A new project in Ethiopia aims to improve the livelihoods of wheat farmers by encouraging the development and multiplication of high-yielding, rust-resistant bread and durum wheat varieties.
High quality seed is the key entry point for elevating farmer productivity in Ethiopia. As Norman Borlaug, the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate and wheat breeder who worked for many years with the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) wrote: “Rust never sleeps.”
Stem, leaf and yellow rusts choke nutrients and devastate wheat crops without recognition of political boundaries, making it essential that global action is taken to control all virulent strains of these devastating diseases to ensure food security.
At a recent workshop hosted by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) in the capital, Addis Ababa, 150 participants from 24 organizations discussed the project, which builds upon the successes of a previous EIAR and International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The purpose of the March workshop titled “Seed Multiplication and Delivery of High-Yielding Rust-Resistant Bread and Durum Wheat Varieties to Ethiopian Farmers,” was to launch the three-year seed project, which has a budget of $4.75 million, and enrich the involvement stakeholders and key partners.
Aims include enhancing rust disease surveillance, early warning and phenotyping; fast-track variety testing and pre-release seed multiplication; accelerating seed multiplication of durable rust-resistant wheat varieties; demonstrating and scaling up improved wheat varieties; and improving the linkages between small-scale durum wheat producers and agro-industries.
In order to achieve these goals EIAR, CIMMYT and the University of Minnesota will implement project activities in collaboration with other key Ethiopian stakeholders, including agricultural research centers, public and private seed enterprises, the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, the Ethio-Italian Development Cooperation “Agricultural Value Chains Project in Oromia” and the Ethiopia Seed Producers Association.
The project covers 51 districts in four major wheat-growing regions of Ethiopia. Milestones will be marked by measurable markers, including when 164, 000 households (HHs) directly access the new technology; more than 2 million HHs benefit from indirect access to high-yielding rust resistant cultivars; wheat yield increases by 25 percent for farmers with access to rust-resistant seed varieties; about 5,000 agricultural experts, development agents, seed producers and model farmers are trained; wheat cultivars with durable rust resistance to current rust threats are planted on more than 50 percent of wheat areas; an increased number of seed growers and associations participate in accelerated seed multiplication; and increased participation of women farmers are leading accelerated seed multiplication and scaling up activities.
All partners will be involved in close monitoring and working groups related to the projects.
At the workshop, a key topic was emphasizing to farmers that they must avoid susceptible rust suckers as they are pumping more spores on cultivars under production, which is one reason for the recurrent epidemics of wheat rusts and break down of resistant genes.
Delegates also engaged in discussions on the importance of cropping systems and variety diversifications. Fruitful deliberations and interactions occurred and important feedback was captured for project implementation and to ensure successful results.
A previous workshop on the surveillance, early warning and phenotyping component of the project was held at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in Minnesota.
Bekele Abeyo is a senior scientist at CIMMYT based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He will lead the seed improvement project.