School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Kwame Shamuyarira’s research contributed to the development of new wheat breeds.

New Breeds of Wheat Contribute to Drought Tolerance and Carbon Sequestration

Dr Kwame Shamuyarira’s graduation is the culmination of an academic journey at UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) that began in 2017 and resulted in a study on the agro-morphological and root attributes associated with drought tolerance and carbon sequestration in wheat, an essential staple crop for feeding a growing global population.

Motivated by the challenges posed by climate change to crop production systems, Shamuyarira’s research contributed to the development of new wheat breeds with a balanced biomass allocation between roots and shoots, enhancing the crop’s drought tolerance and carbon sequestration capabilities for climate change mitigation.

‘Bread wheat productivity is crucial for food security for a growing global population,’ said Shamuyarira. ‘Wheat production, however, is affected by recurrent droughts and further exacerbated by a changing climate characterised by rising temperatures and erratic rainfall. Wheat breeders can identify agronomic and root-related traits in response to these challenges and develop resilient and productive cultivars.’

With growing interest in using field crops to store some atmospheric carbon lost from soils owing to poor agricultural practices, research suggests that increasing biomass allocation of new wheat genotypes to the root system may enhance carbon extraction from the atmosphere and sequester it within crop tissues and soils. This will also increase resilience to drought stress by improving water and nutrient retention and uptake by a deeper root system.

Shamuyarira assessed the variability in yield performance and biomass allocation between the shoots and roots of wheat genotypes under drought conditions. His study established wide variability among wheat lines regarding yield performance and root biomass. Excellent lines were selected and used as parents to develop new breeding populations, which show promise for further advancement to develop new cultivars with improved drought tolerance and carbon sequestration potential.

He achieved four publications in high-impact journals including Scientific ReportsCrop ScienceAgronomy, and Plants.

Originally from Zimbabwe, Shamuyarira completed his Bachelor of Science in Crop Science and Horticulture at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa before returning to Zimbabwe to teach at high school level for four years. Keen to achieve a master’s degree, he visited UKZN in 2017 and went door-to-door to find a supervisor.

ACCI Director Professor Hussein Shimelis offered Shamuyarira the opportunity to enrol under his supervision, co-supervised by Professor Toi Tsilo from the Agricultural Research Council’s Small Grains Institute and he focused on drought tolerance breeding in wheat supported by research funding from his supervisors.

He graduated in 2019 cum laude and continued to PhD studies supervised by Shimelis, Dr Sandiswa Figlan of the University of South Africa, and Dr Vincent Chaplot of UKZN and the Institute of Research for Development in France. His research contributed to a Water Research Commission of South Africa (WRC) project that supported his studies.

Shamuyarira credited his supervisors for their clear, effective, honest communication, constructive feedback, clear explanations of complex concepts, approachability and responsiveness. He thanked Shimelis for his patience, generosity, academic guidance and support; Chaplot for his mentorship, constructive criticism, suggestions, and motivation; and Figlan for her confidence in his abilities. He also thanked Drs Rebecca Zengeni, Isack Mathew and Admire Shayanowako for their assistance and constant encouragement during his studies, as well as other colleagues and lecturers who provided support and guidance.

Shamuyarira expressed gratitude to his parents for their sacrifices to provide him with the best education and to family members including his brother Mr Panashe Shamuyarira for their support. He thanked his wife Ms Annahmary Shamuyarira for her constant support and the strength she provided during the lengthy study and acknowledged the WRC and National Research Foundation for financial support.

Shamuyarira is now a lecturer at the University of the Free State and plans to pursue a career in research, focusing on abiotic stress tolerance in plants and enhancing nutritional quality in field crops. He hopes to contribute to cutting-edge developments and new technologies that will address plant genetics, hidden hunger and sustainable agriculture challenges.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sethu and supplied