India-Myanmar pigeon pea program gets research boost

pigeon pea
Benjamin Kilian of the Crop Trust and ICRISAT’s Shivali Sharma monitor a pigeon pea pre-breeding trial on the ICRISAT campus.

Sangareddy: India being the largest producer of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) in the world could increase its production three times, provided there are varieties resistant to diseases and adapt to climate change.

Pre-breeding scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are exploring possible solutions sourced from the wild species of Cajanus. A project funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), will evaluate promising pre-breeding lines in India and Myanmar, bringing them one step closer to cultivation.

“It is critical to bring in beneficial traits that were not present in domesticated pigeon pea, and the pre-breeding work at ICRISAT holds great promise,” says Dr Benjamin Kilian, Plant Genetic Resources Scientist from the GCDT.

“Our goal of increasing the livelihood and nutrition security of smallholder farmers’ move forward and pre-breeding has hastened the process of reaching better crop varieties to farmers,” said Peter Carberry, director general, ICRISAT.

It has taken several years of research for scientists to evaluate wild pigeon pea species and identify those with the promise of resistance and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, including sterility mosaic disease, fusarium wilt, pod borer, and salinity.

“Pigeonpea has a narrow genetic base. The varieties currently grown by farmers have little resilience to recurrent or new diseases and insect pests,” says Shivali Sharma, principal investigator and theme leader – Pre-breeding, ICRISAT. “We find some wild species have adapted to several of these stresses. Leveraging these traits for cultivation can benefit livelihoods and nutrition. This project will develop new material as well as take the available material to the farmers so that they can produce more and generate better incomes with the new climate-resilient pigeon pea varieties,” according to Rajeev K Varshney, research program director – Genetic Gains at ICRISAT.

Field-level activities in multiple agro-ecologies and socio-economic settings (different locations) will be carried out by ICRISAT in collaboration with the following national and international partners such as Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Palem, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Warangal, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University,Regional Agricultural Research Station, Tirupati, and the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Yezin, Myanmar.

This new two-year project holds promise to improve livelihoods and nutrition security of the most-at-need communities in south-east Asia and in Africa.