Kenya Pioneers A Successful Wheat Seed for Africa Drylands
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute
(KARI), in collaboration with the IAEA and FAO and the regional
AFRA program, has developed a high-yield drought-resistant wheat
seed, using radiation-breeding techniques. This is another
example of the kind of successful project that the Food and
Agriculture Organization's independent auditor has advised
de-funding, because it supposedly lacks a "high return."
The new wheat seed, called Njoro-BW1, was developed over the
past decade using mutation plant breeding, which makes use of
radiation techniques to modify crop characteristics. It was bred
to use limited rainfall efficiently, and it also has a "moderate
susceptibility to wheat rust," high yields, and good quality
grains for bread baking.
With this new seed, farmers have greened the hot and barren
dry lands of Kenya, making use of land that was formerly
considered unfit for crops. Wheat is the second most important
cereal crop in Kenya, after maize, but the country currently
imports two-thirds of its wheat, at skyrocketting prices. Thus
the new wheat is vital for Kenya's food security.
Professor Miriam Kinyua, former KARI chief plant breeder and
center director, is credited with developing Kenya's mutant wheat
varieties. She is quoted in an IAEA press release on the project
saying: "Njoro-BW1 came out as a hit variety. The farmers liked
it from the start. In dry areas, they can expect to harvest up to
20 bags an acre. It is now our most popular wheat variety for the
The current KARI chief plant breeder, Peter Njau, commented
that the wheat is also growing successfully in the highlands and
in the acidic soils of the northern rift, "where it is
outperforming other wheat varieties developed for those
A second wheat variety, DH4, is expected to be released
soon. This shares the qualities of Njoro-BW1, and is also hard
and red, with high protein and good bread-baking qualities.
KARI works with the Vienna-based Joint FAO/IAEA Division,
which is now under attack. The IAEA reports that in the past five
years, in Africa alone, six new varieties of crops have been
officially released, including new varieties of sesame in Egypt,
cassava in Ghana, wheat in Kenya, banana in Sudan, and finger
millet and cotton in Zambia.