Wheat Gets Hot for Sub-Saharan Africa Farmers

March 10, 2015
Published by
ICARDA Communication Team

Heat stress is a major constraint on wheat production in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Sudan, for instance, temperatures often exceed 41 C, an intense heat that limits crop performance and yields - the national yield average for wheat is only 2 tons per hectare (t/ha), and can often be much lower. Climate change is estimated to make this situation even worse.

The innovation of heat-tolerant wheat varieties is providing a breakthrough for African farmers to boost wheat production - despite rising temperatures and increasing water scarcity. Farmers are achieving higher and more stable yields over successive growing seasons, reaping up to 6 t/ha. The impact: higher incomes and more productive livelihoods.

The success also has policy implications: it is convincing countries’ decision-makers that domestic wheat production is a solution to Africa’s growing dependence on wheat imports. Sudan, for instance, currently produces only 30% of the wheat it consumes and imports some 1.5 million tons of wheat each year. Likewise in Nigeria, rising demand for wheat forces the country to import over 4 million tons per year.
Both Sudan and Nigeria are placing the improved wheat varieties at the center of their food security strategy to enhance self-sufficiency.

An integrated ‘systems’ approach
The successes are not due to the introduction of improved varieties alone. Seed is being disseminated as part of a package of interventions aimed at transforming wheat production; these include: optimal land preparation and sowing rates, integrated pest management, and more efficient irrigation systems.

While these technologies enable Africa’s wheat transformation, they alone cannot sustain the change. ‘Innovation platforms’, a participatory research dissemination strategy is bringing together all stakeholder groups - policymakers, scientists, farmers, and the private sector - to identify challenges and jointly define the solutions required to overcome these challenges.

These wheat production improvement activities are part of a larger initiative to strengthen the value chain of four major strategic crops in Africa. Support to Agricultural Research for Development on Strategic Commodities in Africa (SARD-SC) aims to bring greater self-sufficiency in the continent through wheat, rice, cassava and maize. ICARDA is leading the wheat component implemented across 12 Sub-Saharan African countries. To learn more, visit http://sard-sc-wheat.icarda.org/

Supported by: The African Development Bank (AfDB)