To make quality seeds of improved sorghum easily accessible, a consortium of institutions is taking up 3000 tons of seed production this year to supply more than 10% of India’s farmers, who are often deterred from cultivating improved sorghum owing to non-availability of seed.
Post-rainy sorghum is grown on 3.5 million ha in India. Although prized for its grain and fodder, in the past few decades, terminal drought stress, low temperatures at flowering and farmers’ preference for the bold, lustrous white grains in adapted landrace cultivars limited genetic variability in sorghum. This, coupled with limited efforts for hybrid development, had resulted in a low acceptance (20%) of improved sorghum cultivars in India.
“Non-availability of improved post-rainy sorghum seeds is a major constraint in adoption. It persists though there is credible evidence that farmers in Maharashtra adopting seeds of improved varieties and recommended management technologies achieved 40% improvement in grain yield and 30% increase in stover yields in over 40,000 farmers’ fields,” Dr Ashok Kumar Are, Product Placement Lead-Asia, ICRISAT, said while adding that the consortium was created to scale-up the gains and interventions of HOPE Sorghum and Millets project that was funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during 2009-14.
The production of seeds by the Post-rainy Sorghum Seed Consortium will be led this year by the agricultural university, Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The consortium will produce seeds of improved varieties – Phule Suchitra, Phule Anuradha, Phule Revati and Phule Vasudha – in 2000 ha spread across Ahmednagar, Pune, Solapur and Jalgaon districts of the state. This was revealed during a pre-planning online meeting held on 15 September where Dr Are was the Chief Guest.
The consortium’s operations involves Maharashtra state’s agricultural universities – MPKV, Rahuri, and Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth (VNMKV), Parbhani, supplying breeder seeds of improved varieties to seed farmers, the Maharashtra State Seeds Corporation (Mahabeej) giving a “buy-back guarantee” to seed producers and procuring seeds at 25% higher than market price and the Maharashtra State Seed Certification Agency (MSSCA) certifying the procured seeds.
ICRISAT, ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), MPKV and VNMKV train seed farmers, organize field days and share knowledge on quality seed production and ways to achieve higher yields in seed production plots.
With partial funding support from CRP-Dryland Cereals and later CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals as well as ICRISAT, the consortium has been able to increase production of seeds from 300 tons in 2013 to 3000 tons in 2016. Last year, 300,000 farmers were supplied with improved seeds.
The improved varieties are now widely used in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra. The traditionally popular post-rainy sorghum cultivar, M 35-1 (Maldandi), is being replaced with improved varieties, resulting in enhanced crop productivity. Economic analysis of seed production has shown that seed growers get a return-cost ratio of 2.21 compared to 1.44 for grain producers. Being open-pollinated cultivars, the seeds are reused and exchanged with fellow farmers.