Seeds for Needs – Better Bread Wheat Varieties to Address Plant Diseases and Weeds in Ethiopia

Bread Wheat harvesting
Bread Wheat harvesting
  • Zewdie Bishaw - Research Team Leader - Seed systems, International Nurseries, and seed Health 


ICARDA’s Seeds for Needs initiative in Ethiopia helps family farmers address the impact of climate change by introducing better wheat varieties and management trainings. 


Ethiopia’s important staple food crop of wheat is one of the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. Grown annually on 1.7 million hectares annually, there are an estimated 4.1 million Ethiopian small-holder farming households dependent on it as a food crop and vital source of income.  


Yet intensifying climate change subjects agricultural production to uncertainty throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia where 85% of the population are engaged in agriculture and eight out of ten Ethiopian farmers are smallholder family farmers supplying over 90% of agricultural production. Changing weather patterns, increase water scarcity, higher temperatures and more pests and diseases all combine to reduce yields. According to the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), 15% of subsistence farmers are food insecure due to their low-input farming systems and low adaptive capacity in the face of environmental variability.  


To address this, ICARDA Seeds for Needs (S4N) program, aims at wheat varietal diversification that will allow farmers to select suitable cultivars that respond to new microclimate conditions and better control pests and diseases, increase crop productivity and resilience, and strengthen their livelihoods and overall food security.  


Though indigenous knowledge, farmers already mix wheat varieties in their fields for better yields and to combat climate issues, but they usually lack stable access to resources such as seeds and the peer-reviewed data needed to access an accurate and diversified set of better-performing varieties. Additionally, they are often excluded from formal scientific debates, which ironically results in poor integration of their valuable local and traditional knowledge into scientific breeding programs.  


To facilitate the adoption and conservation of well-performing local varieties Seeds for Needs (S4N), launched by ICARDA in partnership with the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute and USAID, provides smallholders with access to a range of genetically diverse and well-adapted superior durum wheat and barley varieties, as well as the training and resources such as to help them cope with the impact of climate change and related shocks.  

The fieldwork engaged 17,762 farmers, over 9% of them were females, in four zones in Ethiopia: Bale, South Shewa, South Tigray, and Hadiya. 




  • Farmers produced 137 tons of seeds through the project in the 2018/2019 season.  


  • The average productivity of durum wheat (3 t ha-1) and both barley types (3 t ha-1) was higher than the national average (< 2 t ha-1).  


  • The spillover effect benefited 18 additional districts than the study areas.  


  • Over 1800 farmers and other stakeholders attended the participatory variety selection and seed production training in the study areas. 


  • Using a primary household survey, the S4N initiative recorded a significant improvement in on-farm production diversity and enhanced food security among smallholder farmers in the study regions.