ICRISAT and local seed companies to build a seed industry for supply of high performing hybrids to small holder farmers
Demand for sorghum and pearl millet as major food, feed and fodder crop continues to increase globally. However, in the last 50 years, these grains have largely been abandoned in favor of the more popular maize, wheat, rice and soya beans. This is because of unavailability of improved and adaptable cultivars
(a plant variety produced in cultivation by selective breeding) that are resistant to key biotics (living things and abiotic stresses such as water, air, soil and minerals).
Additionally, the cost involved to come up with new seed lines for sorghum and pearl millet as well as hybrid parents, which are later used to develop the hybrid seeds for the market is high, making local seed companies abandon these crops. It also takes not less than six years to develop new seed lines, hybrid parents and hybrid seeds.
According to Dr Henry Ojulong, Senior Scientist-Breeding, Dryland Cereals at Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), most seed firms are unable to come up with new hybrid seeds as it is a time-consuming venture and they lack inhouse breeders.
Seed companies with inhouse breeders prefer hybrid seeds for only fast-moving cereals such as maize.
“Farmers are willing to buy sorghum and millet hybrid seeds, but we have been having a shortage of hybrid seeds.
Once breeders produce a new variety, most of those varieties remain in the shelves and farmers aren’t aware of them,” he said.
It is against this background that Icrisat partnered with eight seed companies in Eastern and Southern Africa to form a regional body, the Sorghum and Pearl Millet Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (SPMHPRC)
Icrisat is a non-profit, non-political organisation that conducts agricultural research for development in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The group envisions prosperous, food-secure and resilient dry land tropics.
Under the consortium, Icrisat will develop the hybrid parents, which will then be taken up by the seed firms or any public research institution with the technical capacity to develop hybrids and avail them to farmers.
Previously, research institutes would give the seed companies hybrid seeds for distribution.
But now distributors will be getting hybrid parents for sorghum and millet for crossing so as to come up with hybrid seeds.
“Having ready hybrid parents will shorten time taken by seed companies to come up with new hybrid varieties.
This will ensure small companies, which cannot afford to develop hybrid parents because of financial constraints, have an opportunity to come up with their own hybrid seeds,” said Dr Eric Manyasa, Senior Scientist and Breeder at Icrisat.
The scientists spoke during a field trip to their research station in Kiboko, Makueni county where Icrisat hosted the consortium’s members drawn from Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The forum aimed at exposing the organisations to the sorghum and pearl millet hybrid parents recently developed by the institute for them to choose parents for their use.
To know more about ICRISAT’s work in ESA, click here