Icrisat develops dual-purpose varieties…Small grain seeds demand increases International Crops Research Institute for the semi-arid Tropics (Icrisat) showcases a variety of small grain seeds. — Picture by Sharon Ndlovu

Sikhulekelani Moyo, [email protected]

INTERNATIONAL Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) is introducing dual-purpose varieties that are drought resistant but have an extra advantage to both humans and livestock in a bid to mitigate the effects of climate change as demand for small grains has surged.
Icrisat is an international organisation based in India that works to improve the livelihoods of people living in the semi-arid tropics through agricultural research and development.

The institute works on crop improvement, agro-ecosystem management, natural resource management, policy analysis and capacity building and collaborates with national, regional and international partners.

The organisation has been working on climate change resilience and mitigation for many years and has developed a number of innovative approaches and technologies to help farmers in the semi-arid tropics adapt to climate change.

For example, it has developed drought-tolerant crop varieties, rainwater harvesting systems and agroforestry practices that help to improve soil health and water conservation.

Dr Bruce Mutari

In an interview with Business Chronicle yesterday, Icrisat scientific officer Dr Bruce Mutari said the institution’s main focus is on six crops that are drought and climate-resilient.

Some of the crops include sorghum, millet, groundnuts and chickpea.

The organisation gives the varieties to farmers who are located in dry regions.

“We are doing what we call developing dual-purpose varieties, which is pearl sorghum and pearl millet. Dual purpose in the sense that the farmer will harvest the grain and what remains, that is the biomass can be used as livestock feed,” said Dr Mutari.

“Not every variety is good for livestock feed but we are developing special varieties, which are rich in nutrients such as proteins, which also have good digestibility and other benefits.

“After harvesting, a farmer can use the grains and at the same time use the biomass to feed the livestock as well as produce feed for poultry.”

Dr Mutari said due to the forecast of prospects of little rainfall during the 2023/2024 farming season, the  demand for small grain seeds has increased.

Weather experts have predicted that most parts of the country will receive normal to below-normal rainfall due to the El Nino effects with southern parts of the country expected to receive the lowest rains.

As a result, farmers have been encouraged to start rolling out land preparatory works ahead of the forthcoming summer cropping season.

In 2015-2016, an El Nino-induced drought affected most parts of Zimbabwe, a situation that saw the country importing food, largely grain from all over the world including countries as far as Eastern Europe.

The Government has said the digging of Pfumvudza/Intwasa plots is a prerequisite for those who will benefit from the free inputs distribution programme.

Under the Presidential Input Scheme (Pfumvudza/Intwasa) this year, the Government is targeting 312 890 hectares under traditional grains such as sorghum and pearl millet with a projected combined yield of 318 383 tonnes.

This is reflected in the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme where farmers in areas unsuitable or marginal for maize have traditional grain seed packs to boost the chances of a good harvest.

Icrisat has a seed bank in Zimbabwe known as the Zimbabwe National Genebank, which is located in Harare.

The seed bank is part of Icrisat’s global gene bank network and it plays an important role in the conservation and characterisation of crop genetic resources from the semi-arid tropics.

The genebank has a collection of over 30 000 accessions of sorghum, millet, pigeonpea and other crops that are important for food security in the region. The genebank is also involved in research and development activities related to seed quality, crop breeding and climate change adaptation

The institution also has a Genebank at Matopo Research Institute in Matabeleland with more than 10 000 accessions of sorghum, millet, pigeonpea and other traditional accessions.

Icrisat works hand in hand with the Government through the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development to conserve and improve crop varieties for the benefit of farmers.

Icrisat is also involved in research on seed quality, crop breeding and seed multiplication. — @SikhulekelaniM1

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