Read the original article in Croptrust.org
Plant breeders need genetic diversity in order to improve the yield and nutritional quality of crops and adapt them to changing climatic conditions. But that diversity is limited in cultivated grasspea and finger millet. However, in recent years, pre-breeders working on the Crop Trust’s Crop Wild Relatives Project have expanded that diversity by tapping into wild and ancient domesticated forms of the two crops.
This new project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc., will allow pre-breeders to continue their work and ultimately contribute to food security, human health, income for rural poor, while protecting the environment.
Developing a Striga-resistant Finger Millet:
Finger millet is also a highly nutritious, drought-tolerant crop, but one that still doesn’t get the research attention it deserves. “We have the potential to significantly increase yields in East Africa, where finger millet is an important subsistence crop for small-scale farmers, particularly women,” said Damaris Odeny, a molecular geneticist with the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Nairobi, who led the Crop Wild Relatives Project finger millet pre-breeding work.
Finger millet yields are stagnating in part due to a sap-sucking plant parasite known as Striga and blast disease. Damaris’s national partners in Kenya have succeeded in developing crosses between wild relatives of finger millet and its cultivated varieties that show promise for Striga and blast resistance, as well as tolerance to drought. Several superior crosses have already been identified and crossed again with varieties preferred by farmers in the country. Some of these are currently undergoing adaptation trials and will subsequently be released in Kenya for use by farmers.
“The Templeton-Crop Trust project will now help us make this newly developed breeding material available to other countries in East Africa,” said Damaris. “Our objective is to develop successful and well-integrated pre-breeding programs in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, as well as Kenya, so that we can capitalize on the rich genetic diversity that exists in these centers of finger millet diversity.”