Our efforts have been advanced by a new approach to mining agricultural gene banks that speeds the pace of research innovation for food security. ‘FIGS’ – or Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy – is the first scientific approach to agricultural gene bank mining, and is a scientifically-proven tool that helps breeding programs identify useful traits in plant genetics.
To enhance livestock breeding, ICARDA’s Small Ruminant Genetics and genomics team is working with partners to analyze the genetics of sheep and goats indigenous to the drylands to determine how their genetic ‘fingerprints’ best suit them to be resilient in the face of climate change. The study is a promising step towards mining the genetic potential of adaptable indigenous livestock.
ICARDA’s gene banks
ICARDA’s gene banks contain some 153,000 samples of major winter cereals, food legumes, forage and rangeland species drawn from the ‘Fertile Crescent’ in Western Asia, the Abyssinian highlands in Ethiopia, and the Nile Valley, where earliest known crop domestication practices were first recorded. Many plants are now extinct in their natural habitats.
This unique genetic material is currently located in gene banks in Terbol, Lebanon, and at ICARDA’s research station in Morocco. Samples are also duplicated at several additional levels: in the partner gene banks of international CGIAR research centers, CIMMYT and ICRISAT, the Swiss and Indian national gene banks, and the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway.
Heat-tolerant wheat varieties flourishing in northern Nigeria
The impressive performance of improved varieties of high-yielding, heat-tolerant wheat developed in Sudan has convinced Nigerian decision makers that a viable solution to their country’s growing dependence on wheat imports is domestic production – a policy shift that will protect Nigerians from the vagaries of global commodity markets and strengthen national food security. The varieties are flourishing in the hot, dry conditions that prevail across the country’s northern regions, yielding up to 6 tons/ hectare on farmer fields.
Improving livestock through community-based breeding programs
In Ethiopia we have introduced over 30 community-based sheep and goat breeding programs since 2009. Combining selective breeding programs based on production parameters such as body weight and ability to produce offspring, the program has benefited over 3000 farming families in the country with an average 20 percent increase in income.
Tackling stripe rust disease in Ethiopia
To combat Ethiopia’s 2010 wheat stripe rust epidemic, a fast-track crop research and rust-resistant seed distribution program not only delivered future protection to farmers, but also brought higher yields and incomes. Stripe rust disease threatens wheat crops every growing season and in recent years outbreaks have become more frequent and severe with climate change - decimating harvests and leaving smallholder farmers devastated.
the years that followed the outbreak, yields of the improved varieties demonstrated impressive returns: average yields of improved wheat reached 3.7 tons/ha in 2011-12 and 3.3 tons per ha in 2012-13 – much higher than the national annual average of 2 tons/ha.
Unleashing the triple benefits of legumes
legumes delivered by ICARDA are delivering triple benefits to rural communities: nutrition, fertile soils, and greater farm incomes. Multiple projects across Asia and Africa have been leveraging crop rotations, improved legume varieties, and innovative practices to meet growing food requirements in the face of climate change.