Pearl Millet Overview

 Scientific name: Pennisetum glaucum.

 Common name: Bajra (Hindi) Sajje (Karnataka) Kambu (Tamil) Mawele (Swahili)

Pearl Millet holds a crucial position as an essential cereal crop, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. This hardy and drought-tolerant crop plays a pivotal role in ensuring food security and alleviating poverty in regions facing formidable climatic challenges. Its remarkable ability to thrive in arid conditions makes it a resilient and dependable crop that can withstand prolonged periods of water scarcity and erratic rainfall patterns, making it a lifeline for farmers in drought-prone areas.

One of the standout features of pearl millet is its exceptional nutritional value, making it a significant contributor to human diets in regions where staple food options are limited. The grain of pearl millet is rich in vital nutrients, including protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. This nutritional profile makes it a valuable food source, especially for communities that depend heavily on it as a primary food staple.

Beyond its significance in human consumption, pearl millet is equally essential for livestock production. The straw of the pearl millet plant, in both fresh and dried forms, serves as an excellent fodder source for animals. This fodder plays a critical role in supporting livestock in dryland areas, where grazing options may be scarce due to the challenging climate. By providing a reliable source of nutrition for animals, pearl millet contributes significantly to the sustainability and productivity of livestock-based agricultural systems in these regions.

In addition to its role in food and livestock fodder, pearl millet serves as a valuable resource for diverse purposes. Its straw can be utilized for thatching, providing shelter and insulation for homes and structures. Furthermore, pearl millet is increasingly gaining attention for its potential as a biofuel crop, contributing to sustainable energy solutions in arid regions.

ICRISAT's active involvement in pearl millet research and breeding is aimed at further enhancing the crop's resilience, productivity, and nutritional quality. By developing improved pearl millet varieties, ICRISAT helps farmers overcome challenges posed by climate change and scarce resources, ultimately promoting food security and uplifting livelihoods in vulnerable regions. Through collaborative efforts with various stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, and policymakers, ICRISAT continues to champion pearl millet's significance as a key player in sustainable agriculture, poverty reduction, and food security in arid and semi-arid regions across the globe.


Our Impact

ICRISAT's pioneering work on pearl millet encompasses a wide range of efforts, spanning breeding, agronomy, crop management, and addressing challenges posed by pests, diseases, and climate change. The institute has been at the forefront of genetic improvement for pearl millet, tapping into its extensive germplasm collection conserved in the Genebank to develop resistant varieties to combat downy mildew, a common disease affecting pearl millet crops.

With a strong focus on collaboration, ICRISAT has played a pivotal role in releasing 124 varieties and hybrids in 20 countries in partnership with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS). In Asia, ICRISAT collaborates closely with the Indian National Agricultural Research System to enhance pearl millet traits of national and regional importance, providing valuable support to national breeding programs.

In West and Central Africa (WCA), the emphasis is on developing climate-smart, dual-purpose Open-Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) and hybrids tailored to diverse agro-ecologies. Working with national partners from Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal, the program focuses on breeding high grain-yielding biofortified cultivars with increased iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) content, as well as pest and disease tolerance to combat hunger and malnutrition.

In Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), alongside the development of improved varieties, ICRISAT actively collaborates with NARS in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe for germplasm collection, characterization, and testing.

To address the challenge of striga, a parasitic weed wreaking havoc on pearl millet crops, ICRISAT has successfully incorporated striga tolerance traits into breeding programs. This breakthrough has equipped farmers with cost-effective means to manage the weed and protect their yields.

Through the establishment of the Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (HPRC) for pearl millet, ICRISAT has fostered synergistic collaborations between international agricultural research centers and the private sector. More than 30 seed companies in India and abroad have partnered with ICRISAT through HPRC, enabling the delivery of improved hybrids and varieties to impoverished farmers through public-private partnerships.

As a pioneering force in genomic research, ICRISAT led the International Pearl Millet Genome Sequencing Consortium (IPMGSC), which united distinguished research institutions specializing in genome sequencing and pearl millet research. Their collaborative efforts culminated in the successful sequencing and assembly of the pearl millet genome. The publication of this valuable data in 2017 has since become an indispensable resource for researchers and breeders alike, further elevating pearl millet crops and fortifying global agricultural initiatives. ICRISAT's commitment to innovative research, collaboration, and knowledge sharing continues to be instrumental in securing the future of pearl millet as a resilient and vital crop in the fight against food insecurity and poverty in arid and semi-arid regions.


Market segments

ICRISAT's breeding program is characterized by its proactive approach to continuously assess and update market segments in close consultation with various stakeholders. By understanding the needs and challenges faced by farmers, consumers, processors, and other key players along the agri-food value chain, ICRISAT can prioritize and focus on breeding traits that address current issues and align with market demands.

The Pearl Millet breeding program at ICRISAT is currently dedicated to four distinct market segments, each with specific traits targeted for improvement:

Medium to Late Maturing Dual Purpose Pearl Millet for Food and Fodder in Well-Endowed Environments:

 Key Traits: Maturity duration, grain yield, stover yield, and digestibility

 Focus on combating downy mildew and blast resistance

 Emphasis on enriching iron and zinc levels to enhance nutritional value

Early Maturing Dual Purpose Pearl Millet for Food and Fodder in Drought-Prone Environments:

 Key Traits: Maturity duration, grain yield, stover yield, and digestibility

 Targeting resistance to downy mildew and blast

 Developing terminal drought tolerance for enhanced resilience

 Working to boost iron and zinc levels for improved nutrition

Dual Purpose Pearl Millet for Heat Stress Environments:

 Key Traits: Maturity duration, grain yield, stover yield, and digestibility

 Efforts to ensure resistance against downy mildew and blast

 Focusing on flowering stage heat tolerance to withstand heat stress

 Enhancing iron and zinc levels to elevate nutritional content

High Biomass Pearl Millet for Forage:

 Key Traits: Maturity duration, forage yield, and digestibility

 Striving for increased tillering and resistance to downy mildew and blast

 Offering single cut and multi-cut options for flexibility

 Exploring ways to elevate protein content in forage for better livestock nutrition

These market-focused breeding efforts demonstrate ICRISAT's commitment to addressing diverse challenges and catering to the specific needs of various agro-climatic regions. By developing improved pearl millet varieties tailored to each market segment, ICRISAT aims to contribute significantly to food security, sustainable agriculture, and poverty alleviation in regions facing climatic challenges. Through continued collaboration and research, ICRISAT remains at the forefront of enhancing pearl millet's impact on livelihoods and agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions worldwide.

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