SLU news

Durum wheat - a crop for poverty reduction in Africa

Published: 16 April 2019

A research program led by SLU reveals the opportunity for African farmers to obtain a substantial share of the growing durum market.

Durum wheat is an important food crop in the world and an endemic species of sub-Saharan Africa. In the highlands of Ethiopia and the oases of the South Sahara this crop has been cultivated for thousands of years. Today, smallholder farmers still cultivate it on marginal lands to assure production for their self-consumption. However, durum wheat has become a major crop and the pasta and couscous industry currently purchase durum grain at prices 10 to 20% higher than bread wheat. Africa as a whole imports over € 4 billion per year of durum grain to provide the raw material for its food industry. Hence, African farmers could obtain a substantial share of this large market by turning their production to this crop.

Durum breeding programs in sub-Saharan Africa has shown how modern breeding methods could be used to deliver grain in seasons of just 92 days of length and daytime temperatures above 32°C, when it is too hot to grow other crops.

This review describes the ability of releasing durum wheat varieties adapted to all growing conditions of this part of the world, from the oases of the Sahara to the highlands of Ethiopia.

"Durum wheat cultivation in Sub-Saharan Africa is often forgotten, but it holds a great economic potential to shift rural communities out of poverty and great rural jobs. Our review article for the first time summarizes the current knowledge, takes an in depth look at its current status, and uses concrete success examples of Ethiopia and Senegal to define a road map for future development", says Filippo Bassi, senior scientist at ICARDA's durum wheat breeding program.

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"Wheat in heat" of sub-Saharan Africa was thought to be a "crazy idea" for fighting against food insecurity. SLU-led development research projects (2014-2017, 2018-2021) on durum wheat genomic-led breeding along the Senegal River Basin (between Mauritania and Senegal) with VR Development Research (UF) funding and in partnership with ICARDA (CGIAR), CNARDA (Mauritania), INRA and University Mohammed V (Morocco) and ISRA plus University Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal) -which won the 2017's US$ 50,000 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security- was able to release bred-germplasm as new cultivars that are able to withstand 40°C heat along and could produce 600,000 MT of grain for food.   


Rodomiro Octavio Ortiz Rios
Professor at the Department of Plant Breeding