PROGRESS IN FP4: Variety and Hybrid Development – 2019

Two major outcomes of FP4 are to deliver improved genetics of GLDC crops including (1) new varieties and allied innovations improving productivity and production, agribusiness and stabilizing food supply, and (2) robust and responsive global to national breeding systems producing and delivering novel varieties and allied innovations at appropriate scale and scope. These will contribute to Program level outcomes on expanded, resilient, and inclusive production, value chain, trading, and consumption of nutritious grain legumes and dryland cereals in target countries. This is complemented by improved capacity and inclusivity of agri-food system stakeholders to collaboratively develop innovations that respond to the needs of the women, men, and youth in GLDC-based livelihoods and value chains.

Host-resistance or tolerance to diseases and pests, biofortification and climate resilience are the focus traits targeted to be combined into a single cultivar to deliver crop Product Profiles. Simultaneous improvement of both production and market traits through partnerships with NARS resulted in the commercialization of 26 GLDC crop cultivars including chickpea (6), lentil (5), groundnut (8), pigeonpea (2), sorghum (1), pearl millet (3), and finger millet (1) in Africa and Asia. Their traits, like drought, cold and heat tolerance in groundnut, chickpea and pearl millet, respectively can contribute to reduced risk of climate change effects. High oleic groundnut, cream seed coat in pigeonpea and large seed size in chickpea meet industry needs, while machine harvestable chickpea and lentil drive new employment opportunities for youth. Enhanced grain nutrition traits in lentil and groundnut (Kumar et al 2019), and biofortified pearl millet cultivars (Govindraj et al. 2019) will contribute to nutrition security. Improved host plant resistance and tolerance of GLDC crop cultivars to diseases and pests reduce input costs, thereby resulting in environmental sustainability. A few examples are red-podded pigeonpea cultivars in Kenya that offer tolerance to pod borers, Fusarium wilt-resistant chickpea in India and Ethiopia, downy mildew-resistant pearl millet in India, and foliar fungal disease resistance and aphid-tolerant groundnut cultivars in Tanzania and Mozambique. Fodder quality is a key trait for some Product Profiles where it is used as a selection criterion for GLDC crops, as in the case of a multi-cut fodder sorghum hybrid that was released in India.

Speed breeding protocols have been deployed in chickpea, lentil and groundnut to enhance the rate of genetic gain by increasing the number of cycles per year. In groundnut, cost-effective semi-controlled conditions resulted in 3.5 cycles per year to develop high oleic varieties in a record eight years from hybridization to commercialization, while in lentil and chickpea, controlled conditions produced 6 cycles per year (Samineni et al 2020; Idirissi et al 2019). Multi-location testing received impetus and led to characterizing Target Population of Environments (TPEs) to deliver products in target agroecologies. High-throughput genotyping platform (HTPG) was used for early generation selection in cowpea (for aphid resistance and bacterial blight), groundnut (high oleic, rust and late leaf spot resistance), soybean (rust resistance), chickpea (Fusarium wilt, Ascochyta blight), pigeonpea (Fusarium wilt), sorghum (shoot fly resistance) and pearl millet (drought tolerance), and the more advanced seed-chip technique was used in groundnut and chickpea for SNP genotyping to reduce cost and enhance operational efficiency.

The FP4 team collaborated with FP1 to identify evidence gaps in the narration on contribution of GLDC crops to diets and nutrition, and soil and environmental sustainability. FP4 also collaborated with FP1 to provide market feedback on GLDC crops to guide the design of crop Product Profiles. In collaboration with FP5, validation of SNP panel is in progress for use in QC, a key process for crop breeding modernization (Sashidhar et al 2020). HTGP was used for trait selection using SNPs in F2 generation, thus enabling early generation selection in groundnut, cowpea, soybean, sorghum, pearl millet and pigeonpea. The collaboration between FP4 and FP3 established improved soil and environmental sustainability by the use of improved soybean varieties as inter-crops and/or crop in maize in Malawi.

Crop Network Groups (CNGs) were established for soybean, sorghum and millets, groundnut and cowpea in Africa, which are multi-stakeholder platforms for crop Product design, development, testing, advancement and delivery. Partnerships with the private sector, like the food and seed industry and service providers for providing cost-effective SNP genotyping services and developing imaging technologies for drone-based phenotyping have been helpful in GLDC crop breeding programs. The successful model of the Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (HPRC) in Asia was expanded to deliver the improved cultivars of sorghum in ESA region.

Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) are routinely used to assess grain quality in the GLDC crop breeding programs, and gains were made to improve the nutritional quality in sorghum, pearl millet, and lentil for grain Fe and Zn, and in groundnut for high oleic acid. Going forward, GLDC together with HarvestPlus plans to develop standard operating procedures for accessing grain quality and facilitate capacity building of researchers in the area of biofortification of GLDC crops. The GLDC crop breeding program can be strengthened by improving phenotyping facilities that are required to screen for diseases and nutrient-use efficiency. Precision experimental field plots with uniform soil nutrition and land levelling are needed to enhance the efficiency of on-station evaluation trials. FP4 did not have a major course correction.

Biofortified and climate resilient GLDC crop cultivars were commercialized in Asia and Africa, and smallholder’s access to quality seeds was enhanced. Under the BMGF-funded Tropical Legumes project during 2007-19, 5.0 million ha of land planted under improved legume cultivars reached an estimated 25 million smallholder farmers in 15 countries of Asia and Africa. Machine-harvestable chickpea and lentil and high oleic groundnut cultivars are supporting markets and creating market opportunities for youth. The new GLDC cultivars mature early and are adapted to water deficit stress, thus contributing to increased water use efficiency of agrosystems.

Main achievements with gender-specific relevance

Gender dynamics of GLDC crop seed systems in Africa were assessed under FP4 to develop sustainable seed systems approaches. The study, conducted in partnership with National Research Organization of Uganda (NARO-NaSSARi), Makerere University, and Center for Behavior Change Communication (CBCC-Kenya) identified the critical role of women in sourcing, maintaining and replacing household seeds of GLDC crop varieties based on the use. The study identified that seed system models with a gender responsive approach will be successful for GLDC crops. For dryland cereals, stockists play an important role in the seed supply chain in Africa. The training coordinators of the second international training course for GLDC crop breeders in Africa and Asia were successful in having women representing 46% of the trainees. The FP4 team conducted the training course at Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), Tanzania.

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