Mainstreaming of nutrients (e.g. iron) in hybrid cultivars of pearl millet is being taken up on high priority by NARS partners, private sector seed companies and ICRISAT, given the alarmingly high levels of malnutrition across India and Africa. According to a recently released report*, 58% of children in India under five years of age are anemic.
At a recent review and planning meeting of pearl millet researchers at ICRISAT-India, participants discussed the performance of pearl millet biofortification trials during 2016 and created follow-up plans for the 2017 crop season.
Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer, Global Director, Product Development and Commercialization, HarvestPlus, discussed a strategic shift in the program and future targets of global biofortification efforts to reach one billion people by 2030, of which 80% would be in Asia. He recommended that mainstreaming of nutrients at all levels was of utmost importance for a nutritionally secure future in the dryland regions, and said that varietal release committees should make minimum levels of minerals and vitamins a requirement for approval of cultivar release.
Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, recounted ICRISAT’s significant progress in collaborating with public and private sector partners for pearl millet biofortification. The high-iron (71 mg/kg) pearl millet variety (Dhanashakti), developed in collaboration with partners, has been adopted by over 65,000 farmers in India. Another high-iron, high-yielding variety (ICMH 1201) was widely adopted by over 35,000 farmers in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Dr Bergvinson further stated that consumer markets need to be created for long-term adoption of biofortified cultivars by farmers and consumers.
Dr KV Raju, Theme Leader, Policy and Impact, ICRISAT, highlighted the feasibility of incorporating biofortified food products in the public distribution system and the midday meal scheme in India. He also mentioned that commercial food industries have great potential for developing Smart Food products for markets. National-level progress on pearl millet biofortification was detailed by NARS partners. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s encouragement for a focus on breeding high-iron pearl millet in the All India Coordinated Millet Improvement Project (AICMIP) centers was also mentioned.
The main objectives of the Pearl Millet Biofortification program are:
- Precision screening and phenotyping of breeding materials and pipeline cultivars
- Evaluation and identification of diverse high-iron sources
- Strategic research and strengthening of partnership-based cultivar development and delivery
- Development of high-iron and high-yielding breeding lines and hybrid parents.
Dr M Govindaraj, Scientist, Pearl Millet Breeding, ICRISAT, urged the group to make use of high-iron breeding lines of ICRISAT and to share the feedback to improve data quality and the breeding program. He finalized the 2017 trials and nurseries in consultation with partners.
Mr Binu Cherian, Country Manager, Pearl Millet Delivery, HarvestPlus, briefed the audience about biofortified pearl millet delivery strategy and adoption plans, and also informed the group about a consortium of biofortification markets involving seed and food industries.
The Pearl Millet Biofortification program review and planning meet, held on 3 March, was attended by 53 researchers as well as representatives from HarvestPlus, public and private sector organizations and state seed corporations.
More on ICRISAT’s work on pearl millet here.