SATrends Issue 69 August 2006
  • Downy mildew on summer pearl millet hybrids - a warning
  • Sorghum - nutrition for the needy
  • Partnership paves the way in Mali

  • 1. Downy mildew on summer pearl millet hybrids - a warning

    Downy mildew (Sclerospora graminicola) is the most devastating disease of pearl millet hybrids. Monitoring the on-farm performance of hybrids for downy mildew resistance is the key to its proper management.

    In recent years, due to growing demands for forage, summer (March–June in India) cultivation of pearl millet has become popular in certain parts of Gujarat state where dairy farming generates high incomes for farmers. High seed rate (7–10 kg ha-1), frequent irrigation (7–8), good crop nutrition (150 kg N and 100 kg P ha-1) and improved crop management provide the high crop density desirable for high fodder productivity.

    downy mildew VP Rao, Lead Scientific Officer, ICRISAT, examines a crop severely infected with downy mildew in Banaskanta district of Gujarat, May 2006

    The average grain and fodder productivity of summer pearl millet in Gujarat is about three times higher than that of the rainy season crop. Farmers grow a number of hybrids during summer after the harvest of high-income crops, such as tobacco and potato. Thus farmers ensure forage (green) and fodder (dry) for their dairy animals.

    A three-day on-farm survey conducted by ICRISAT, ICAR-AICPMIP and Pioneer Overseas Corporation from 17 to 19 May 2006, covered 71 pearl millet fields in three districts (Mehasana, Banaskanta and Patan) of Gujarat that were grown with 26 hybrids (from 3 public sector and 23 private seed companies). Forty-one fields (58%) got infected with downy mildew – the incidence ranged from 1 to 93%.

    Two public sector hybrids – GHB 557 and GHB 558 – were disease-free, while HHB 67 had 11% incidence. Eleven private sector hybrids (Bioseed, HY 555, M-50, Nandi 5, Nandi 52, PAC 982, Pioneer 86M34, Pioneer 86M52, Proagro 9444, Raasi 2246 and Ritu) were disease-free, while the remaining 12 (Ajay VBBH 334, Chandini 511, Nandi 32, Nandi 35, Nirmal 1651, NK 1616, Paras Ganesh, Paras Sarpanch, Pioneer 7777, Proagro 9555, Rani, Seedtek) had mean incidence of <1% (Paras Sarpanch) to 61% (Paras Ganesh) despite the fact that most of them were treated with a fungicide (metalaxyl).

    Summer crop of pearl millet hybrids: heavily infected by downy mildew (left) and a healthy crop (right).

    Highly susceptible hybrids should be withdrawn from cultivation to prevent development of downy mildew epiphytotics. The private and public sectors should plan the deployment of their hybrid cultivars during the next cropping season.

    Apparently cropping sequences influence downy mildew development in pearl millet. The crop following tobacco and castor had low disease incidence, while that following groundnut and potato had high incidence (54 to 77%). It appears that the root exudates of tobacco and castor plants have some deleterious effects on the oospores of downy mildew in the soil.

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    2. Sorghum - nutrition for the needy

    Sorghum is one of the cheapest sources of energy, protein, iron and zinc, after pearl millet. Data from the ‘Consumer Expenditure Survey’ Rounds of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) show that the per capita consumption of sorghum in India has dropped by about 60% between 1987 (11.9 kg/annum) and 2000 (5 kg/annum). However, this does not reflect on the consumption levels in the regions where sorghum is cultivated and consumed.

    downy mildew

    To unravel regional consumption patterns an ICRISAT study used household data drawn from the 55th Round of NSSO’s Consumer Expenditure Survey (1999–2000). As part of the sample design under the survey, each Indian state is divided into 5–10 regions that are referred to as ‘NSSO regions’. For sorghum, five regions spreading across three states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra were selected, which account for the bulk of sorghum production and consumption in India.

    The consumption of sorghum by rural population is the highest (75.2 kg/annum) in the inland central region of Maharashtra (ICM), which accounts for 48 percent of the total per capita cereal consumption closely followed by the inland eastern region of Maharashtra (IEM), and the inland northern region of Karnataka (INK) (Table 1).

    Table 1. Per capita consumption of sorghum in the major sorghum-
    producing regions of India.




    Sorghum (kg/

    Percent to all cereals

    Sorghum (kg/

    Percent to all cereals






    Inland Western (IWM)





    Inland Central (ICM)





    Inland Eastern (IEM)










    Inland Northern (INK)





    Andhra Pradesh





    Inland Northern (INA)





    The study found that sorghum consumption is significantly affected by urbanization and income. Consumption in urban areas is about 2–7 times lower than in the rural areas. Per capita sorghum consumption (both rural and urban) declined with increase in the household income, implying a greater dependence on sorghum by low-income households.

    In terms of nutritive value, sorghum accounts for about 35 percent of the total intake of calories, protein, iron and zinc, in the dominant production/consumption regions of INK, ICM and IEM (Table 2). Also, the difference in the cost of nutrients is high when compared with other commodities such as fruits, vegetables, meat, egg, fish, dairy products, pulses, and even rice. Thus, sorghum is a great choice of a nutrition source for the rural poor

    Table 2. Contribution of sorghum to total nutrient intake:
    rural India.















    306 (17.0)

    9.1 (14.4)

    3.6 (15.1)

    1.4 (14.4)


    719 (35.5)

    21.4 (31.6)

    8.4 (32.2)

    3.3 (31.4)


    693 (36.3)

    20.6 (30.3)

    8.1 (33.9)

    3.2 (35.2)


    646 (34.1)

    19.3 (32.3)

    7.6 (36.9)

    3.0 (34.1)


    216 (11.8)

    6.4 (13.6)

    2.5 (24.5)

    1.0 (13.5)

    Note: Quantities consumed converted into their nutrient equivalents
    using nutritional composition values from Gopalan et al. (2000).

    Figures in parenthesis are percent contribution of sorghum to total intake
    from all foods.

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    3. Partnership paves the way in Mali

    The West African country of Mali will be the venue for ICRISAT’s next Governing Board meeting in October this year. This location houses a small group of ICRISAT scientists, who, together with a long-standing partner, the Institut d’Economie Rural (IER), are gallantly striving to overcome agricultural production constraints in the country.

    ICRISAT and IER work on groundnuts, cereals, natural resources, socio-economics and transformation. A recent addition is the joint GIS remote sensing and modeling unit, which will soon serve as a backbone for a wider multilateral GIS remote sensing and modeling laboratory with regional scope in West Africa.

    ICRISAT’s strength lies in the three decades of expertise in crop improvement and natural resource management in the semi-arid tropics; a pool of researchers who represent some of the best of minds in the field; a vast germplasm collection held in trust; and the emphasis on methodology development and the development of tools and approaches for enhancing the effectiveness of agricultural research

    IER on the other hand has a deep understanding of local issues, perspectives and concerns; holds the key to local knowledge and expertise; has a close rapport with farmers; and has a constantly increasing human resource capacity.

    Cinzana Research Station A training course conducted by ICRISAT at IER’s Cinzana Research Station.

    The success of the partnership so far is evidenced by the improved varieties of groundnut pearl millet and sorghum developed for increased productivity, resistance to disease, and improved nutritional value; a seed system to assure farmer’s access to improved diversity; improved crop management techniques in field and post-harvest practices; and the identification of key traits that help in creating varieties that can be adapted to the region.

    Besides these areas of research, the partnership is also involved in special projects such as the national germplasm conservation project; special seed multiplication associations and farmer participatory seed production systems; training and empowering farmers; market oriented research; development of guinea-race sorghum hybrids; applying biotechnology for Striga resistance; fertilizer microdosing; and the desert margins program.

    In recent years, the IER-ICRISAT partnership has matured to develop and execute original collaborative approaches that concretize our common objectives.

    IER and ICRISAT have been able to pinpoint several critical areas for collaboration and to jointly design operational solutions that meet local needs.

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