Dr Tara Satyavathi, Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Research Project on pearl millet shares her views. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT
12
Oct

Drought and disease: Twin targets for pearl millet breeders

Dr Tara Satyavathi, Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Research Project on pearl millet shares her views. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Dr Tara Satyavathi, Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Research Project on pearl millet shares her views. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

A report from a field day for scientists

Developing pearl millet varieties resistant to drought and disease is the need of the day, say pearl millet scientists from India and abroad. During a couple of field days at ICRISAT recently, pearl millet scientists from across Brazil, India, Iran, Kenya and Niger came together to share ideas and select genetic material for their crop breeding programs. The scientists had the opportunity to go through about 15,000 pearl millet breeding plots, check out germplasm accessions maintained by the gene bank and pre-breeding materials, observe disease nurseries, learn about seed parent/restorer/forage/biofortification breeding programs and interact with breeders at ICRISAT.

Valuable feedback from the participants highlighted the following as high-priority areas for pearl millet breeders to focus on in the near future:

  • Developing extra-early and drought-tolerant hybrid parents, especially for the A1 zone (arid regions with low rainfall)
  • Accelerating identification and development of blast-resistant cultivars to combat the rapidly advancing threat of blast disease
  • Developing long panicle breeding materials in dwarf genetic backgrounds coupled with early-maturing traits
  • Increasing mechanization in pearl millet cultivation.

Dr C Tara Satyavathi, National Coordinator, AICRP (All India Coordinated Research Project) on Pearl Millet, said, “With 2018 being declared India’s National Year of Millets, we need to concentrate our efforts on boosting productivity, disease resistance and biofortification in pearl millet.”

Mr Daniel Bonamigo from ATTO Adriana, Brazil, apprised the group on the status and prospects of pearl millet in Brazil, appealing to experts for solutions to some challenges and for ideas for improvement.

Dr RS Mahala, Chair, Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (HPRC), underlined the goal of making pearl millet profitable to farmers. There were suggestions for introducing more mechanization for pearl millet farmers to tackle labor shortage. High labor costs significantly increase the cost of production.

In another presentation, Ms Nasser Aichatou, Managing Director of Ainoma Farms, Niger, explained how they have successfully created a thriving seed production company, aided by materials from ICRISAT over the past several years. She hoped to expand seed production outside Niger, by forming consortia similar to HPRC in India.

The participants were highly impressed with the genetic diversity on display and the meticulous way material had been organized. A few suggested that pedigree and passport information as well as biofortification details be mentioned for breeding lines, as these would help breeders  select the right material. They also appreciated the cytoplasmic diversification of genetic material for seed parents and restorer parents in the program.

Speaking about pearl millet’s status as an “underutilized crop”, Dr Jan Debaene, Global Head, Breeding, ICRISAT, highlighted its immense market potential that the private and public sector seed companies should take note of.

Over 103 participants, including scientists and representatives of private and public sector seed companies, attended the Pearl Millet Scientists Field Day held during 3-4 October at ICRISAT, India, organized by
Dr SK Gupta, Principal Scientist, Pearl Millet, ICRISAT, and his team.

The Pearl Millet Improvement Program is mapped to the CGIAR Research Program – Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC).

Read more on Pearl Millet

Participants at the pearl millet field day. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Participants at the pearl millet field day. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

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