Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Improving sorghum breeding in Ethiopia

ACIAR has just partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a new sorghum-breeding project in Ethiopia - last month Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement and Management program manager, visited the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) at Melkassa, southwest of Addis Ababa, to check out the project's progress...

Sorghum is the third largest crop in Ethiopia and a key crop for food security there. ACIAR has provided co-funding to a grant with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a project aimed primarily at building Ethiopia’s capacity in sorghum breeding. The project will enable Ethiopian researchers to apply the most modern breeding methods to improve sorghum for use in their country. It will include identification of genetic components for tolerance to drought, to accelerate the breeding of sorghum varieties that use water more efficiently.

Mr Alemu Tirfessa (2nd from left), team leader of EIAR sorghum improvement program,
with colleagues measuring plant development parameters. The data will be used to parameter
the crop simulation model APSIM for Ethiopian sorghum. The Ethiopian team is recording
the data on a mobile phone, using electronic data capture software developed by the Australian partners.

On this trip, I met with the Ethiopian sorghum-breeding team for the first time, visited their research facility and saw some of their ongoing field work. The team is working with sorghum breeders, plant physiologists, plant molecular biologists and experts  in data analysis and management from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

We are only in the first year of this project, but the Ethiopian team is clearly very pleased about their interactions with Australian colleagues. I was impressed by the calibre of the Ethiopian scientists involved and have high hopes that the project’s capacity-building aspects will be successful.
Ms Zenabech Demseh, a casual labourer at the Melkassa research station,
emasculating sorghum flowers so that breeders can perform the crosses
to recombine wide genetic diversity and desirable traits.

The EIAR is already regularly running sessions for the team to communicate information on new breeding methods to teams breeding other crops, so the word is definitely spreading. Through this project, the plant-breeding programs in Ethiopia (on sorghum first and then on other crops), should evolve and improve significantly.

By Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement and Management program manager
More information:
CIM/2013/005 A targeted approach to sorghum improvement in Ethiopia is being led by the University of Queensland.


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