Millet Production

Tackling abiotic production constraints in pearl millet and sorghum based agricultural systems of the west African Sahel

Project funded by Bundesminsiterium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) and implemented by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
Project leader: Prof. Dr. A. Bürkert
Doctoral student: Francesca Beggi (2010-2014)

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) are major staple crops that largely contribute to food security of farmers in the Sahel. Sahelian zone is often seen as being limited mainly by water, but low soil fertility is the primary reason for low crop performance. Poor soil fertility limits root development in pearl millet, resulting in inability of the plants to capture the available water contained in the soil profile.

Phosphorus (P) deficiency affects more than 40% of tropical soils, including pearl millet producing soils in WA. On the mostly acid sandy Sahelian soils, below an annual precipitation of 900 mm, P is the most limiting nutrient for crop production. This deficiency can only be rectified by bringing in fertilizers, or by enhancing plants' P uptake and use efficiency. In sub-Saharan Africa, and especially in the Sahel, low fertilizer use is a common characteristic of farming, because of lack of affordability or infrastructure, or non-availability.

Only few efforts have been undertaken so far to combine breeding efforts for drought resistance and P efficiency in pearl millet and sorghum. There is an urgent need to better understand the relative importance of P deficiency, water stress, and their interaction, and to search for new, affordable, and farmer-acceptable solutions to overcome these major and overlapping production constraints in the Sahel.

For these reasons, my PhD research work aim is investigating interactions between P deficiency and water stress in different millet and sorghum cultivars agricultural systems in Niger (ICRISAT, Niamey). This will allow a further characterization of types of adaptation and existence of genetic variation among landrace accessions to enhance productivity under the unfavorable Sahelian conditions.