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 including pearl millet. 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.’’

Sorghum seed access & multiplication:
The releases are based on initial work by Mr Joseph Kamwaza, National Research Officer at ICRISAT’s Chitala Station. The current evaluators, Dr Henry Ojulong and Dr Eric Manyasa – Scientists, Breeding (Dryland Cereals), ICRISAT-Nairobi, held discussions with Dr Patrick Okori, ICRISAT Country Representative in Malawi and the following points emerged.

  • Dr Okori stressed on the Malawi Government’s request for making available seed of improved sorghum varieties and the release of the varieties in the pipeline. For the purpose, a team comprising ICRISAT scientists and a national sorghum team will come together to compile relevant data to enable release of the sorghum varieties identified between 2007 and 2009 from the collaborative trials.
  • Two white-seeded varieties that were released – Pirira 1 and 2 – are still popular with farmers but seed is not available. Therefore a site for off-season seed multiplication of the two varieties is to be identified in the southern region.
  • The technical capacity of the research staff of the National Agricultural Research System working on sorghum and millets, especially in field breeding techniques and seed production, needs to be improved through short hands-on training, preferably at ICRISAT-Nairobi.
  • The evaluators were in Malawi from 23 April to 2 May to report on the sorghum and finger millet regional on-station trials and PVS trials.

Partners: Department Agricultural Research Services (DARS-Malawi), Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi; ICRISAT

Adapted from ICRISAT Happenings