Boosting wheat production for greater self-sufficiency

A recent training course aimed at improving wheat breeding in Iraq, and Kurdistan in particular, brought together participants from Basrah, the Ministry of Agriculture, Baghdad, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MOAWR) in Erbil, Sulimanya, Duhok, and Garmyan. The five-day course, held in Erbil from 1 to 5 September 2013, introduced participants to the fundamentals of wheat breeding.
The cost of importing wheat can be prohibitive for countries such as Iraq that are recovering from conflict. The Ministry of Agriculture and HSAD partners have identified wheat as one of the strategic commodities critical to Iraq’s food security. This means that national agricultural scientists need to breed drought and disease resistant wheat varieties that can produce good yields under challenging local conditions.
The training course opened with a review of the botany, evolution, species, importance, and uses of wheat worldwide, and specifically in Central and West Asia and North Africa. Lectures and discussions then dealt with guidelines and procedures for breeding, how to organize wheat breeding and selection efficiently, new approaches to wheat breeding such as biotechnology and molecular marking, and quality issues in durum and bread wheat.
On the final day of the course, participants visited the Agricultural Research Directorate, Ainkawa, where they were given an overview of the research programs. They also examined ongoing field experiments on the station.
The trainers who delivered the course recommended following-up this introduction to breeding with hands-on training in developing nurseries, running yield trials, selecting varieties on-farm, and producing seed.
Further work with ICARDA durum and bread wheat breeders and seed specialists would also be useful, they argued, and long-term training at ICARDA’s breeding program in Morocco should be arranged for a MOAWR representative from each of the central, northern, and southern provinces.
Trainers also recommended that, ideally, further courses should be run in April at the start of the growing season rather than September. In the spring, trainees would be able to observe breeding activities in the field. To overcome language barriers, future courses should also incorporate videos on the various aspects of wheat breeding.