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New drought-tolerant wheat could transform farming in dry regions gif maker

By George Munene

A new drought-tolerant variety of wheat named Jabal, developed together by farmers and scientists in a decades-long project, has been released for cultivation in Morocco.

Jabal, which means “mountain” in Arabic for its distinctive black spikes, the climate change-resilient variety was able to thrive despite the country suffering its worst drought in 30 years which destroyed other wheat varieties.

The new variety of durum wheat, Jabal, has a distinct tall stance and plump fat grains and was made by crossing cultivated durum wheat with one of its wild relatives collected in Syria.

“Jabal is an exceptional variety characterized by its broad adaptation, especially to the driest conditions, and its high productivity and special grain color. We believe these characteristics will be beloved by Moroccan farmers. Our company is eager to include Jabal in our commercial portfolio. We are setting up a promotional program to ensure farmers will take full advantage of its genetic potential and see their production significantly improved,” said Mr. Benchaib, founder of the farmers’ association Benchaib Semences, which specializes in the multiplication and commercialization of crop varieties for Moroccan farmers.

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When plant breeders and farmers tested new durum wheat varieties between 2017 and 2021, the resilience of Jabal was immediately highlighted as a series of intense droughts across multiple sites saw it flourish and continue to produce grains, while all commercial varieties of durum failed.

In the last five years, durum wheat has been the tenth most commonly cultivated cereal worldwide, with a yearly production average of 40 million tonnes (MT) from an estimated 16 million hectares.

Durum wheat is grown primarily to produce pasta. It is also used for making couscous and bulgur, which are particularly popular in North Africa and the Middle East.

Jabal was developed by plant breeders and genebank staff at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) working in close collaboration with Moroccon farmers, with support from the Crop Trust.

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The variety was first evaluated under the Crop Trust’s Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) Project and has now been officially registered for cultivation by the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, following a two-year testing program across many Moroccan locations. Its commercial path has now started, with commercial seeds due to reach farmers’ hands in the next three years.

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