Advances in crop science to produce improved and higher-performing crops are key to making dryland food production systems more efficient - and more resistant to pressure from drought, extremes of cold and heat, unpredictable rainfall, and new pests and disease. For optimal performance, varieties can be targeted to specific farming systems, depending on local conditions and stresses.
Releases of plant genetic materials from ICARDA’s genebanks, which host wild relatives of barley, wheat, and legumes, has led to the development of crops with higher yields and greater resistance to a range of biotic stresses. Some varieties also offer large improvements in bread-making quality, nutritional value, and other traits.
More than 900 improved cereal and legume varieties have been released by national programs in partnership with ICARDA, and adopted by farmers worldwide. It is estimated that these varieties generate net benefits of approximately USD 850 million each year.
Our ability to breed the improved crops of tomorrow has been advanced by a new approach to mining agricultural gene banks to speed 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.
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.
Tackling stripe rust disease
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. In recent years, outbreaks have become more frequent and severe with climate change, decimating harvests and leaving smallholder farmers devastated.
During 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 trip benefits of legumes
Improved legumes delivered by ICARDA are delivering tripe 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.