EAST AFRICA –The East African finger millet breeding has received a boost from the Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihood, And Development (BOLD) aimed at developing new stress-tolerant finger millet varieties, IPP Media reports.

Entitled, ‘Harnessing crop diversity to mitigate the effects of our changing climate – Finger millet component, the three-year project aims at mainstreaming finger millet into the cropping system in East Africa.

BOLD is a new 10-year project funded with USD 58 million by the Government of Norway. The initiative aims at addressing the impacts of climate change on food and nutrition security by supporting the conservation and use of crop diversity.

Led by the Crop Trust, BOLD builds on the Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) Project (2011–2021), which conserved and used the wild relatives of crops to help future-proof the world’s food supply.

The initiative comes at a time when the United Nations General Assembly, in its 75th session held in March 2021, declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets (#IYM2023) to encourage people, all over the world, to make use of the cereal.

According to FAO, finger millet (Eleusine Coracana) is a major crop grown and adapted to the semi-arid region of East Africa providing food, feed, and income to the population. However, the huge potential of the crop for local consumption, export, and research investment has been minimal.

The project is, therefore, envisioned to focus on developing new finger millet varieties that have greater tolerance to stresses caused by climate change and are more resistant to biotic stresses like Striga weed and blast disease.

In addition, BOLD anticipates that overall, the project will improve the livelihood and nutrition security of smallholder farmers in Africa and worldwide

Launched in December last year, the project will be carried out by agricultural research organizations in Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania, led by the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Uyole Center in Mbeya-Tanzania.

TARI will collaborate with the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO-NaSARRI), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Horticultural Research Centre – Kibos (KALRO HRI-Kibos).

Accepting the initiative, Dennis E. Tippe, a Senior Agricultural Scientist from TARI and the Project Principal Investigator (PI) said that the International Year of Millets 2023 is an opportunity to raise awareness of, and direct policy attention to, the nutritional and health benefits of millets.

He added that the cereals are suitable for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions. According to him, 2023 should be the year to highlight their potential to provide new sustainable market opportunities for producers and consumers.

Tippe unveiled that millet breeding has already scored a success, following a Kenyan project funded by the Crop Trust, an international organization working to safeguard crop diversity in 2015.

The project was able to develop finger millet pre-breeding lines that have improved tolerance to drought, and resistance to Striga weed and blast disease.

Shivali Sharma, a Pre-Breeding Expert at the Crop Trust said that the pre-breeding materials from the previous project will be made available for the development of other climate-resilient cultivars, thus kick-starting a pre-breeding pipeline that will ensure Millet improvement programs in East Africa.

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