project helps to improve food security and the growth of the agricultural sector by improving wheat production and training young  scientists and national  agricultural  support staff.

As part of its third phase, the project continued to build on the results achieved during the previous phases, by verifying and fine-tuning recommended technology packages (wheat and food legume cultivars, agronomic and water management technologies). Working in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, the project expanded the number of pilot sites to other agro-ecologies thereby out-scaling the technologies to more end-users and strengthening the capacity of national research and extension systems to promote the technologies for wider adoption.

In the 2020 season, the project implemented activities in 28 pilot areas distributed in the participating countries. These pilot sites represent the wheat-based production systems followed by farmers in the concerned countries. The project implemented more than 1,100 demonstrations in farmers’ fields covering various improved technologies for wheat and legumes production. The results of the demonstrations showed that improved production technologies can lead to an increase in wheat yield varying from 15 to 97% depending on the country and the production systems. The average increase across all countries was 30% and the maximum average increase was 69%, indicating that higher potential and greater room exist for further improvement in wheat yield in all countries

Concerning the project’s capacity-building activities, these were affected during the 2020 season by COVID-19 due to confinement and shutdowns. However, the National Agricultural Research Systems’  partners stepped up their efforts in implementing the planned capacity-building activities, while taking obligatory safety measures into account. Due to these efforts, more than 5,800 farmers benefited from field days and farmers’ field schools in the project countries.

Technologies for African  Agricultural Transformation  (TAAT)  in Sudan and Ethiopia

The ICARDA-coordinated  Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT)  wheat compact project,  funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB),  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture  (IITA), and  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  (BMGF),  continued  to   significantly  strengthen production capacity and seed systems  across  Africa, including  in  ICARDA-led programs in  Ethiopia and Sudan.

Led by ICARDA’s Dr. Zewdie Bishaw,  collectively about  80,191 tons 670 t  basic seed; 77,150 t  certified seed, and 2,367 t  of  Quality Declared Seed) were produced in six target countries, which is sufficient to plant around 1 million ha.

In 2020 Sudan’s bumper harvest produced 1.15 million tons of wheat and ICARDA and its partners are working to improve the sustainability of wheat production with proper input management and diversified rotations. In 2020/21,  Sudan reached 375,000 ha with expected productivity  of  3.6 tons ha-1  and production of 1.35 million tons – a wheat area expansion of 87%, productivity increase of 26%, and production increase of 135%, respectively,  from  a  2017/18 cropping season baseline. Similarly,  Ethiopia continued expansion of irrigated wheat production  (180,000 ha)  in  Amhara  and  Oromia  States spearheaded  by the  government.  The average productivity of irrigated wheat is 4.4 tons ha-1, 50% higher than rain-fed wheat.  As a result of its irrigated wheat land area expansion, Ethiopia is now harvesting  an  additional 0.8 million tons of wheat,  accounting for 52% of the imported wheat of 1.7 million tons.

Disease identification in Maize and Wheat

Funded by CIMMYT,  ICARDA’s team headed by  Dr. Kumarse  Nazari, supported identification for the first time in Turkey, and Tunisia, by the  Regional Cereal Rust Research Center (RCRRC),  of  stem rust races TKTTP and TKKTP that are virulent even on rust-resistant wheat cultivar  Sr24.  The stem rust Ug99 race “TTKTT” was identified from Ethiopia and Iraq by RCRRC for the first time. This first report of TTKTT in Iraq represents only the third instance of a member of the Ug99 race group outside of Africa since the first detection of race TTKSK in Yemen in 2006, and Iran in 2007.

 It is likely that most of the wheat cultivars and breeding germplasms in CWANA are protected from wheat stem rust by the presence of stem rust genes  SrTmp,  Sr24  and  Sr31. If the environmental conditions favor the spread of these races, they may cause a significant threat to wheat production. A new yellow rust race with a combination of virulence for  Yr10  and  Yr24  was also identified in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria  by the  RCRRC. Preliminary research shows that previously resistant durum wheat is particularly susceptible to this new variant. Resistant sources of durum germplasms within ICARDA’s and CIMMYT’s trials and durum wheat land races from ICARDA genebank  are available.

Climate Smart wheat for fragile countries and territories

Funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development,  ICARDA, led by Dr.  Nigamananda  Swain,  and the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA)  continued to support fragile countries and territories by  releasing  three new drought-resistant  wheat varieties in Afghanistan  to help overcome the increasing  threat of recurring droughts in the country  and help  rehabilitate the agricultural sector.  The new varieties were developed and field-tested through ICARDA’s and ARIA’s intensive research program under the  Community Livestock and Agriculture Project (CLAP)   of the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan.  These new varieties  are producing optimum yields in water-scarce environments and showing excellent performance under supplementary irrigation conditions.  The  varieties are also resistant to yellow rust disease,  which causes significant yield loss in the region. 

Durum wheat in Senegal

Funded by the Swedish Research Council and  CIMMYT, and headed by Dr. Filippo  Bassi, the  Senegal River Basin Initiative  uses  non-genetically modified  molecular breeding techniques to develop a set of durum wheat varieties that can withstand up to 40°C heat along the  Senegal River basin.

In 2020,  the area cultivated with durum wheat along the Senegal River exceeded 8,000 ha benefitting some 50,000 farmers, and seeds of the varieties identified in Senegal were provided to farmers associations and  non-governmental organizations in, Benin,  Cameroon,  Chad,  Gambia,  Ghana,  Ivory Coast,  Kenya  Mali,  Nigeria,  Somalia,  South Africa, Togo, and Zambia. In  Ghana  and  Nigeria, local government support is quickly pushing  durum  cultivation, with several farmers already adopting the technology.


ZAR3i, a project led by ICARDA’s Dr. Rachid  Moussadek, funded by one of the largest mills in Morocco (Forafric) and supported by CIMMYT,  aims to improve cereal quality and productivity by offering farmers the right choice of varieties adapted to different production areas. The project improves the grain quality of 200,000 tons of bread and 50,000 tons of durum wheat being produced under rain-fed conditions in Morocco to reduce grain imports. The project will help in developing a digital platform, with  the  support of  a  private  Portuguese  and  Moroccan  company (named  Deepface) for cereals that will help to set up incentives for grain quality in  Morocco.

In 2020, in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), local varieties were tested under different agroclimatic conditions and with different management (conventional tillage and no-tillage). Quality analyses were carried out at INRA and ICARDA’s technical laboratories.

Trials were increased at INRA/ICARDA experimental stations and farm sites in Meknes,  Zaer, and  Chaouia  to assess drought-tolerant wheat varieties tested during this cropping season. The result of the effect of crop management, such as Conservation Agriculture, on yield, was obtained, the preliminary study on the grain quality was implemented, and promising local wheat germplasm was identified and multiplied in an irrigated area to secure the germplasm material to be tested next season with selected farmers.

Bread wheat in Morocco

The  ICARDA  bread wheat breeding program,  headed by  Dr.  Tadesse Degu,  applies  classical  and molecular breeding tools with a modified shuttle and speed breeding scheme,  which enables the completion of the whole breeding cycle in an average of four years. In 2020,  the elite high-yielding and drought tolerant wheat genotypes from  ICARDA’s  bread wheat breeding program showed 50% yield levels higher than the commonly grown wheat cultivars in  Morocco.  Furthermore, using molecular markers and inter-country shuttle and hotspot screening, ICARDA developed yellow rust-resistant, high  yielding bread wheat genotypes distributed to NARS  in the CWANA and  sub-Saharan Africa  regions from which, in the last  seven  years alone, more than 60 varieties of ICARDA-origin have been released.

New lines of all our wheat crops aligned to product lines can be found in  ICARDA’s International Nurseries.

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