In the drier regions of sub-Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso, pearl millet is a staple food. Pearl millet is a climate-smart crop due to its resistance to drought, heat, soil salinity and high water use efficiency. It also contains a lot of protein, minerals and dietary fiber.
With the help of HarvestPlus, scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have developed the first variety of iron-fortified, extra-early maturing “Chakti” pearl millet and drought tolerant using traditional plant breeding techniques.
This high-yielding, high-iron, biofortified variety was developed using within-population breeding methods with an emphasis on iron (60 ppm) and zinc (45 ppm) densities in grains.
This biofortified iron pearl millet, as a low-cost food source of iron and zinc in the region, has the potential to improve the nutrition of millions of farming households, as well as improve physical and mental performance, by particularly in adolescents.
Challenges to overcome :
Anemia is caused by iron-deficient diets, which is a major public health problem in Africa, especially among women and children. Iron deficiency can affect cognitive and physical development in women, children and infants, with women, children and infants being the ‘at risk’ groups.
This is due to higher micronutrient requirements during rapid growth and development (i.e. infancy, adolescence and pregnancy), as well as blood loss caused by menstruation in the women. This can cause anemia, which puts women and their children at risk during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as low birth weight, premature birth, and maternal and perinatal deaths.
Iron biofortified pearl millet varieties are designed to give rural farming communities in arid, drought-prone areas more dietary iron. Stunting, loss of appetite, weak immunity, and increased risk of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections are some of the other health problems linked to zinc deficiency.
The iron-fortified pearl millet variety “Chakti” has been recommended for drought-prone areas of the Sahelian zone of West Africa, which is characterized by low rainfall, due to its relatively high resistance to downy mildew and Striga hermonthica.
After its commercialization in West Africa in 2018, Chakti has been tested in more than ten locations, including Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal, in more than 10,000 fields of farmers. Chakti seeds were distributed to various stakeholders interested in helping farmers grow this super crop.
Communities in 3,500 villages across 129 communities in eight Senegalese regions have been empowered to sustainably increase consumption of nutritious and safe foods, as well as increase on-farm availability and market supply of diverse foods and rich in micronutrients like Chakti, thanks to the Feed the Future Senegal Kawolor Project, which was funded by USAID. This program has reached 150,000 households totaling 1.5 million people over the past five years.