Egypt wheat experiment produces dramatic yield boost

Wheat improvements mean Egypt is on track to meet its target of producing 75 per cent of its own wheat needs within three years Copyright: Flickr/Andrew Griffith

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[CAIRO] Egyptian scientists say a national experiment to boost wheat yields has succeed in increasing average national yields to 10 tonnes per hectare  — one of the highest rates in the world, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Statistical Yearbook for 2012.

Egypt’s Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) said the experiment had been carried out at more than 1,000 sites in 22 governorates across the country, and had achieved an average 30 per cent increase in productivity.

The experiments took place during the first year of a three-year national campaign to improve Egyptian wheat production levels and crop quality, according to the ASRT.

Its overall target had been to increase wheat productivity in Egypt by 20 per cent within three years, and to reduce wheat imports to a quarter of national consumption requirements. "The national campaign has exceeded its first-year targets," Maged El-Sherbiny, ASRT’s president, told SciDev.Net.

It is being jointly implemented by the ASRT and the Egyptian Agriculture Research Center (ARC), as part of a larger regional project to enhance food security in Arab countries.

This regional initiative is led by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), with US$5 million support from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

The increased yield was made possible by "high-yielding, disease-resistant, heat-tolerant wheat varieties, which were developed by the ARC, and [the implementation of] new agriculture methods," according to Eman Sadek, head of the National Campaign for Wheat Improvement at the ARC.

Sadek told SciDev.Net that the use of a raised-bed planting method for the project had also lowered reliance on irrigated water by a third, and reduced the number of seeds used by half.

Fawzi Karajeh, regional coordinator for the Nile Valley and Sub-
Saharan Africa
Program at ICARDA, said that a 10-tonne yield could enable the country to meet 75 per cent of its own wheat needs within three years.

The campaign had also provided an opportunity for developing a new machine to prepare soil for raised-bed planting, said Karajeh, after equipment imported from India was found to be unsuitable for local soils. The new Egyptian machine will cost farmers only US$2,500, compared with US$4,000 for the Indian machine and US$30,000 for a model designed in Germany.  

Karajeh added that the Egyptian experience would be transferred to five countries — Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia — in the Middle East and North Africa, as part of ICARDA’s ‘Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries’ project.