40) ICRISAT and its Partners Well Set to Revolutionize Pigeonpea Hybrid Seed Industry (January 2001)

Scientists from ICRISAT and its partner institutions are on the verge of creating the world's first cytoplasmic male-sterile hybrid pigeonpea, which could create a big leap in production and farm incomes. Pigeonpea is a staple of South Asian diets and is also widely grown across Africa.

To achieve this breakthrough, the cytoplasm of a wild relative of pigeonpea Cajanus sericeus was successfully moved into a cultivated genetic background, through years of painstaking crosses, backcrosses, and selections by an inter-institutional consortium convened by ICRISAT in India.

The fertility restoration system, a second vital component of the technology, has also been established, thus clearing the way for developing the first cytoplasmic male sterility system (CMS)-based pigeonpea hybrid in the near future.

Pigeonpea hybrids can increase production by 25% or more and exhibit greater stability across divers environments and against major abiotic stress such as drought , reaping huge income gains for farmers. They have revolutionized modern cereal agriculture, especially for corn (maize). However, it has been much more difficult to implement the system in food legumes (pea and bean crops), because they do not outcross easily.

During the late '80s/early '90s, ICRISAT had convened an inter-institutional effort in India that developed the world's first hybrid pigeonpea. But that hybrid was difficult to produce on a commercial scale, because it used nuclear-genetic male sterility - a system that required intensive field labor to remove any fertile plants to avoid contamination. This invoked high labor costs and skill requirements among seed producers. As a result, the hybrid seed industry never fully realized its potential.

Now, this problem is nearly solved - as scientists report positive results from a decade-long quest to discover CMS that does not face these contamination and production cost problems.

This major scientific advance could only have been possible through partnership, because a number of different wild species had to be considered and tested in order to find at least one that would work. The partners included , Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya (PKV), and ICRISAT. The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Corporation - MAHYCO - a leading private sector seed company in India - also participated actively, and is providing significant financial support to the project as well.


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