ICRISAT recently hosted the East and Southern Africa Sorghum and Pearl Millet Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (SPMHPRC) members at a biannual field day at the KALRO-ICRISAT Kiboko, Kenya research field station on the 20th April 2022.
The consortium members from Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe represented four National Agricultural Research System (NARS) partners and 8 seed companies, including the CEO of the Seed Traders Association of Kenya.
The delegates received an overview of sorghum and pearl millet hybrid parents nurseries and advanced OPV trials prior to selecting parents for use in their hybrid development programs.
A total of 88 A/B pairs and 24 R-lines of sorghum and 44 A/B pairs and 102 R-lines of pearl millet were available with consortium members considering grain yield, agronomic performance, plant height, maturity, uniformity, flowering synchronization, seed set, insect pest damage and foliar diseases, among other important traits.
The last few years have witnessed growing interest in sorghum, millets and other small grains from both public and private sectors in East and Southern Africa (ESA). Apart from mitigating the impacts of climate change on food and nutrition security, demand for sorghum and millets grain in ESA countries is rising and is seen as new alternative for commercial use in food, feed and malting.
In Kenya for instance, sorghum and millets grain demand is expected to rise once a new flour blending policy is actualized.
The growth of Africa’s middle class has also seen an increase in consumer spending on processed and higher-value foods derived from sorghum and millet flour.
Speaking on behalf of the consortium members, Dr Zubeir Ibrahim Mohamed CEO of Sudan’s Nilesun Seed Company said that Sudan produces sorghum from over 6 million hectares for food, feed and flour blending (wheat blended with white grain sorghum for bread making).
Nilesun Seed Company was a member of the HPRC in India but has now joined the ESA HPRC.
Dr Zubeir urged seed companies to join the consortium to get access to hybrid parents since most of them have relatively weak breeding programs.
Since the start of Nilesun’s collaboration with ICRISAT ESA, two sorghum hybrids (NileSun 306 and NileSun 308) were released in 2019 in Sudan.
Dr Zubeir said that that Africa needed to build enough small grains volumes for food security and nutrition within the vagaries of climate change and that sorghum and pearl millet hybrids, supported by a sustainable seed production and delivery systems are required.
Private companies in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia have expressed interest in investing in hybrid sorghum and pearl millet in ESA to tap into the opportunities arising from rising sorghum and pearl millet grain demand.
One such company Mahyco Seeds from India was present during the field day and expressed interest in entering the sorghum and pearl millet hybrids market in ESA.
The government of Zimbabwe has developed a future grains initiative to increase productivity and production of small grains (including sorghum and millets) to ensure better livelihoods for those in dryland ecologies.
The Government also subsidizes small grains farmers through the supply of inputs such as fertilizer and certified seeds with the main goal to achieve an annual production of 340,000 metric tons of small grains.
Commercial implications are strong. The Chibuku sorghum beer brewing value chain in Zimbabwe is dependent on one hybrid whose seed is imported from South Africa. Resultantly there is strong interest in increasing options for hybrids and producing seed in country to reduce import costs.
With strong hybrid parents breeding pipelines, ICRISAT is intensifying its work on developing sorghum and pearl millet hybrid parents to support private and public breeding programs while supporting the capacity of the public and private sector partners.