The global warming phenomenon, with its ominous threat of
severe water shortages, demands crops that can withstand heat
and drought. Enter pearl millet.
Traditionally cultivated as a subsistence crop in the
driest areas of Asia and Africa, pearl millet is primarily
grown for household use as food. It is also an important
poultry feed, and its biomass provides fodder for livestock.
It is the most drought-and heat-tolerant food crop in the
Research by ICRISAT and its partner institutions has
already brought about notable successes in managing drought.
ICTP 8203, a variety released in 1988, gave more grain yield
and matured earlier than the popular varieties. The rapid
adoption of this variety, covering 0.8 million ha at the peak
of its popularity in 1995 in the drought-prone environments of
Maharashtra state of India, revealed a genetic secret. The
germplasm used to develop ICTP 8203 was derived from iniari
landrace material from Togo. Iniari combined drought tolerance
with large seed size and early maturity better than any other
germplasm previously known.
ICTP 8203: posing for a proud
ICRISAT breeders introduced ICTP 8203 to southern Africa,
where it was rapidly adopted as Okashana 1 in Namibia through
farmer-participatory selection. A sister vareity, also named
as Okashana 1, replaced ICTP 8203 and quickly
reached the astounding adoption level of 50% of the pearl
millet area in the country. Okashana 1 can be harvested 4-6
weeks earlier than the local varieties, thus escaping drought,
and produces 25-40% higher grain yield.
The large genetic variability of pearl millet permits even
shorter duration cultivars. The greatest success story is that
of a hybrid called HHB 67, which was developed by CCS Haryana
Agricultural University in India with assistance from Kansas
State University and ICRISAT. This hybrid, now grown widely in
India's driest states of Rajasthan and Haryana, matures in 65
days, making it the earliest-maturing commercial cultivar in
the world. Even though HHB 67 yields less than the full-season
cultivars, fields planted with the HHB 67 can be vacated two
weeks earlier, permitting the planting of winter crops like
chickpea and mustard.
Armed with vast genetic resources and more than 30 years of
experience, ICRISAT breeders and partners have succeeded in
responding to one consequence of global warming: drought. The
next step, identifying sources of heat tolerance, is already
where cultivars producing
grains at temperatures as high as 44°C have been
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