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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Genes of Gold- from ICRISAT

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is now underway in Hyderabad, India. Plenty of talk- time to highlight real work. 

A major part of work at ICRISAT was generating benefits for the poor from agricultural biodiversity (agro-biodiversity). ICRISAT scours the world for genetically-diverse types of five focus crops that it can use in plant breeding to improve crop productivity and crop tolerance/resistance to diseases, insects and environmental stresses.
Pearl millet

1. Resistance to the downy mildew fungus

Before resistance became available farmers often lost half of their yields of millet grain to this disease. ICRISAT scientists found resistance in land races (farmer-evolved varieties) from Africa and Asia, and incorporated it into high-yielding modern varieties on both continents. We estimated in 1996 that the annual benefits were worth US$50 million, and have surely grown since then.

2. Iniadi land races from West and Central Africa

Iniadis are a distinct genetic type of pearl millet that have contributed a number of important qualities to our breeding pools: high dry matter, early maturity, cytoplasmic male sterility and good combining ability (requirements for breeding hybrid varieties), tolerance to drought, high levels of nutritious iron and zinc in the grain, and resistance to downy mildew. Iniadi genetic heritage has contributed to most of the varieties developed by ICRISAT. The benefits of these many traits are difficult to isolate and quantify in dollars, but have been enormous.


3. Higher yields from intercrossing between Caudatum, Guinea, and Durra races

Cultivated sorghum encompasses five sub-types or ‘races’. Intercrossing among the above three, which originated in different regions of Africa and Asia, combined a number of strengths. A particular benefit was that some crosses resulted in ‘hybrid vigor’, that is, more vigorous growth and approximately 40% higher net income from the crop for millions of farmers in India. Efforts are underway to develop hybrid seed systems and varieties in Africa.

4. Resistance to grain mold

The densely-packed grains of high-yielding Caudatum varieties of sorghum can become moldy when rains are unusually frequent, causing 30-100% yield losses, lower market value and even nutritional hazards for humans that consume them. In 1992 ICRISAT estimated the annual economic losses in Asia and Africa as US$ 130 million. Moderately-resistant land races were found and grain mold tolerant hybrids have been released in India. In West and Central Africa, Guinea land races are inherently resistant, though lower-yielding.


5. Resistance to fungal leaf spot diseases

Groundnuts (peanuts) are particularly susceptible to attacks by fungi. Moderately resistant land races have been found and utilized in breeding in both Africa and Asia. For example, ICG 7878 was selected directly from germplasm collections as resistant to both early and late leafspots and was released by Mali in 2002 as ‘Waliyar Tiga’; similar successes have occurred in other regions.

6. Early maturity

Early maturation of the crop is a trait that is greatly appreciated by poor farmers worldwide. It enables them to harvest food and receive income sooner, and to escape many droughts. The groundnut line most utilized in breeding this trait, ‘Chico’, has contributed earliness to cultivars released across Africa and Asia such as ICGV 91114, now having major impact in Anantapur district, India – the largest groundnut growing district in the world; and Nyanda (ICGV 93437), cultivated on about 50,000 hectares in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa.


7. Early maturity

Early-maturing chickpeas are having major impact in Ethiopia, India and Myanmar. Benefits to Ethiopia alone over the period 2001-2030 are projected to be worth US$111 million. The land area sown to chickpea in Myanmar, and also the grain yields per unit land area both doubled during 2001-09. In Andhra Pradesh state, India the early-maturing varieties stimulated a fivefold increase in sown area plus a 2.4-fold increase in yield over the same period.

8. Fusarium fungal wilt resistance

Fusarium wilt strangles a plant by cutting off the flow of water to its shoot. We identified resistant chickpea land races such as WR 315 and deployed this resistance in varieties around the world. In combination with early maturity this enabled the chickpea revolution in Andhra Pradesh that I described above.


9. Fusarium wilt resistance

Fusarium wilt resistance has also generated enormous impact in pigeonpea. Its agro-biodiversity source is an Indian landrace ‘ICP 8863’ that was released in 1986 as ‘Maruthi’ for cultivation in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh states. The value of wilt resistance from ICP 8863 was estimated at US$ 61.7 million by 1996, and continues to deliver enormous benefits in both Asia and Africa to this day.

10. Hybrid seed system

ICRISAT and partners utilized Cajanus cajanifolus, a wild relative species of pigeonpea, to develop the world’s first hybrid seed system for any grain legume crop. In more than 2,000 on-farm trials conducted in five states of India these hybrids produced an average 30% higher grain yield than the best available local variety. We expect enormous impact over the rest of this decade as seed enterprises make these hybrids widely available to farmers.
(source: DG' blog)

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