Plant breeders aim to improve crop varieties to benefit humankind. Since wheat was introduced in Kenya, numerous varieties have been released and cultivated to varying extents. Past genetic gains have been fragile due to various environmental challenges-mostly rust diseases, and unfavorable socio-economic national policy for the crop. The role and the contribution of wheat breeding to the success of the crop in Kenya for over a century is reviewed. It is considered that systematic exploitation of local and introduced genetic diversity has contributed to release of varieties with superior genetics over time, enhancing productivity from 1 ton/ha in the 1920’s to approximately 3 tons/ha recently. Consistent rise in demand to about 1 million metric tons suggests that the national wheat breeding research program must be remodeled to leverage modern tools and best practices; to reconsider its target range of breeding environments in the wake of climate change; to entrench its engagement with the international wheat research programs; and to promote a culture of continuous mentorship. Here, cases are highlighted where the national program has moved in such positive directions to address the varietal needs of a crop that has fully integrated in the economy and the diets of many Kenyans.
Part of the book: Wheat Improvement, Management and Utilization