In recent years, Eritrea's agricultural sector has been seriously affected by recurrent drought and land degradation, caused by poor land management and a rapidly growing population. More than 60% of the country’s population is engaged in farming, producing sorghum, barley, wheat, legumes, vegetables, and small ruminant livestock.
Wheat is an important staple crop in Eritrea and is mainly grown in the highlands – in the Maekel Region, Debub Region, and parts of Anseba Regio, Gash Barka and Semenawi-Keyhbahri. Annually, wheat is sown on around 30,000 hectares (ha), and harvests are mainly dependent on rainfall.
The limiting factors for wheat productivity in Eritrea include moisture stress, diseases, weed infestations, low yielding cultivars, weak seed systems and insufficient agricultural inputs. However, improved high-yielding wheat varieties are now offering Eritrean farmers a solution to their low productivity. These varieties are the result of a collaborative partnership involving the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Halhale and the ICARDA-managed wheat component of the CGIAR program ‘Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa’ ( SARD-SC ), funded by African Development Bank (AfDB). This partnership has conducted 13 research studies on improving wheat productivity, disease and incest resistance, and stress tolerance, culminating in the release of six new varieties suitable for Eritrean conditions.
Average yields for these varieties in farmers’ fields range between 3.3 and 5.5 tons per hectare (t/ha), approximately 300% higher than the national average yield of 1.1 t/ha. In fact, some of these varieties are recording 6-8 t/ha in some model farmer fields. The identified varieties are now under seed multiplication in both farmers’ field and the NARI research station.
The crop is being introduced in the lowlands, where there is ample land and great potential for irrigated production.
The SARD-SC project works across 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside national partners to raise their wheat productivity, reduce import dependence, and strengthen food security. Innovations and technologies, tested and validated in three hub countries - Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sudan – are disseminated via 'innovation platforms,' and scaled-out to partner countries.