Crop scientists at ICRISAT are striving to achieve disease resistance, stress tolerance and nutritional improvement in our mandate crops. Modernization of the breeding programs includes rapid generation advancement methods, utilization of data-driven decision making digital platforms, molecular tools and advanced phenotyping technologies. These are the key areas of focus for enhancing productivity and boosting varietal development in a demand-driven approach.
An efficient and advanced crop breeding program contributes to higher genetic gains. Our breeding programs are designed to be focused, agile, cost-effective, and efficient. Here’s how we are staying ahead of the curve.
Modern breeding programs, contributing towards growing climate-resilient and nutritious crops, are critical for the planet’s food security.
Food security: Maintaining a steady growth of sustainable food production is critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger (UN SDG 2) by 2030.
Climate change: Breeding climate-resilient crops that can give high yields in a changing climate is the need of the hour.
Nutrition: With over 640 million inhabitants in the semi-arid tropics, we need crops that are nutritious and environmentally resilient.
We work in the SAT, home to over 2.5 billion people, most of whom are smallholder farmers. Our crops are grown in these regions and conditions, making them the staple food for many people.
A short (hi)story
In 1990, CCS Haryana Agricultural University (CCSHAU) released an earlymaturing pearl millet hybrid HHB 67, which was rapidly adopted by farmers in north-western India and by 2002, was cultivated on approximately 774,000 ha in southern Haryana and central Rajasthan.
When Downy Mildew (DM) disease attacked it and started affecting crop yields, CCSHAU and ICRISAT together developed HHB 67 Improved, using marker-assisted back-crossing (MABC), among other techniques. This high-yielding, DMresistant hybrid was released in 2005.
Most pests/diseases attack suddenly, with very little warning and little reaction time. e.g. Blast infestation in pearl millet in Asia and Africa in the past decade. Developing blast-resistant pearl millet is one of the top priorities due to demand from NARS breeders and seed companies.
Modernization of our breeding programs will enable development of resistant crop varieties in shorter timelines to mitigate such environmental threats.
Regional Crop Improvement Hubs set up in Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) and Western and Central Africa (WCA) to stimulate and support breeding programs in the region. Each hub, led by a Regional Breeding Lead, to have streamlined operations across the disciplines of breeding, physiology, integrated crop management, and genomics and trait discovery.
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Accurate, faster operations with precise cataloging and use of mechanized tools.
Enhanced breeding schemes such as Single Seed Descent and General Combining Ability to increase selection accuracy and intensity while retaining sufficient levels of genetic diversity.
Advanced technology for accurate prediction of genetic value for long-term gain
Data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence contribute to significant reduction in time taken to deliver varieties with desirable traits.
Generation time is a game changer for achieving maximum genetic gains in crop plants. Generally, it takes seven to eight years to develop homozygous (identical) lines after hybridization with one crop generation produced per year. For instance, the Rapid Generation Advancement protocol (RapidGen) allows the production of six to seven generations of chickpea in a year under controlled glasshouse conditions.
Planned multilocation trials for data to accurately estimate yield, determine pattern of response for genotype/agronomic treatments and provide reliable guidance for selecting the best genotypes or agronomic treatments for planting in future years and at new sites.
From genomics to operations to data analysis, capacity building among scientists, farmers, extension workers and other stakeholders is an ongoing process.
Leadership Training workshop on change management, team building and behavioral change in Arusha, Tanzania (30 participants)
1 Monitoring and Evaluation of Agri-Science Uptake in Research & Extension; 2 Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement for Sorghum and Millets (HOPE); 3 Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA)
What is genetic gain? The amount of increase in performance achieved in a generation through targeted selection determined in a crop breeding program by the following breeders’ equation.
Genetic gain can be increased by:
The initiative to streamline our crop improvement programs is a concerted effort to accelerate genetic gains in our mandate crops, resulting in faster delivery of varieties with higher yields, better nutritive value, stronger resistance to biotic/abiotic stresses and other desirable traits. These will help smallholder farmers in the dryland regions achieve financial and nutritional security, while causing minimal impact on the environment.
We thank our funders and partners for supporting us in our initiative to modernize breeding. We are confident that cutting-edge breeding programs can make a difference to the smallholder farmers by providing them with climate-resilient, agro-ecologically adapted and nutritious crops.