"Nichts mehr davon, ich bitt euch. Zu essen gebt ihm, zu wohnen.
Habt ihr die Blöße bedeckt, gibt sich die Würde von selbst."
Friedrich Schiller
  May 2008 FOOD

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 drylands."

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 conditions."

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.