Partnerships to Boost Crop Quality and Productivity
While sorghum and millets have great potential to transform the health, nutrition and livelihoods of farmers and consumers, barriers exist to their greater use as high-value food products in the food system. Millets, and especially sorghum, can have levels of an anti-nutrient called phytate that inhibits the uptake of iron and zinc. Low levels of pro-vitamin A also can be problematic.
There is a need for greater investment and partnerships to bring more productivity and nutritional quality to these important crops, as yields are low compared with wheat, maize and rice.
In April of 2018, a multi-year partnership was established between the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Corteva Agriscience™, the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont. The partnership will strengthen food security by boosting the productivity of sorghum and millet varieties through sharing modern breeding technologies.
Corteva Agriscience™ will provide access to advanced plant breeding tools like CRISPR-Cas1 and guiding principles for gene-editing, as well as its intellectual property, technology capabilities, infrastructure and scientific expertise. ICRISAT has research capabilities and relationships with national agricultural research institutions across Africa and India, where sorghum and millet germplasms can be customized into seed varieties for local smallholder farmers.
A Need for Seed—And Seed Systems
Developing improved affordable seeds and getting them into the hands of smallholder farmers in a timely way is a complex and challenging process. Continued investment and capacity building of seed systems in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will be critical in the delivery of improved sorghum and millets to farmers.2
To enable widespread adoption of these new varieties, farmer organizations and cooperatives can help their members purchase improved seeds and gain growing skills. Cooperatives can also develop seed production ventures. Agricultural retailers can provide certified seeds, fertilizers and crop protection products and agronomic advice to accompany improved seed. Using small-size seed packets enables farmers to experiment with new varieties at a lower price with less risk.
Government regulatory agencies can streamline and harmonize national and regional seed standards so that farmers can gain access to quality, improved seeds and improve the nutritional quality of these staple crops.
- CRISPR-Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats) are DNA sequences that protect organisms by identifying threats. These sequences can be used to instruct genes to perform beneficial functions and more precisely edit DNA, improving plants through editing within the gene sequence.
- “Seed Systems: Models and Lessons Learned.” ICRISAT, accessed online September 6, 2018 at http://www.icrisat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ICRISAT-Seed-system-booklet.pdf