16 August 2022, Ethiopia: “I am happy with this wheat variety and all the support from the project,” said Agere Worku, a female farmer in Ethiopia working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “It is a lot of money that I will earn as a female farmer in my life.”Worku is just one farmer taking part in a pilot intervention as part of CIMMYT’s Adaptation, Demonstration, and Piloting of Wheat Technologies for Irrigated Lowlands of Ethiopia (ADAPT-Wheat) project. Four female and four male farmers were chosen to take part from the Melke Yegna Tesfa Association, a membership group of 83 smallholder farmers, nearly half of which are female.
Participants were given Kingbird seeds, a new wheat variety, to plant in their smallholdings. The project then supported them through capacity building and advice on smart soil, water management, plant protection and agronomic packages.
“We prepared six hectares of land and sowed 1.1 tons of Kingbird seed,” said Yeshiwas Worku, chair of the Melke Yegna Tefsa Association. “There were other wheat varieties, such as Danda’a, adjacent to our experimental plot and the difference in yields was very visible. The other members of the association were eager to get Kingbird seeds, which are very different in terms of quality, yields, maturity, and disease tolerance.”
“CIMMYT is a life changer for me,” said Buzayehu Getahun, a farmer in Jeju, in the Oromia region. “I produced 3.7 tons on 0.75 hectares. Interestingly, I earned around 132,000 Ethiopian Birr (US$2,500) from this yield. I plan to build a new house for my mother in my village and will be blessed by her at her old age,” said Getahun.
The impact on female farmers
After involvement in the pilot, the female farmers produced higher yields than they had experienced before.
“I used to harvest wheat three times in the previous years and earned only 0.66 tons of wheat per 0.75 hectare using seeds of other wheat varieties,” explained Worku. “But now thanks to support from CIMMYT, the yield has increased four times than the previous years; I produced 2.4 tons per 0.75 hectares. I am very happy with the high yield and feel encouraged to reinvest in other agricultural activities.”
A second female farmer, Melishew Tedela, said, “I am happy with this seed and all the support from the project. I can be witness that the other farmers who didn’t get this variety were not happy with their low yields of wheat.”
The future of lowland wheat farming
Bekele Geleta Abeyo, wheat breeder and Ethiopia Country Representative at CIMMYT, said, “The Government of Ethiopia is emphasizing increasing irrigated wheat production and productivity in the lowlands to complement the intensification of rainfed wheat production in the highlands in order to achieve self-sufficiency by 2023 and feed the ever-growing population.”
With world wheat prices skyrocketing due to the Ukraine conflict, wheat technology generation and dissemination are key for sustainable agricultural practices.
CIMMYT is working to replace obsolete wheat varieties in Ethiopia that are susceptible to wheat rust, particularly yellow and stem rust, with disease-resistant products. Newer varieties like Kingbird are rust-resistant and therefore produce higher yields.