wheat; biocontrol

Heat-resistant wheat to help West African farmers beat climate change

The International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has developed a set of heat-resistant durum wheat varieties that can withstand up to 40°C and help farmers in Senegal River Basin of West Africa adapt to climate change-induced droughts.

In a scientific paper released early this month, ICARDA said its scientists used non-genetically modified molecular breeding techniques to develop durum wheat varieties adapted to the extreme temperatures of the Senegal River Basin.

“ICARDA scientists developed super-early and heat-tolerant durum wheat cultivars and tested them in the land left fallow by rice farmers during winter months – from December to March – in the Senegal River Basin. The ICARDA varieties, identified after 3 years of multi-location testing, also grow fast, so farmers can produce them during the fallow period between rice cultivation.

“When tested in the Senegal River Valley, the new wheat varieties yielded over 3 tons per hectare in just 90 days. If scaled up, the varieties could yield up to 600 000 tons of new food, or an estimated €180 million in additional revenue for smallholder farmers without affecting rice production,” the researchers said.

If scaled up, the technology offers high potential to fight hunger in the region by helping farmers adapt to rising temperatures. The Senegal River provides water to 200 000 hectares of land, stretching to Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania and Mali.

Farmers in the region primarily cultivate rice between April and November, leaving the land to sit fallow during the 4 months of December, January, February and March.

ICARDA said its “open access policy” of sharing germplasm with developing countries could help by quickly availing the free-cost technology to farmers in other dry areas of West Africa.

The ICARDA research project entitled “Deployment of Molecular Durum Breeding to the Senegal Basin: Capacity Building to Face Global Warming” won the 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security.

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