Rapid response counters threat to Ethiopia’s food security

Wheat leaf showing symptoms of stripe rust (also known as yellow rust)
Photo: A. Yaqub/CIMMYT

A devastating outbreak of stripe rust in 2010 caused crop losses and hardship among Ethiopia’s wheat farmers. Shifting weather patterns and climate change mean Ethiopia is becoming more vulnerable to wheat rust. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) responded to the outbreak quickly and effectively to protect farmers from further losses.

ICARDA implemented a project in partnership with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Scientists quickly developed and released rust-resistant, high yield wheat varieties, and produced and distributed quality seed of the resistant varieties to smallholder farmers.

“To combat rust long-term we need to continuously breed new improved varieties that can resist the disease … This requires continuous investment and support. Rust will change and new varieties will be susceptible in the coming years, and so we need to accelerate this process and get seed to farmers quickly.” Dr. Zewdie Bishaw, Head ICARDA Seed Section

An innovative participatory seed production and distribution system now sees farmers themselves multiplying and distributing quality seeds to their neighbours who, in turn, distribute them to their neighbours. This farmer-seed system cuts the time lag between development and distribution of resistant varieties.

In the first two years of the initiative, new rust-resistant wheat varieties reached about 26% of Ethiopia’s wheat growing area, increasing yields and benefiting more than 67 600 households.