Crop improvement & seed access

Crop improvement

Smart Foods: Nutri-cereals for her

The creation of biofortified pearl millet

To combat anemia in women and children, scientists developed biofortified pearl millet high in iron and zinc, which has been adopted by Indian farmers. A fine example of the Lab-to-Land approach.

A woman farmer harvesting pearl millet in Gujarat, India.

A woman farmer harvesting pearl millet in Gujarat, India.   photo: J kane potaka, ICRISAT


1982 – ICTP 8203, an open-pollinated variety of pearl millet, was developed at ICRISAT from selection within an Iniadi landrace from northern Togo.

1988 – It was released for cultivation in peninsular India and rapidly adopted by farmers.

1995  At the peak of its adoption it occupied about 800,000 ha (mostly in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh).

2003- 08 – The variety had the highest level of iron density among a diverse range of populations. By exploiting intra-population variability for iron density within it, one of its improved versions ICTP 8203 Fe was developed with active support of HarvestPlus.

2010-11 – ICTP 8203 Fe had 71 ppm of iron density (9% higher than ICTP 8203) and 2.21 t/ha of grain yield (11% higher than ICTP 8203).
42 field trials were conducted by the All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project in peninsular India. 

2012 – Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, had proposed this variety for state release as Dhanashakti.
Nirmal Seeds company produced and marketed truthfully labeled seed of ICTP 8203 Fe.

2013 – On 15 April, ICTP 8203 Fe was released as Dhanashakti in Maharashtra, India. Bioavailability studies among young women aged around 20 years in Benin and with very young Indian children (aged around 2.5 years) – showed that biofortification of pearl millet is highly effective in combating iron deficiency in millet-consuming populations . 

2014 – Dhanashakti is the first iron biofortified crop cultivar to be officially released in India. It has been included in the Nutri-Farm Pilot Program launched by the Indian government.

2015 – Private sector takes up pearl millet biofortification breeding programs.
A study funded by HarvestPlus released in May, based in Maharashtra, India, has found that of the children (12-16 years) who were iron deficient at the beginning of the study, 40% of the children consuming regular pearl millet and 64% of the children consuming high-iron pearl millet were iron replete at the end of the study. (Journal of Nutrition).

2016 – 10 high-iron hybrids (with >80 ppm Fe) are set for all-India trials. ICRISAT’s biofortification team is expecting to commercialize three more hybrids by 2016.

Fighting anemiaanemia-in-women-n-men-india

 India: Every second Indian woman is anemic and one in every five maternal deaths is directly due to anemia*. Pearl millet biofortification opens up the possibility of a cost-effective strategy to beat micronutrient malnutrition in women and children.

Global scenario: Globally, anemia affects 1.62 billion people, which corresponds to 24.8% of the population. The greatest number of individuals affected is non-pregnant women (468.4 million).

The highest prevalence is found in Africa (47.5%) and in South-East Asia (35.7%).
Source: Global Database on Anaemia, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2008.

Pearl millet provides smallholder farmers a climate-ready crop to face the vagaries of climate change. It is a hardy, drought-tolerant crop, often the only crop that can grow in the arid degraded soils across the drylands of the world. It is a staple grain across many states of India and across large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a significant source of iron and zinc and has been shown to account for 19-63% of the total iron and 16-56% of total zinc intake from all food sources in pearl millet growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. It is also the cheapest source of these micronutrients as compared to other cereals and vegetables. 



Seed Access

Sowing seeds of prosperity

A success story from Malawi

About 49% of seed producers in Malawi are female. The Phalula Women’s Group plays an important role in increasing certified legume seed supply in the country.

Phalula Women’s Group, Malawi.

Phalula Women’s Group, Malawi. photo: Felix Sichali, ICRISAT


Farmers had limited access to improved high-yielding and fast-maturing varieties of groundnut and pigeonpea.


About 1,000 seed producers per year have been engaged with approximately 49% being success-story-from-Malawifemaleproducers.

The seed is bought back by ICRISAT using funds from the Seed Revolving Fund.

The Seed Revolving Fund is treated as a business account.

All decisions made, including pricing, are business focused.

More than 16 training programs on Seed Sector Development

were organized to equip stakeholders to efficiently handle their seed business. Women’s participation ranged from 20-50%.

A truck loading groundnut foundation seed from an ICRISAT dispatching warehouse in Malawi.

A truck loading groundnut foundation seed from an ICRISAT dispatching warehouse in Malawi.

High-quality certified seeds are flowing into the seed value chain.

Many farmers started growing pigeonpea due to availability of improved seeds, replacing crops such as tobacco.

Farmers collectively monitor the quality of the seed production in each other’s fields.

Engaging farmers in seed production and establishing the seed revolving fund overcame the barrier of the private sector’s reluctance to engage in production of self-pollinated legume crops.

Farmers involved in the project acquired assets and children have been sent to better schools.

Smallholder farmers benefited from new interventions as the training provided a common platform for upcoming local seed companies, agro-dealer umbrella organizations, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, contract growers and smallholder farmer groups.


Important market-linked strategiesImportant-market-linked-stats
The future

Phase II

  • Focus is on building the Malawi Seed Alliance which will take over the project.
  • Collaborations will be formed with other research and development partners to scale-up and replicate this successful seed model to other crop species.
  • Innovative models for grain marketing will be developed targeting the trade and consumer markets.

“From 2008 to 2013, these investments have increased legume certified seed supply in the country from 270 tons to 2,405 tons, an 8-fold increase. Over 2 million farmers have been reached with this seed. We have ramped up seed production, increased storage capacity, and indeed now for the first time, have a seed system management information system in the country. “Aine-Hearns

Ms Áine Hearns
Irish Ambassador to Malawi

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