Heat-tolerant wheat varieties are transforming wheat production in Sudan. Introduced alongside an integrated package of innovative technologies and practices, the varieties are generating stable yields of up to six tons per hectare. The result: higher farmer productivity and incomes, and reduced dependence on costly food imports.
Temperatures in Sudan often exceed 41 degrees Celsius (°C), an intense heat that negatively affects crop performance and limits yields – the national yield average for wheat is only two tons per hectare (t/ha), and can often be much lower. Predictions suggest that climate change will make this situation worse, and there are signs that conditions are already becoming harsher – last year, only eleven successive cold days were recorded (calculated at 12-18 °C).
In an effort to maintain production in the face of this challenge, and extend the benefits of the new varieties to farmers across Sudan and beyond, ICARDA and its partners recently held field days in the country’s Gezira region. The events provided an opportunity to bring together farmers, scientists, extension agents, and policymakers to discuss wheat production and see first-hand the higher yields generated by the improved varieties.
The event in Gezira hosted a number of high-profile Sudanese decision makers who also used the opportunity to sign an MoU with ICARDA on the establishment of a heat-tolerant thematic research location, part of the Center’s on-going decentralization. The dignitaries included: Vice President H. E. Hassabo Mohamed Abderahman; H. E. Federal Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Eng. Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid; and the Director General of Sudan’s Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), Prof. Ibrahim Adam Eldukheri.
ICARDA was represented by Dr. Mahmoud Solh, the Center’s Director General; Dr. Kamel Shideed, Assistant Director General for International Cooperation; and Dr. Marwan Owaygen, Regional Director for ICARDA’s Nile Valley and Read Sea Regional Program.
The field days in Gezira were part of an initiative funded by the African Development Bank, which is promoting wheat production across eleven countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Support to Agricultural Research for the Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC). The initiative is promoting a strategic agenda of food security and self-sufficiency for the continent, addressing the continent’s growing dependence on food imports. SARD-SC is also part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, led by ICARDA.
Policymakers are already responding positively to the initiative’s development of improved wheat varieties. The new wheat varieties are a crucial component of Sudan’s ‘agricultural transformation strategy’ for wheat: the area devoted to the growth of this strategic crop is expected to increase from 300,000 hectares (ha) to one million ha over the coming three years.
The strategy will help protect Sudan’s growing population from the vagaries of global commodity markets - the country currently produces only 30 percent of the wheat it consumes and imports some 1.5 million tons of wheat each year.
Approximately 3000 Sudanese farmers have already received seed, but improved seed is not the only option being promoted: an integrated, ‘systems’ approach means that the varieties are being promoted alongside a package of interventions – including optimal land preparation and sowing rates; integrated pest management; and more efficient irrigation.