No. 1468 27 May 2011

Food and nutrition security in the drylands
Genetic diversification increased pearl millet productivity in India


A significant impact on the food and nutritional security and livelihood of the rural poor is being brought about by the 47.9% improvement of pearl millet productivity in India.

Years of strategic research on genetic diversification by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have boosted pearl millet yield in three conspicuous phases of hybrid development.

From an average of 620 kg/ha in 1990-1993, pearl millet yield went up to 714 kg/ha in 1994-1997 and escalated further to 917 kg/ha in 2006-2009, for a 47.9% improved yield. This was achieved with much lesser investment in research and development (R&D) compared to other crops and given the greater environmental challenges in pearl millet production.


Genetically diverse hybrids are currently grown in over 60% of approximately 10 m ha in India. Total grain production has increased from 3.5 million tons in 1965 to 9.5 m tons in 2010, owing to the development of high-yielding single cross hybrids and their adoption by Indian farmers.

Pearl millet is a highly nutritious cereal. Recently, genetic improvement for higher levels of grain iron and zinc content has been added as another dimension in ICRISAT’s research program to further enhance the nutritive value of this crop.

Grown in arid and semi-arid areas most vulnerable to climate change, pearl millet has several natural evolutionary advantages for global warming. Some pearl millet varieties and hybrids developed from ICRISAT’s germplasm have high levels of salinity tolerance and are able to flower and set seeds at temperatures more than 42oC, in areas such as Western Rajasthan and Gujarat in India.

“The current research strategy at the Institute is to develop crop varieties that will overcome the adversities of climate change, and thereby reinforce the food and income security of the poor, particularly in the dryland tropics,” said ICRISAT Director General William D Dar.

Research on the diversification of the genetic base of seed parents of hybrids by ICRISAT and ICAR also led to overcoming the recurring problem of downy mildew epidemics in pearl millet hybrids.

The ICRISAT-ICAR breeding program has been fully backed by strong seed production and marketing of pearl millet cultivars by both public and private sectors. As a result, pearl millet has recorded highest percent increase in grain yield among all food crops in India during the last 15 years.

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SLP holds partner workshop at ICRISAT-Bulawayo

Bulawayo Participants of the SLP workshop from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Partners from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe participated in a workshop organized by the Systemwide Livestock Program (SLP) under the project “Optimizing livelihood and environmental benefits from crop residues in smallholder crop-livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.” The activity was held at ICRISAT-Bulawayo on 16-20 May.

The project aims to better understand the tradeoffs in using crop residues in countries with different ago-ecological and socio-economic conditions. During the workshop, the group revised results of the preliminary village focus group discussion and major drivers of agricultural development in selected sites. The workshop also provided an opportunity to share knowledge on different crop-livestock systems for enhancing technical, institutional and policy program directions.


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ICRISAT climate expert appointed to ACCFP board


PIERRE C SIBIRY TRAORE of ICRISAT-Mali has been appointed to the advisory board of The African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP). ACCFP offers experiential learning, education, and research and training opportunities to African professionals, researchers and graduate students to build their capabilities for advancing and applying knowledge for climate change adaptation in Africa.

ACCFP is managed by the University of Dar Es Salaam. The advisory board members provide insights on the likely impact of ACCFP activities on climate change related to sciences, public policy and decision making;
and collaborating with program partners to promote a long-term strategy for the ACCFP.


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World Bank watershed expert visits ICRISAT

Prof Hendrickx (left) interacting with farmers and the watershed team in Kothapally.

DR JOANNES M H HENDRICKX, Professor of Hydrology at the Department of Earth and Environmental Science and a Research Hydrologist at the Geophysical Research Center of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico, visited ICRISAT-Patancheru and the Kothapally watershed on a World Bank Mission on 23-24 May, along with officials from the Watershed Development Department, Bangalore.

Prof Hendrickx showed interest in the recently developed integrated digital runoff and soil loss measuring unit, indicating a plan for its distribution to World Bank-aided watershed projects in Karnataka and other states. ICRISAT has technically supported the World Bank’s Sujala Watershed project in Karnataka for productivity enhancement.

In his interaction with farmers and scientists, Prof Hendrickx expressed appreciation of ICRISAT’s impact-oriented scientific watershed approach, adding his intent to involve the ICRISAT watershed team in the new phase of the World Bank-aided watershed project in Karnataka.

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