Wheat production in sub-Saharan Africa has a bright future, according to the results of a research for development partnership that targets the more efficient production of strategic crops. The fast-track multiplication of improved seed is generating record harvests and convincing a growing number of farmers through demonstrations and field days, many forced to confront an increasingly harsh environment characterized by rising temperatures and increasing water scarcity.
The Project, Support to Agricultural Research for Development on Strategic Commodities in Africa (SARD-SC), funded by the African Development Bank, is working across 11 countries. ICARDA leads the initiative’s wheat component.
Over recent months significant success has been recorded. In Sudan, heat-tolerant wheat varieties developed by ICARDA and national partners at six innovation platforms (IPs) are achieving 4-6 tons/hectare (t/ha) in heat-prone areas, a significant improvement on traditional varieties. The IPs have proved a highly successful means of strengthening interactions between researchers, extension personnel, and farmers. Some 18 field days have been held this year, visited by over 3000 farmers.
In Nigeria, ICARDA is supporting a government initiative to expand the amount of land devoted to wheat production over the coming five years – from 70,000 to over 300,000 ha. Wheat varieties, developed in Sudan and delivered to Nigerian farmers in the country’s parched northern region, are generating an average 6 t/ha, significantly higher than traditional varieties which are prone to disease and barely reach 1-2 t/ha.
This impressive performance has convinced Nigerian decision makers that a viable solution to their country’s growing dependence on wheat imports is domestic production – a policy shift that will protect Nigerians from the vagaries of global commodity markets and strengthen national food security, in addition to significant money savings that would otherwise be spent on wheat imports. Nigeria currently imports four million tons of wheat, spending $4 billion on the commodity every year – a figure expected to reach $10 billion by 2030.
Elsewhere, varieties released in Ethiopia have achieved yields of between 3 and 4.5 t/ha, and three elite breeding lines have been identified for possible release. Training events targeting national researchers have also been delivered in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, focused on integrated research for development through innovation platforms, and accelerated seed production and variety maintenance of newly improved cultivars.
These successes were shared at the Project’s Annual Review and Planning Meeting, recently held in Khartoum, which brought together participants from seven countries to review progress and plan activities for the forthcoming year. Moving forward, plans are targeting three main project components: the generation of innovations and technologies, the dissemination and out-scaling of innovations and technologies, and capacity development. Emphasis was also placed on the further establishment of IPs in participating countries, widely acknowledged as the most effective way of testing, validating, and disseminating new technologies.