Wuletaw Tadesse

What inspires farmers and why is their job so important? Wuletaw Tadesse explains:

Why did you want to be a plant scientist?

My father is a farmer who works from early morning to sunset. Every year he is challenged both by biotic and abiotic constraints for crop production. In good years, his hard work pays off and the family is happy, and in bad years when the crop fails because of drought or diseases and pests, my father is sad and so is the family, but he can’t do anything except pray to God. He let me go school despite never having a chance himself.  With the objective of finding scientific solutions to the challenges my father faces, I joined the department of plant sciences at Alemaya University of Agriculture, Ethiopia for BSc degree; followed by MSc degree in biology at Addis Ababa University and PhD in crop genetics and breeding at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.  To date I have worked in the Ethiopian Agricultural Research organization (Ethiopia), at CIMMYT (Mexico) and ICARDA (based at Syria and Morocco).

Can you explain what your job involves?

As a wheat breeder at ICARDA, my job involves hybridization (making new crosses), evaluation and identification of high yielding wheat genotypes with resistance to diseases, and tolerance to heat and drought stresses with good end-use quality. We distribute these elite wheat genotypes to the developing countries principally in the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) and Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) regions. In the last 5 years alone, more than 30 bread wheat varieties of ICARDA-origin have been released by the national programs in the CWANA and SSA regions. We also train young plant scientists in wheat breeding.  In partnership with the national programs through our food security projects, we promote wheat technologies to farmers to increase productivity and ensure food security.

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What are the pest’s/crop enhancements that you are working on?

  1. Breeding to increase yield potential.
  2. Breeding for resistance to diseases (stem rust, yellow rust, septoria, fusarium) and insects (Hessian fly, Sun pest).
  3. Breeding for heat and drought tolerance.
  4. Improving wheat for end use quality

Can you describe how damaging diseases can be for farmers?

Yellow rust of wheat is currently the most devastating disease in the CWANA region, causing up to 70 percent yield loss in some countries. Stem rust cancause up to 100 percent yield loss – this was most recently evident in the Bale region of Ethiopia. Hessian fly in Morocco and sun pest in Central Asia are also damaging insects.

Why is your profession important in the challenge to feed the world?

Wheat is grown on 220 million hectares globally and is the most important food crop to ensure food security. Continuous development and supply of high yielding wheat varieties with resistance and tolerance to the major biotic and abiotic stresses is vitally important to sustain wheat production.  Wheat breeding is key to global food security and feeding the world.

What inspires you about your job?

Every year, I make new crosses and gene pyramids, and evaluate thousands of new lines in yield trials. I am eager to see the performance of the new genotypes in comparison with the existing, best genotypes. I work to ensure every human can afford food and sleep peacefully.