High yielding, Heat-Tolerant Wheat Varieties for Sub-Saharan Africa

Heat tolerant wheat varieties
Heat tolerant wheat varieties
  • Wuletaw Tadesse Degu - Principal Scientist - Spring Bread Wheat Breeder 
  • Zewdie Bishaw - Research Team Leader - Seed systems, International Nurseries, and seed Health 
  • Solomon Assefa Gizaw - Wheat Value Chain Coordinator in Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) 


To increase Africa’s agricultural productivity of staple wheat crops, ICARDA aims to strengthen production capacity and seed systems, and disseminate improved climate-resilient wheat varieties, while simultaneously introducing innovative production technologies and integrated crop management practices (water-saving technologies).  


ICARDA’s integrated wheat breeding innovations consist of a package of better practices and high-yielding wheat varieties with resistance to major and climate-change-driven abiotic stresses (extreme heat drought and salinity) and biotic stresses (new emerging diseases such as rusts).  


The innovations have now been widely adopted throughout the CWANA and SSA regions. Key factors for the success of these innovations include: 


  • Strong support for farmers through training, demonstrations, out-scaling, and support for new, integrated approaches and bundled improved crop management practices. 

  • Participatory engagement of farmers during ICARDA’s research, and in-situ testing of the heat-tolerant varieties, ensuring their successful production in real-life settings. Elite yield trials and variety selection were carried out in three hub countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, and Nigeria) and satellite countries speeding up the release of the varieties for family dryland farmers in dire need of improved wheat.  

  • The Innovation Platform (IP) approach, where clusters of wheat growing farmers, private and public seed and input producers and suppliers, millers, agricultural banks,  policymakers, extensionists, scientists, and other stakeholders come together to network, learn about, and discuss new approaches and the value chain from production to market. 

  • Favorable policies and commitment by national governments nurtured by ICARDA. To meet increased demand for wheat across SSA and overcome unaffordable imports, many countries have adopted a self-sufficiency policy to which ICARDA’s improved wheat, with its adaptability to the impact of climate change, is perfectly suited. 

  • Strong partnership with stakeholders: National governments, extension departments, national and CGIAR research centers, donors (CGIAR, AfDB, Agri-Banks), farmer unions, and private sector miller’s associations, among others.      




  • Since 2012, more than 60 bread wheat varieties of ICARDA origin have been released by national wheat programs in these regions and in SSA, more than 30 high yielding, high grain quality, and heat-tolerant wheat varieties of ICARDA origin were released since 2013.  


  • Through the African Development Bank (AfDB) funded TAAT Wheat Compact program in Sudan, ICARDA’s integrated approach in 2018/19 resulted in about 29,965 tons of certified and quality seed being produced and distributed, covering an estimated total area of 299,650 hectares - close to the entire wheat area in the country.  


  • In 2019/20 Sudan reported a record bumper harvest of 1.1 million tons of wheat reaching a wheat sufficiency of about 50%. Wheat seed production reached 62,500 tons. 


  • Through AfDB’s TAAT in Ethiopia, new frontiers in wheat production have opened up by utilizing climate-resilient, high-yielding varieties, bred and introduced by ICARDA, to grow heat-tolerant high-yielding wheat varieties to expand wheat production in irrigated lowland areas and traditional rainfed highland areas during the off-season. 


  • The policy advocacy has helped the Government of Ethiopia establish a high-level committee among its Agricultural, Finance, Trade, and Industry, and Water and Irrigation Ministries, and expanded the wider adoption of new methodologies, significantly improving water resource management. 


  • About 21,000 ha of wheat was cultivated under irrigation in three river basins on programs spearheaded by the Government of Ethiopia in 2019/20. Moreover, new partnerships with large-scale cotton farms were established and expectations are for a bumper crop harvest with yields expected to reach 6 tons ha-1.  


  • At an estimated average yield of 4 tons ha-1, a total wheat production of 84,000 tons was produced, which, at the projected conservative price of US$ 250, can save Ethiopia about US$ 21 million. The irrigated wheat area reached close to 200,000 ha in 2020/21 crop season through the GOE.  

Further Reading:


Wuletaw Tadesse. (30/10/2015). High yielding wheat varieties with heat and drought tolerance. Beirut, Lebanon: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11766/7513

Wuletaw Tadesse, Zewdie Bishaw, Solomon Gizaw Assefa. (17/12/2018). Wheat production and breeding in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and opportunities in the face of climate change. International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management. https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11766/9000


Raising Sudan's Wheat Production