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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.