Screenshot of the HarvestPlus-ICRISAT virtual meeting.

Well-designed strategy drives pearl millet mainstreaming nutrition initiative

Screenshot of the HarvestPlus-ICRISAT virtual meeting.

Screenshot of the HarvestPlus-ICRISAT virtual meeting.

A well-designed strategy currently being implemented to develop pearl millet lines that are both high-yielding and high in iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) was appreciated by donors and partners at a virtual review meeting attended by the leadership of HarvestPlus. Strategic studies ongoing at ICRISAT identified potential high-yielding lines that had Fe ranging from 44 to 72 ppm and Zn from 33 to 56 ppm.

The strategy focused on –

  • Ensuring that 70-80% of the crosses have at least one parental line that is high in Fe and Zn.
  • Identifying parental lines (both seed and restorer lines) with a good combining ability for grain yield and high Fe and Zn for uptake in breeding programs.
  • Initiating trials to assess nutritional profile of pipeline and commercial hybrids of the private sector and providing market advisories to promote biofortified hybrids.
  • Supporting phenotyping of breeding material of the private sector at a highly subsidized cost.

Identifying bottlenecks, setting realistic goals 

Delivering the inaugural address, Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, reiterated ICRISAT’s commitment to mainstreaming of nutrition in pearl millet amongst other crops and acknowledged the contribution of HarvestPlus. He said that once the yield of biofortified varieties is on par with the commercial check, more and more private sector entities would be vying for it. In the context of increased incidence of Zn deficiency in soils, Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer Director Research and Development, Regional Director-Asia, HarvestPlus, suggested rebalancing Fe and Zn in pearl millet.

Biofortified staples and crisis preparedness

Dr Virk emphasized on the development of standard set of indicators for assessing and monitoring mainstreaming activities jointly with partners. He clarified that in the next 5-10 years targeted breeding will continue in parallel with mainstreaming and the goal is to meet 2 billion consumers by 2030. He pointed out that 10 million farmers are growing biofortified crops and 49 million are consuming it worldwide. He presented an opportunity map of pearl millet in India based on production, consumption overlaying with micronutrient deficiency and coupled with availability of biofortified varieties. Mainstreaming challenges like, competitiveness of biofortified varieties and hybrids, mainstreaming biofortification in private sectors, number of product profiles and dual investment in target and mainstreaming breeding were discussed. He emphasized on the holistic approach to catalyze biofortified food systems and development of value chains for biofortified crops.

ICAR-ICRISAT partnership

ICRISAT’s support in the fields of genomic-assisted breeding pipelines for A1 zone*, setting the right product profiles, high seedling heat and drought tolerance among local backgrounds and the flour rancidity study was acknowledged by Dr Tara Satyavathi, Project Coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet in her overview on the pearl millet scenario in India. She also mentioned about the nutritional evaluation of pearl millet stover of biofortified varieties/hybrids and briefed on the nutritional study conducted on different indigenous food prepared with pearl millet. (*Areas with annual rainfall less than 400mm).

Dr Harish Gandhi, Theme Leader – Crop Improvement and Interim Global Head Breeding, Asia program, ICRISAT, emphasized the importance of efforts ongoing at ICRISAT keeping in perspective the Indian mandate of Fe (> 42 ppm) and Zn (> 32 ppm) in pearl millet hybrids. He appreciated the work achieved despite pandemic restrictions and acknowledged the statistical and bioinformatics department for critical analysis of data.

Work updates

Studies indicate that pearl millet can be bred simultaneously for high yield and biofortification, said Dr S K Gupta, Principal Scientist, RP-Asia, Pearl Millet Breeding. He presented on the target product line of pearl millet in Asia and stressed on the integration of Fe and Zn with all the other traits improvement at different ecologies. He emphasized on the usage of precision micronutrient phenotypic platforms and further strengthening of public-private sector partnership for biofortification. He named some of the hybrids selected for advancement/promotion in 2020-2021 based on multi-year testing, mentioned about the evaluation of new African germplasm sources for Fe and Zn and highlighted the screening of breeding lines for Blast and Downy mildew resistance.

Dr Gupta said that based on the three-year  All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project data across Initial and Advanced Hybrid trials, most of the hybrids met the mandate of Fe (> 42 ppm) but only few met the baseline for Zn (> 32 ppm). He called for a rethink on the benchmark for Zn in the release of pearl millet hybrids.

Towards biofortified food systems

Briefly explaining the challenges that the pandemic would bring up in terms of hunger and malnutrition, Mr Binu Cherian, Country Manager, HarvestPlus, presented on the topic “Partnerships for scaling up of Iron Pearl Millet”. He said that the partnership between HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition would help commercialize biofortified crops in India, focusing on pearl millet in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. He also gave an insight into the scaling up of biofortified food systems with the private sector.

Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General, ICRISAT and Executive Director, Smart Food, presented on “Smart food approach in building demand for millets”. She emphasized on the importance of diversifying staple foods and the global impact it would have. ICRISAT scientist Dr Pooja Bhatnagar Mathur, who is working on the aspect of pearl millet rancidity presented on using molecular and advanced breeding interventions.

At the review meeting, HarvestPlus pearl millet biofortification partners presented details of the 2020 trials followed by a brainstorming session on micronutrient breeding strategy.

Brainstorming session insights

  • Dr Tara Satyavathi clarified that Blast is the major rejection factor for hybrids from the private sector and any line being advanced for Fe and Zn traits must avoid lines with blast susceptibility.She pointed out to rancidity variations in biofortification material and highlighted that the biofortified varieties like Dhanshakti and AHB 1200 Fe hybrid were grouped into medium rancidity that may indicate the role of Fe chelators.
  • Dr Harish Gandhi addressed private sector partners regarding the testing of potential lines with high General Combining Ability.
  • Mahycho and Rasi Seeds partners informed that they are looking for good combiner lines and once they get it then they would go for line development. Rasi Seeds informed that some of the lines sent for micronutrient analysis to ICRISAT will be added to their biofortification program.
  • Dr S K Gupta stressed on the screening of F3/F4 progenies for Fe and Zn using XRF and spoke of the service that ICRISAT is providing.
  • Dr Virk emphasized that if in case any hybrid in the market from the private sectors are available with significant high Fe then that can be re-promoted as nutritionally-rich biofortified hybrid like in the case of Dhanshakti.
  • Dr Rajan Sharma spoke on the screening strategies for Blast at ICRISAT. In discussion with Dr Tara Satyavathi a critical point that came up is to screen lines at seedling stage for multiple pathotypes and then screen at different advanced stages preferably at 30, 45 and 60 days in order to get stable resistant sources.

In the final session of the day, the 2021 work plan was finalized in consultation with partners.

Read more on pearl millet and biofortification on EXPLOREit

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger good-health 17-partnerships-goals 

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