ETHIOPIA – Six wheat varieties released by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) have been lauded for helping farmers mitigate devastating rust diseases and up yields contributing to self-sufficiency.

The varieties were developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and released in 2023, aimed for the mid to highlands (> 1800 meters above sea level) and lowlands (< 1800 masl) of the country.

Speaking about the milestone, Leonardo Crespo, wheat breeder at CIMMYT said that the newly released varieties provide options for farmers to face devastating rust diseases and at the same time obtain higher productivity.

This comes at a time when the country targets to cultivate 3 million hectares during the 2023/2024 summer wheat cultivation.

According to a DNA finger printing study, about 87 per cent of the wheat area in Ethiopia comprises varieties developed by CIMMYT.

Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer in East Africa, with about 65% share of the total wheat production in sub-Saharan Africam according to CIMMYT.

The area under wheat increased from about 1.5 million hectares in 2010 to 2.5 million hectares in 2023.

More importantly, the productivity increased from 1.8 tons per hectare to about 3 tons per hectare in the same period, implying an increase of about 5% per annum in productivity.

According to experts, several factors have contributed to this spectacular increase in productivity, including better farm practices implemented through clustering farmers land to reduce production costs, and introducing new, improved varieties that enable farmers to withstand challenges of crop diseases.

Gadisa Alemu, a wheat breeder based in EIAR, Kulumsa, added that the CIMMYT varieties were tested in farmers’ fields prior to release.

“This allows participating farmers to have quicker access to seed of selected varieties,” he said.

The team visited research centers in Holetta (highlands), Debre Zeit and, Kulumsa (midlands), and Arsi Negele (lowlands).

During the visit, experts revealed that Kulumsa, together with the highlands of Meraro and Asasa plains, represent about 60-70% of the wheat area in Ethiopia.

The aim of the visit was to obtain additional insights into the activities of CIMMYT’s partners and co-design a strategy that allows early evaluation and access to CIMMYT germplasm by national partners in Ethiopia.

According to the team, these are important sites for wheat breeding activities in Ethiopia.

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