For reduced market barriers, diversified enterprise and livelihood opportunities, and increased availability of diverse nutrient-rich foods

What is iron biofortified Pearl Millet (IPM)?

Pearl millet is an important staple food in drier regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Its tolerance to drought, heat, soil salinity, and high water-use efficiency makes pearl millet a climate-smart crop. In addition, it has high protein, mineral content, and dietary fiber.

With support from HarvestPlus, scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) used conventional plant breeding techniques to develop Africa’s first iron biofortified, extra early maturing, drought tolerant pearl millet variety “Chakti”. This biofortified variety combining high iron content with high yield was developed through intra-population improvement approaches with special emphasis on grain iron (60 ppm) and zinc (45 ppm) densities.

As a cheap dietary source for iron and zinc in the region, this Iron biofortified Pearl Millet has the potential to improve nutrition for millions of farming households, having potential to enhance the physical and mental performance, especially of adolescents.

What challenges does this innovative variety address?

Iron deficient diets are causing anemia, a significant public health concern especially among women and children in Africa. Lack of iron can impair cognitive and physical development where women, children and infants being the ‘at-risk’ groups.

This is due to greater micronutrient needs during rapid growth and development (i.e., early childhood, adolescents and during pregnancy) and because of blood loss due to menstruation in women. This can lead to anemia which increases risks to both the women and their children during pregnancy and childbirth, besides causing low birth weight and premature birth as well as maternal and perinatal death.

The iron biofortified pearl millet varieties are aimed at providing more dietary iron to rural farming communities in arid and drought-prone regions where few other crops thrive. Besides, this also addresses other health problems linked to zinc deficiency including stunting, loss of appetite, low immunity, and increased risk of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections.

Results achieved through this innovation

Owing to its relatively high resistance to downy mildew and Striga hermonthica, the iron biofortified pearl millet variety “Chakti” was recommended for the drought-prone areas of the Sahelian zone of West Africa that is characterized by low rainfall.

Following the release of Chakti in 2018 for commercial cultivation in West Africa, it has been tested in more than ten locations including Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal in over 10,000 farmers’ fields. The seeds of Chakti were supplied to various stakeholders who are interested in helping farmers grow this super crop. Under the Feed the Future Senegal Kawolor project funded by USAID, communities were empowered to sustainably increase consumption of nutritious and safe diets and increase on-farm availability and market supply of diverse, micronutrient rich foods including Chakti in 3,500 villages across 129 communities in eight regions of Senegal. Over the past five years, this program has reached 150,000 households comprising of 1.5 million people.

To improve the nutritional status of children in Senegal, the iron biofortified Chakti is also included along with cowpeas and vitamin A biofortified orange fleshed sweet potato in school feeding programs under funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to local companies for school feeding programs. Here, the biofortified Chakti is procured from millet business hubs. Senegal reported an adoption of 1,200 hectares of Chakti in rainy season of 2019.

In 2020, 22 tons of certified seed of Chakti was produced and distributed to farmers in Niger through various seed companies where it has accounted for about 6,000 hectares under cultivation since then.

Partners and funders of this Innovation

Through the partnerships of ICRISAT, HarvestPlus, Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (IRSA) in Senegal, Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Ghana, Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA) in Burkina Faso, Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) in Mali, Usmanu Danfodiyo University of Sokoto (UDUS) in Nigeria, and funding by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Chakti has already been tested in the respective countries.

Next steps to scale this Innovation

This innovative crop variety is contributing to SDG 3 “Good health and well-being”, SDG 2 “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, SDG 1 “To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere”, and SDG 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The results of these Stage 4 and a Maturity level 3 innovation, this biofortified variety of pearl millet has been taken up by users and is contributing to increasing food security and nutrition in women and children, thereby enhancing the physical and mental performance of children and women of reproductive age. Policy and/or practice changes influenced by this variety has led to adoption or impacts at scale or beyond the direct CGIAR sphere of influence. 

Author(s): Ramya Kulkarni (CRP-GLDC MEL Team).

Acknowledgement: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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