Incoming Board Chair briefed on extensive work in pigeonpea improvement and promotion of new varieties of millets in ESA

Dr Kerby and the pigeonpea researchers look at the high yielding, large seeded pigeonpea at the Kabete experimental station. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Kerby and the pigeonpea researchers look at the high yielding, large seeded pigeonpea at the Kabete experimental station. Photo: ICRISAT

Updates on the extensive ongoing research work in pigeonpea improvement, demand for the new sorghum varieties introduced, potential for pearl millet promotion and the several new finger millet varieties released in Eastern and Southern Africa were shared with Dr Nigel Kerby, Incoming Board Chair, ICRISAT, while on a visit to the region.

Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) is the secondary center of diversity for pigeonpea and breeding programs based in Kenya through three agro-ecologically representative locations namely Kabete (high altitude), Kiboko(low-mid altitude) and Kampi Ya Mawe (dry areas). Dr Kerby visited all the three breeding sites.

Pigeonpea improvement in ESA started in 1992 using native germplasm with region specific breeding priorities such as high grain yield, inter-cropping compatibility, photo-period insensitivity, grain quality, resistance/tolerance to Fusarium wilt, Helicoverpa pod borer and resilience to climate change. A total 33 high yielding varieties were released since then and ICRISAT bred varieties were widely adopted in the region. The region exports 290,000 tons of pigeonpea grain/year to India, worth US$200 million.

During his visit, Dr Kerby saw the potential breeding material such as insect and drought tolerant, red podded and large cream seeded genotypes that are in advanced stages of breeding cycle. He interacted with researchers from partnering organizations for feedback on ICRISAT’s work. Mr Bernard Towett, Legumes Researcher from Egerton University said that it was the first time he was seeing excellent pigeonpea breeding material in pipeline during his 25 years of working experience. Mr Kennedy Kanenga, Legumes Coordinator, Zambia Agricultural Research Institute said that ICRISAT assisted them in capacity enhancement and germplasm sharing including better conduct of breeding trials.

Other issues discussed during the visit included –

  • The demand for ICRISAT bred varieties of sorghum for multiple uses as food, fodder and fish feed.
  • Several new varieties of finger millet that were released in the region as it is recognized by the locals as a crop with high nutritional value. The snapping trait and emasculation technique in finger millet were discussed.
  • Growing potential of pearl millet in extreme dry conditions.
  • ICRISAT’s breeding strategy for hybrids, pests and diseases of pigeonpea, sorghum and pearl millet.

The current infrastructure facilities at research locations and the need to upgrade them were also discussed.

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