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Drought-tolerant sorghum and millet in Malawi

Photo credit: ICRISAT

Farmers at a Participatory Varietal Selection trial for sorghum at Salima in central Malawi.
Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

New sorghum and finger millet cultivars ready to take off in Malawi

Three early-maturing sorghum cultivars are in the process of getting released in Malawi, while the introduction of three finger millet varieties selected by farmers are expected to resurrect a crop that has ‘disappeared’ in the southern region of the country.

The three sorghum varieties earmarked for on-farm testing and release – KARI Mtama 1, R8602 and IESV 23006 DL – are suitable for food and for brewing beer. In the case of finger millet, farmers wanted access to seeds of Gulu E, ACC 32 and KNE 1124 varieties, so that they can start growing the crop again.

Farmer-preferred traits and potential for sorghum

Field days were held at four Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) sites – Salima in central Malawi, Supuni and Magoti in southern Malawi, and Nyanje near the Mozambique border. The farmers at all the sites expressed their desire for early-maturing varieties. Drought tolerance, early and high yield, sweet taste (especially green grain) and good grain size and color (white for food and brown for beer) were the key traits considered in sorghum variety selection.

The potential also exists to increase brown grain sorghum production for brewing through high-yielding varieties. The current sorghum grain production for brewing stands at 200 metric tons against a demand of 800 metric tons.

Farmer-preferred traits and potential for finger millet

High yield, light brown color and short duration were the traits preferred by farmers for finger millet. Demonstration of fertilizer use (both organic and inorganic) was appreciated as it showed visible significant yield advantage over nonusage of fertilizer. The high nutritive value of finger millet was highlighted and the demonstration of improved agronomic practices for increased production especially in view of the deteriorating soil and changing climatic conditions was appreciated by farmers.

Demand for other drought-tolerant crops:

The farmers requested for more PVS sites and inclusion of other drought-tolerant crops like pearl millet, groundnut and pigeonpea. The village chief at Magoti site, who is a woman farmer said, “We want to end hunger in this village. The rainfall we receive is not enough to raise a maize crop. We therefore depend on drought-tolerant crops for food.’’

Read the full article: ICRISAT

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.