Researchers from the International Centre for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, have 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.
The project was funded by the Swedish Research Council, and recently awarded the 2017 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security – an international prize launched by the global agri-business in partnership with the Agropolis Fondation.
ICARDA plans to use the $50,000 prize fund to establish a commercial partnership with the North African pasta and couscous industry.
In this region, farmers grow rice for 8 months of the year, but the land remains unproductive during the winter months. The new durum varieties have therefore been developed to grow super-fast (yielding over three tonnes per hectare in just 90 days) so that farmers can grow the wheat between rice seasons.
This, the researchers claim, 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 million in additional income for the farmers. Moreover, as the wheat has 5 times more protein than rice, as well as vitamins and minerals, it could also help to improve diets.
ICARDA has a policy of sharing all germplasm and IP (identity preservation) freely with developing countries, which could enable the innovation to be adapted for other areas affected by increasing temperatures.