Pigeonpea speed breeding to bolster food security in Asian and African drylands

Published: 20-Feb-2024

The new convention promises to cut the time required to develop new pigeonpea lines with desirable traits, bringing food to dryland communities faster

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has created the world's first pigeonpea speed breeding protocol, further bolstering food security in Asia and Africa.

Traditionally, pigeonpea breeding can take up to thirteen years. 

With the new protocol's emphasis on material breeding and control over factors like photoperiod, temperature and humidity, however, the breeding cycle can now be shortened to two to four yearsas opposed to the conventional period of seven years.

Pigeonpea, a staple in tropical and subtropical diets, is important for food security and soil health globally and is lauded for its nutritional value and versatility.

Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General of ICRISAT, stated: "This pigeonpea speed breeding protocol represents a significant advancement for major pigeonpea producing regions, paving the way for self-reliance in pulse production and meeting the dietary necessities of nations such as India, Myanmar, Kenya, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Mozambique.

Historically, pigeonpea’s long growth cycle and sensitivity to day length have hindered breeding efforts, with only about 250 varieties released globally over six decades.

This new speed breeding protocol addresses these challenges head-on, enabling researchers to develop climate-resilient, nutritionally superior, and higher-yielding pigeonpea varieties.


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Dr Arvind Padhee, IAS, Principal Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers' Empowerment, Government of Odisha, acknowledged the protocol's potential to develop climate-resilient pigeonpea varieties, expressing the Government of Odisha’s support.

Following the success of a similar methodology for chickpeas, Dr Sean Mayes, Director of ICRISAT’s Global Research Program – Accelerated Crop Improvement, said that the new protocol underscored the Institute’s commitment to food and nutrition security in the drylands.

“This standardised speed breeding protocol caters to different maturity groups, facilitating rapid development of climate-resilient varieties and hybrids. It not only accelerates the breeding cycle, but also enhances precision through techniques such as seed or pod chip-based genotyping and marker-assisted selection” said Dr Gangashetty.

India's increasing demand for pigeonpea, projected to necessitate the import of 1.2 million tonnes by March 2024, underscores the timeliness of this open-access protocol.

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