Knowledge for Development


Breakthrough in sorghum’s yield barrier in Mali

After years of diligent breeding, Malian sorghum breeders have finally broken the yield barrier of one of the country’s most important crops: sorghum. The grain is drought-hardy and essential to food security. Dr Bino Teme, the director of Rural Economic Institute said that Mali has released three new hybrid sorghum crops with the capacity to quadruple the harvests of the country’s staple food crop. The Fadda, Sigui Kumbe and Sewa hybrids can produce 3, 3.5 and 4 metric tonnes (MT) per hectare respectively. Sakoika, the local seed variety, produces up to 1.5 MT per hectare, and only if grown with adequate farm inputs. The hybrids will be released to farmers across Mali. Over the next year, the IER will train seed producers on the breeding techniques and carry out more demonstrations to promote the seeds among farmers. (Source: AGRA-Alliance, 6 November 2009)


Corn genome sequenced; given away to farmers and seed companies

Researchers reported in Science that they have sequenced the genome of a common variety of corn, which could lead to improved crops and help piece together the evolution of the plant. “When you have the genome sequence, you have an important part of the instruction manual,” says Richard Wilson, geneticist at Washington University’s Genome Center in St. Louis, who led the research. Corn’s genome, which is made up of some 32,000 genes, has been made available online, so scientists, farmers, seed companies or anyone else can study the genes and attempt to breed the plants with the most desirable traits. (Source: USA Daily, 19 November 2009)


New wheat variety to deal with wheat-killer diseases

Solomon Gelalcha, Director of Kulumsa Agricultural Research Center (KARC, Kulumsa, Ethiopia) one of the organizations under the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research said two new wheat varieties were developed by researchers at Kulumsa through a new approach called ‘Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat’ (DRRW). These new varieties are resistant to multiple current and possible future wheat killer pathogens of yellow, stem and leave wheat rusts. The DRRW approach focuses on giving the new wheat varieties durability against any wheat disease. The previous model gave varieties ‘vertical resistance’ to a single disease, and is easily defeated by new diseases or when the disease they are resistant to evolves. Kulumsa is attempting to release the new varieties of wheat before having them officially approved. (Source: ISP, 17 September 2010)


The political economy of cereal seed systems in Africa's green revolution

Drawing on lessons from case studies from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe conducted by the Future Agricultures Consortium during 2009-11, this Policy Brief assesses the political economy of cereal seed system research and development programmes and processes across Sub-Saharan Africa. By examining the contrasting politics and different configurations of interests affecting the way cereal seeds are produced and delivered in these countries, it identifies opportunities for reshaping the terms of the debate and opening up alternative pathways towards more sustainable and socially just seed systems. An IDS bulletin has also featured FAC work on the political economy of seed systems in Africa. (FAC, 3/2012)


Seed value chains for Sorghum and Millet in Mali: A state-based system in transition.

By Lamissa Diakité, Amadou Sidibé, Melinda Smaleand, Mikkel Grum, IFPRI Discussion Paper 2008. This paper reviews the structure and performance of the sorghum and millet seed sector in Mali. The Sahel is the origin of pearl millet and sorghum, seed selection and management of these crops is embedded in local cultures, and most producers of these crops are subsistence oriented. Despite seed sector reform, no certified seed of these crops is sold in local markets and farmers prefer to rely on themselves or each other for seed. The dominant source of certified seed is the national seed service. Certified seed is multiplied by contracted farmers and seed producer groups, and supplied to farmers through farmers’ associations, development organizations, and extension services. The informal sector supplies farmers with non-certified seed directly and indirectly through village grain markets.


Sorghum varieties discovered by Ethiopian scientist register commendable results

The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said it has distributed and gained reliable results from two drought and weed-resistant varieties of sorghum discovered by, Professor Gebisa Ejeta who was named the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize on June 18, 2009. On of the species, named Abshir, is being produced in a large scale in Shire, Tigray State. The other, Gubeye, in Wollo area of Amhara State registered positive results in withstanding diseases. Currently the variety is being distributed to other areas of the country, Dr. Abera, State Minister of MoARD said. The Ethiopian researcher also made similar researches in West Africa and his discoveries are being used in other parts of the world exposed to food shortage. Prof. Gebisa Ejeta will receive the 250,000 USD award on October 15, 2009 in a ceremony, which will be organized by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa. President of the foundation, former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, said Gebisa's work with sorghum has benefited millions of people in Africa and beyond. (Source: Ethiopian Review, 19 June 2009)


Corn fortified with vitamins devised by scientists

Scientists have engineered vitamin-fortified corn designed to boost consumption of three key nutrients that are sorely lacking in the diets of millions of people in developing countries, according to a study published on April 28. The genetically modified African corn has bright orange kernels, reflecting the 169-fold increase in beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The corn also has six times the normal amount of vitamin C and double the usual level of folate, researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But most of the target countries in Africa don't have systems in place to evaluate and approve genetically modified crops, and several countries have banned them. (Source: Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2009)


Project set up to provide drought-tolerant maize varieties to African farmers

A project that targets to give African farmers drought tolerant maize variety has been mooted. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa – more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source – and it is severely affected by frequent drought. Drought leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty in a continent that is drought-prone, making farming risky for millions of small-scale farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops. (Source: Venter Mwongera, ASNS News, 29 January 2009)


Scientists crack sorghum's genetic code

The genome of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a cereal grown widely for food, animal feed, fibre and fuel, has been sequenced. Scientists say it is another milestone for plant biology. Sorghum, a staple for large populations in the West African Sahel region, is tolerant to dry, hot conditions. Scientists hope they may now be able to discover the genetic secrets behind this characteristic. The full paper in Nature (Source: Nature, 28 January 2009)


Africa: Promoting high-input maize technologies in Africa: the Sasakawa-Global 2000 experience in Ethiopia and Mozambique

Critics argue that high-external-input technologies (HEIT) are too costly for African farmers, and that programmes to promote them are economically unsustainable. The Sasakawa-Global 2000 programmes in Ethiopia and Mozambique are assessed, using financial and economic analysis, yield models, and subsector analysis. The Sasakawa-Global 2000 technology was much more profitable in Ethiopia than in Mozambique, but varied depending on production location, fertilizer and transport costs, domestic and international prices, regional surplus or deficit conditions, and production as import substitute or export. The case studies provide further evidence that HEIT can be successfully introduced through well-funded high-profile programmes, but no conclusive evidence that such programmes can be scaled up and sustained. Five major implications are discussed, concerning: (1) prospects for scaling up and sustaining HEIT adoption; (2) the need for expanded profitability analysis; (3) the role of trade prospects and policies; (4) institution-building requirements; and (5) infrastructure investments to reduce marketing costs. From abstract Elsevier Science Journal.


Africa: Welfare effects of maize technologies in marginal and high potential regions of Kenya

A multi-market model was used to assess the potential impact of improved maize technologies on the welfare of various types of rural and urban households in Kenya. The modelling results indicate that technologies developed for high potential regions are likely to have more profound aggregate impacts on maize production and lead to greater reductions in import demand (if prices are controlled) or maize prices (if maize prices are flexible). Technology adoption in high potential regions is likely to have substantially greater positive impacts on aggregate real incomes, but inferior income distributional outcomes compared to technology adoption in marginal regions. From abstract Elsevier Science Journal.


Tapping sorghum's potential for cold tolerance

Sorghum is part of the human diet in India, Africa and parts of Japan. It is used in the United States primarily in animal feed, but it is a major U.S. export and is sold domestically to make gluten-free flour. Sorghum was originally a tropical plant, but U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are looking to Asia to increase sorghum's cold tolerance and expand its production range. They have found cold-tolerance genes in Chinese cultivars and are using them to develop lines that breeders can use to produce hardy commercial varieties. This research is considered to support the USDA priority of promoting international food security. Extending sorghum's range also would benefit growers overseas. The scientists have released the 171 inbred lines to breeders and research groups through the ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network, and at least two research groups have requested additional information on that population so far. They also published a genetic map of 141 genetic markers in Molecular Breeding that will make it easier for breeders to identify cold tolerance.(USDA ARS, 17/10/2012)


Fertilisers could help tackle nutritional deficiency in African country

An international study has shown that dietary deficiency of the mineral selenium is likely to be endemic among the Malawi population because most of the country's soils cannot supply enough selenium for adequate human nutrition. Diversifying diets to increase the consumption of other selenium-rich foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs) but this is particularly challenging for very poor people. Since the Malawi diet is dominated by a single staple crop, maize, researchers recommend introducing a programme to enrich nitrogen-based soil fertilisers - widely used in maize cultivation - with selenium as a way of increasing the levels of the mineral in maize. (EurekAlert, 12/03/2013) 


Researchers track down gene responsible for short stature of dwarf pearl millet

Plant geneticists successfully isolated the gene that creates dwarfed varieties of pearl millet. The dwarf varieties are economically important in the U.S., India and Africa, in particular. The knowledge gained in pearl millet will help to develop semi-dwarf lines with high agronomic performance in other cereal crops but dwarf varieties of pearl millet are not ideal for every planting situation. In Africa, many farmers prefer taller varieties because they use the long stalks for roofing thatch and other applications. However, where millet is intensively cultivated, dwarf millet allows farmers to harvest the grain with mechanical threshers. Ranchers like dwarf millet as a forage plant because it has a high leaf-to-stem ratio. Knowing more about the plant in general is key to broadening production of the very drought-resistant, hardy grain. (, 29/03/2013) 


Online GIS platform to provide data on Ghana's agricultural sector

The new online GIS platform aims to provide agricultural related spatial datasets in a user friendly platform and offers data for six commodity value chains: Mango, Citrus, Maize, Rice, Soybean and Cashew. The platform also provides agricultural commodity prices, crop production, agricultural imports and exports figures and Ghana's agricultural budget and in this way the platform pulls together factual data, statistical data and interactive maps. While most data are free, there is a fee for premium datasets.  (FAO AIMS and Ghana Business News, 4/04/2013) 


Burundi set to embrace hybrid maize seeds

Farmers could soon buy new high-yielding, fast-maturing hybrid maize seeds resistant to maize streak virus. The varieties are being tested by the Burundi Institute of Agronomic Sciences (ISABU)., 09/04/2013)


Lessons learned: an innovation learning platform for Drought Tolerant Maize in Malawi

This study found that increasing the scope of the demonstration trials and a more timely delivery of inputs would improve the Innovation Learning Platform (ILeP) of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project. Facing the challenge of how best to advocate and promote drought tolerant maize varieties, the DTMA initiative established an ILeP in Malawi and Nigeria. This report focuses on presenting detailed account of the implementation of the approach, the lessons learned, analysing whether there is enough experience to suggest (or not) extrapolation of the approach to other areas and communities. Working Paper 6, 09/2012)


Right-sizing wheat stem-rust research

Wheat researchers are issuing strong warnings that without increased financial support for stem-rust resistance research, Ug99, new virulent forms of stem rust first found in Uganda in 1999, could continue its movement across Africa and the Middle East and southwest Asia. Scientists have developed new wheat varieties with some resistance to the deadly disease, but the disease evolves and mutates into new forms, requiring new resistant varieties to be developed. While crucially important, the international consortium known as the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, a US$26 million, five-year effort is believed to fill only half the wheat research gap. (ScienceDaily, 15/04/2013)


Better wheat for a warming planet

Using breeding tools to identify genes associated with heat tolerance, researchers from the Climate Resilient Wheat project aim to develop varieties of heat-resistant wheat. The aim is to have the first set of ‘climate-resilient’ varieties in five years. The research will focus on the North Indian River Plain but its results may well benefit all wheat growing regions of the world facing challenges such as limited water and rising temperatures. A wheat plant´s productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise above 28 degrees Celsius, notably during the flowering stage. (EurekAlert, 9/04/2013)


Producers and extension agents trained on fertiliser micro-dosing mechanisation in Mali

Fertiliser micro-dosing mechanisation is being developed and promoted by ICRISAT, the Institut d’Économie Rurale (IER), and partners in Western Africa. A disk and a planter that simultaneously sows a mixture of seeds and fertiliser have convinced trainees; it is expected to gain rapid adoption to replace time-consuming manual application.(ICRISAT, 07/06/2013)