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12 years of tropical legumes: 25 million smallholder farmers now grow improved varieties
Wednesday, 2019/09/18 | 08:18:16

ICRISAT News Sep 2019




Figure: Cowpea field trials in Burkina Faso. Photo: N Mishra, ICRISAT


Over a period of 12 years (2007-2019), the Tropical Legumes projects led to development of 266 improved legume varieties and production of about 498,034 tons of certified seeds of the target legume crops (chickpea, common bean, cowpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and soybean). These seeds have been planted on about 5.0 million ha by over 25 million smallholder farmers in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA), producing about 6.1 million tons of grain worth US$ 3.2 billion. The project, with a total investment of US$ 67 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and implemented by ICRISAT, CIAT and IITA, also trained 52 next-gen scientists. The success stories and achievements of Tropical Legume projects and the way forward for legumes research have been documented in a special issue of the Plant Breeding journal. Papers written by several ICRISAT scientists together with their collaborators are included in this special issue, which can be accessed here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/pbr.12632


In the early 2000s, legume production in SSA and SA suffered mainly due to:


Shortage of improved variety seeds, especially in small, affordable packs


Lack of modern machinery in small farms


Informal farmer groups for seed dissemination: no formal seed systems in place


To resolve the issue, the Tropical Legumes projects were implemented to boost legume production and help smallholder farmers achieve better livelihoods. The projects ran in three phases: TL II Phase I (2007–2011), TL II Phase II (2012–2014) and Phase III or TL III (2015–2019). The project activities were implemented in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe in SSA and India and Bangladesh in SA.


The projects involved a holistic framework that integrated genomics, breeding and value chain development.


Genomics: Through collaborative bilateral and multilateral projects, genomic resources and tools viz. draft genome sequence, resequencing data, large-scale genome-wide markers, dense genetic maps, quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and diagnostic markers were developed for use in breeding applications. E.g. The availability of a large number of markers, mapping populations and draft genome sequence of pigeonpea helped in applying them for crop improvement. ICRISAT led genome sequencing of pigeonpea (2011), chickpea (2013), germplasm sequencing of pigeonpea (2017) and chickpea (2019) and co-led sequencing of groundnut (2019) and contributed to efforts of the International Peanut Genome Initiative (IPGI) (2016) to sequence the genome of Arachis duranensis (2016and ipaensis (2016), ancestors of cultivated peanut, A. hypogaea. During the course of TL projects, a draft genome sequence of soybean and mungbean has also been constructed to facilitate genome research into several legumes related to it, that are important dietary components in Africa.


Several molecular breeding lines have been developed using genome information for many traits in these legume crops. By the collaborative efforts of ICRISAT and its partners the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Geletu and Pusa Chickpea 10216 (BGM 10216) were released for commercial cultivation in Ethiopia and India, respectively. Similarly, in collaboration with University of Agricultural Sciences- Raichur MABC-WR-SA-1 resistant for Fusarium Wilt has been identified for release.  In the case of groundnut, two molecular breeding varieties – Girnar 4 and Girnar 5 – was developed with joint efforts of ICRISAT and Directorate of Groundnut Research. Currently, NARS partners such as the ICAR- Indian Institute of Pulses Research are leading the molecular breeding efforts.


Breeding: With these advances in genomic information and breeding support tools, there is great potential to improve genetic gains by implementing systematic breeding, tapping into the available natural diversity. To improve efficiency of breeding programs, the broadening of genetic base (for tolerance to abiotic stresses); novel breeding approaches such as MAGIC populations; accurate high-throughput phenotyping; rapid generation turnover; efficient breeding data management system; and genomics-assisted breeding were emphasized in the project. E.g. a QTL hotspot associated with drought-tolerance traits in chickpea enabled development of a drought-tolerant variety with high yields.


Seed systems and on-farm practices: To boost legume seed production a multi-pronged strategy was invoked, consisting of building partnerships between farmers, seed companies, governmental organizations and extension workers; training seed producers, marketers in technology and best practices through participatory varietal selection, on-farm demonstrations, mobile app-based advisories and so on.


See https://www.icrisat.org/12-years-of-research-on-tropical-legumes/

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