NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
Farmers across the east African region are
expected to have access to high-yielding, drought and disease
resistant finger millet, a scientist revealed on Wednesday.
Damaris Odeny, principal investigator of the Crop Wild Relatives
(CWR) project at the International Crops Research Institute for
the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said that the project that has
involved research on finger millet’s wild relatives have also
developed tolerance to blast disease and striga, a parasitic
"We plan to release farmer-preferred and superior varieties
next year to help improve farmer’s productivity," Odeny told
reporters in Nairobi.
She said researchers have developed the new varieties from
identified finger millet qualities preferred by farmers and
Odeny noted that the wild relatives have been used because
some of them have grown alongside cultivated finger millet on
farmers’ fields and are not affected by either striga or blast
The scientists observed that finger millet is a highly valued
crop with nutritional qualities and recognized as a smart food
yet production has remained below its expected potential.
Odeny said that the study was done following farmers’ claim
that the two key constraints to increased production are the
blast and striga.
"We intend to avail to farmers varieties that do not only
withstand drought but also resist diseases and striga to help
them increase production," said Odeny.
Henry Ojulong, a cereals breeder at ICRISAT, said that even
though finger millet is a preferred crop in the region, it is
heavily affected by blast disease.
Ojulong revealed that the disease affects the crop in all
stages of plant growth including leaves, neck and fingers.
"In Kenya, blast can cause an estimated average yield loss of
about 30 percent while striga, a sap-sucking weed, can lead to a
complete loss of crops and once it’s in a farmer’s field, it is
nearly impossible to eradicate," said Ojulong.
The researchers who also included a team from Kenya
Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and Maseno
University are currently introducing unique characteristics from
wild finger millet into cultivated varieties.
The study has been hailed since finger millet is high
nutritional and its health qualities include high levels of
calcium, iron and amino acids.
"It is an ideal food for diabetics since it has high amounts
of slowly digestible starch and resistant starch that contribute
to a slow release of sugar in to the bloodstream," Ojulong
It is the most important small millet in the tropics and is
cultivated in about 25 countries in Africa and Asia,
predominantly as a staple food grain.
The crop is native to the Ethiopian highlands and was
introduced into India some 4,000 years ago. Uganda, Ethiopia,
India, Nepal are among the major producers of the crop.
The ICRISAT gene bank holds nearly 6,000 finger millet
germplasm accessions from 24 countries, conserved for use in
research and development.