14) Pearl millet productivity increased, helps improve income and nutrition of rural poor in India (8 June 2011)

Hyderabad, India 08 June 2011 – A significant impact on the food and nutritional security and livelihood of the rural poor is being brought about by the 47.9% improvement of pearl millet productivity in India.

Years of strategic research on genetic diversification by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have boosted pearl millet yield in three conspicuous phases of hybrid development.

From an average of 620 kg/hectare in 1990-1993, pearl millet yield went up to 714 kg/hectare in 1994-1997 and increased further to 917 kg/hectare in 2006-2009, for a 47.9% improved yield. “This was achieved with much lesser investment in research and development (R&D) compared to other crops and given the greater environmental challenges in pearl millet production,” said Dr OP Yadav, Project Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project of ICAR.

Genetically diverse hybrids are currently grown in over 60% of approximately 10 million hectares in India. Total grain production has increased from 3.5 million tons in 1965 to 9.5 million tons in 2010, owing to the development of high-yielding single cross hybrids and their adoption by Indian farmers.

“The current research strategy at the Institute is to develop crop varieties that will overcome the adversities of climate change, and thereby reinforce the food and income security of the poor, particularly in the dryland tropics,” stated ICRISAT Director General William D Dar.

In terms of income generation, the 47.9% increase in pearl millet grain yield translates to an additional income of more than US$ 395 million/year for Indian farmers based on 9.5 million hectare area and a gate price of Rs 7/kg
(US$ 1=Rs 45). This could even be higher if the additional income from increased stover yield is included. 

With increased productivity, pearl millet has also been significantly contributing to the food and nutritional security of 15 million households in India. This is based on an average family size of five and a 50-kg/person/year millet consumption, and assuming that only 50% of total grains are used for food purposes.

Pearl millet is a highly nutritious cereal. Recently, genetic improvement for higher levels of grain iron and zinc content has been added as another dimension in ICRISAT’s research program to further enhance the nutritive value of this crop.

Research on the diversification of the genetic base of seed parents of hybrids by ICRISAT and ICAR also led to overcoming the recurring problem of downy mildew epidemics in pearl millet hybrids. The ICRISAT-ICAR breeding program has been fully backed-up by strong seed production and marketing of pearl millet cultivars by both public and private sectors. As a result, pearl millet has recorded highest percent increase in grain yield among all food crops in India during the last 15 years.


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