https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2016/10/05/meet-our-customers-rothamsted-research/

Developing aphid resistant wheat for smallholder farmers in Africa

Smallholder farmers in Africa face serious challenges, including yield losses of up to 50% caused by aphid pests. The additional cost of pesticides is often financially prohibitive for these farmers. Providing them with wheat varieties with in-bred aphid resistance suitable to be grown in rain-fed lower input farming systems is therefore crucial to ensure optimum yield for these farmers.

In this project we aim to identify aphid resistance in genetically diverse as well as pre-existing germplasm for the East-African environment.

meet-our-customers-rothamstad-aphids feeding on wheat
Aphids feeding on wheat

The Russian wheat aphid, which is the most destructive aphid pest in wheat, causes severe damage to leaves, often killing the wheat plants they infest.

The bird cherry-oat aphid causes less direct damage, but can infect plants with the Barley yellow dwarf virus, which stunts the growth of wheat plants. This causes yield losses to farmers with associated reduction in earnings as well as affecting the availability of food in the region.

This would, for the first time, lead to the development of aphid resistant wheat varieties aimed at helping the smallholder farmer and the whole of Africa by:

  1. connecting farmers to high value markets
  2. helping to reduce the reliance of wheat imports in Africa

UK research institute collaborating with company on the ground in Zimbabwe

Rothamsted Research has a very strong reputation in agricultural research and for this project we have teamed up with Seed Co Ltd., The African Seed Company, with headquarters in Zimbabwe. Seed Co has a strong network across Africa, operating in 13 countries.

This collaboration is very exciting, as scientists and wheat breeders are working together so that results from the lab can be taken forward into a breeding programme as soon as they are available.

Project partners at kick-off meeting at Rothamsted Research. Emmanuel Ziramba, Gia Aradottir, Tegwe Soko and Toby Bruce
Project partners at kick-off meeting at Rothamsted Research. Emmanuel Ziramba, Gia Aradottir, Tegwe Soko and Toby Bruce

In March 2016, Emmanuel Ziramba travelled over from Zimbabwe to spend a year learning the techniques used in evaluating plant resistance to aphids.

The project partners met face to face for the first time in early August 2016 for a project meeting when Tegwe Soko, Head wheat breeder from Seed Co, visited the UK to discuss progress and plans for future collaborations.

Project already producing results

Rothamstad field assessments of aphid infestation in small plot wheat trials
Rothamstad field assessments of aphid infestation in small plot wheat trials

We are only six months into the project but through laboratory screening we have already identified wheat lines, which show resistance to the aphid species. These will now be evaluated in African field conditions before being put into the breeding programme at Seed Co.

Our ultimate aim - improve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa

The ultimate aim of our work is to improve food security in the region.

Wheat consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa is double the production, resulting in imports of ~$12billion/year.

Providing local farmers with seed, which is more resilient to aphids, would be one step towards giving farmers some security of protecting their yield against these sap sucking pests.

meet-our-customers-rothamstad-fields-of-wheat-in-zimbabwe
Fields of wheat in Zimbabwe

Written by: Dr Gia Aradottir, Research Scientist, Rothamsted Research and Mr Tegwe Soko, Head wheat breeder at Seed Co.

Contact us

Dr Gia Aradottir gia.aradottir@rothamsted.ac.uk

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