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India-Myanmar pigeonpea programme gets new research boost

Pre-breeding utilises wild species with tolerance to climate change, diseases and pests

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The largest producer of pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) in the world, India could increase its production three times, provided there are varieties resistant to diseases and adapted to climate change. Pre-breeding scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are exploring possible solutions sourced from the wild species of Cajanus. A project funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), will evaluate promising pre-breeding lines in India and Myanmar, bringing them one step closer to cultivation.

“It is critical to bring in beneficial traits that are not present in domesticated pigeonpea, and the pre-breeding work at ICRISAT holds great promise,” says Dr Benjamin Kilian, Plant Genetic Resources Scientist from the GCDT.

“Our goal of increasing the livelihood and nutrition security of smallholder farmers moves forward, and pre-breeding has hastened the process of reaching better crop varieties to farmers,” says Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT.

It has taken several years of research for scientists to evaluate wild pigeonpea species and identify those with promise of resistance/tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, including sterility mosaic disease, Fusarium wilt, pod borer and salinity.

“Pigeonpea has a narrow genetic base. The varieties currently grown by farmers have little resilience to recurrent or new diseases and insect-pests,” says Dr Shivali Sharma, Principal Investigator and Theme Leader – Pre-breeding, ICRISAT. “We find some wild species have adapted to several of these stresses. Leveraging these traits for cultivation can benefit livelihoods and nutrition,” Sharma adds.

“This project will develop new material as well as take the available material to the farmers, so that they can produce more and generate better incomes with the new climate-resilient pigeonpea varieties,” Dr. Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains at ICRISAT says.

Field-level activities in multiple agro-ecologies and socio-economic settings (different locations) will be carried out by ICRISAT in collaboration with the following national and international partners: i) Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University – Regional Agricultural Research Station, Palem and ii) Regional Agricultural Research Station, Warangal; iii) Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University – Regional Agricultural Research Station, Tirupati (all in India); and iv) the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Yezin, Myanmar.

This new two-year project holds promise to improve livelihoods and nutrition security of the most-at-need communities in south-east Asia and in Africa.

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