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Heat tolerant durum wheat discovery to aid farmers in West Africa

The discovery of heat resilient durum wheat that could potentially boost the income for one million farming families in the extreme heat of famine-affected Senegal, Mauritania and Mali1 2017 and has been awarded the 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security

The genome fingerprinting research project, led by Dr Filippo Bassi of ICARDA and Professor Rodomiro Ortiz (SLU, Alnarp), and funded by the Swedish Research Council, used non-GM molecular breeding techniques to develop a set of durum wheat varieties that can withstand constant 35-40 degree heat along the savannah of the Senegal River basin.

In this region, farmers grow rice for eight months of the year but the land remains unproductive for the other four months. The new durum varieties have therefore been developed to grow super-fast so that farmers can grow the wheat between rice seasons, which could produce 600,000 tonnes of new food, equivalent to 175 servings of pasta per person per year in the region, and could generate USD$210 mn in additional income for the farmers.

Through ICARDA’s policy of sharing all germplasm and IP (identity preservation) freely with developing countries, the discovery also has wide adaptation potential for other areas hit by increasing temperatures.

This ground breaking research was voted by a panel of expert judges as the winner of the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security – an international prize launched by the global agri-business in partnership with the Agropolis Fondation.

Dr Bassi commented, “When we had the idea five years ago, people thought we were a bit crazy so we are thrilled to see our vision of introducing durum wheat into this region recognised by the Olam prize. By working closely with the farmers, we have gained their trust as they can see the benefit of planting this crop which can be easily cultivated with minimum investment. Now we need to help create a route to market so we will be using the prize fund to foster the establishment of a commercial partnership with the North African pasta and couscous industry.”