SATrends Issue 95
October 2008
1. Genomics to jump-start drought tolerant groundnut

Most farmers in Asia and Africa depend on the rains to grow their crops. However, rainfall is not uniform. In 2006, 112 of the 533 meteorological districts in India, received excess rain, while the situation was normal in 193 districts. Also, India has vast stretches of land that are drought-prone, so the legumes grown here have very low productivity. Crop breeders have been working tirelessly to develop drought tolerant varieties for decades with some success. However, it takes a long time to breed such varieties with conventional breeding. Recent advances in crop biotechnology, in the form of genomics and genetic engineering, can provide speedier results.

Groundnut We need groundnut varieties that can overcome the harsh conditions of the semi-arid tropics.

The use of genomics in breeding is internationally accepted. For many temperate cereal crops, genomics approaches have facilitated the development of superior varieties. However, this has not been the case for legume crops due to the non-availability of appropriate tools (molecular markers, genetic maps in semi arid tropic legumes like groundnut). Once these genomic tools are available and genes are identified for drought tolerance, they can greatly facilitate the breeding for this trait. Such varieties, developed eventually by a combination of conventional and molecular breeding, can produce seeds that can be grown even in drought-prone areas, which should produce higher yields.

Together with colleagues from the Catholic University of Brazil, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the University of Georgia and Tuskegee University of USA, the genomics team at ICRISAT is actively engaged in developing genomic tools for groundnut. Research carried out by an interdisciplinary team of scientists over the last three years has resulted in developing the first genetic map for cultivated groundnut. This is an important step toward identifying genes that will help in conferring tolerance/resistance to drought and other diseases.

While analyzing this genetic map together with physiological data on the mapping population, a few genomic regions (called QTLs) associated with components of drought tolerance have been identified. However, right now these QTLs are not the candidates for use in breeding programs. But this is the first step towards molecular breeding for drought tolerance in groundnut. Molecular markers and the genetic map developed by ICRISAT scientists are being shared and used by NARS partners such as National Research Centre for Groundnut, Junagadh and University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad in India and EMBRAPA in Brazil. Part of these results have been published in Open Access journal (BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:72) and some results are under communication to other journals.

The Generation Challenge Program of the CGIAR and the National Fund of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (Government of India) are the main sponsors of the research being undertaken on groundnut by ICRISAT's genomics team.

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2. Managing water in eastern Africa

Water is a basic necessity for life, and agriculture that supports human food systems would be nowhere without water. But water is a scarce commodity in the dry and semi-arid regions of the world and has been a serious concern for agriculturalists in these areas for decades.

ICRISAT scientists participated in the third Agricultural Water Management Regional Conference that was held at the United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 15 to 19 September, and shared experiences on water management in the semi-arid tropics by adopting integrated watershed management.

watershed ICRISAT's watershed doyen, SP Wani, speaks to workshop participants in Ethiopia.

ICRISAT's contributions were via two papers titled A new paradigm for unlocking the potential in rainfed agriculture through community watersheds for sustainable development and Enhancing collective action and equity in community watersheds through institutional innovations. Both the papers were very well received and discussed in detail. There was keen interest from a number of countries to strengthen collaboration between Asia and Africa, capitalizing on the lessons from watershed work in Asia. The major recommendations that emerged from the conference are:

ICRISAT's watershed team has so far done appreciable work in Ethiopia but needs to follow-it up with assessment and scaling up.

The Improved Management of Agricultural Water in Eastern Africa (IMAWESA) Network has assembled a good number of best practices. ICRISAT advocates formal documentation of the same, which will help in assessing the practices and diagnosing constraints to weave into the solutions using a watershed approach.

ICRISAT will also foster partnerships with similar Networks in order to develop a relevant rural development approach for productivity enhancement and poverty reduction through Integrated Watershed Management for Eastern Africa. This opportunity to foster partnership with nine countries in eastern Africa through participation in IMAWESA will enhance our outreach and also pave the way to scale out watershed experiences from Asia to Africa.

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