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Enhancing food security in rural India

Pearl millet is a staple crop across much of Africa and South Asia, growing in hot, dry conditions unsuitable for many other cereal crops. In India, where 40 per cent of the world’s pearl millet is grown, epidemics of the plant disease ‘downy mildew’ reduce crops by up to one third. The resulting hunger and loss of income is devastating for farmers.

Up to 350,000 farming families in rural India have improved food security and financial stability thanks to a new variety of disease-resistant pearl millet, developed by a team of researchers which included scientists from two of BBSRC’s strategically-funded institutes.

Researchers at Bangor University, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Institue of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and and the John Innes Centre (JIC) have developed a new variety of disease-resistant pearl millet using cutting-edge breeding techniques. This variety produces up to 10 per cent higher yields and matures early, allowing other crops to be grown on the same land in the same year.

After more than a decade of collaborative work, the new variety was released in 2005 and more than 1.1M packets of disease-resistant pearl millet seed have been distributed in Rajasthan (2010 - 2011). The new disease-resistant pearl millet has now completely replaced the previous variety grown in north western India and is estimated to have  generated around $6.4M of additional revenue in 2011 alone.

The work, funded by BBSRC and DFID under the SARID programme, also builds local research capacity and expertise right where it is needed.

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