Genetic Enhancement of Sorghum to Promote Commercial Seed Supply and Grain Market Development

SMIL collaborates on the development of sustainable commercial sorghum hybrids.

While Ethiopian sorghum has played a crucial role in sorghum traits globally, the crop needs a viable, sustainable commercial seed system for producer reliability and performance. A sustainable seed system provides greater consistency and reliability, allows for higher-quality production at a higher price and ultimately leverages the crop’s potential.

With a focus on developing high-yielding sorghum hybrid cultivars, breeders are addressing the need to establish better hybrids similar to ESH 5 (Merera), an early-maturing, high-yielding, drought-tolerant hybrid. This early-maturing hybrid also offers an opportunity for injera production, allowing a breeding program suitable for producers and consumers alike.

Project Parameters

The SMIL research project team for Genetic Enhancement of Sorghum to Promote Commercial Seed Supply and Grain Market Development and a handful of collaborating institutions are leveraging hybrid cultivars to extend the value chain through biotechnology, breeding and agronomic programs.

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, principal investigator of the research project and distinguished professor of agronomy at Purdue University and 2009 World Food Prize Laureate, said, “Sorghum is a drought-tolerant crop, and in many of these areas, the climate is changing, and drought is becoming more and more prominent.” This suggests crops like sorghum are essential for building environmental resiliency.

Building commercial crop resilience is key. As the project team continues to develop a core set of sorghum germplasm and phenotyping traits under target environments, creating a commercial system for sorghum remains a top priority.

“We’re trying to develop varieties and hybrids that will benefit farmers. Ultimately, hybrids are more applicable in terms of drought resistance,” Dr. Habte Nida, researcher for the project, said, adding that the new varieties will play a significant role in production and in food security.

Production Development 

Amid the drought-prone conditions and semi-arid climate, about 4.34 million tons of sorghum are produced in Ethiopia annually. As the project began developing a sustainable and effective commercial seed system, phenotypic data were studied and a set of 108 hybrids were evaluated.

Shortly after receiving the results, the research team found that the newly developed hybrids had the opportunity to increase yields by over 50%. This increase is significant over the yearly average production and a baseline for unique adaptation to the local environmental conditions.

“We’re trying to develop varieties and hybrids that will benefit farmers. Ultimately, hybrids are more applicable in terms of drought resistance,”

Dr. Habte Nida, project researcher

Dr. Ejeta, a native of Ethiopia, said, “We continue to try and work with on-the-ground networks in each country we work in.” This underscores the importance of understanding research from the ground without guessing the scenario.

The release of the hybrid ESH 5 is a step toward a more robust breeding program for a commercial sorghum seed system, giving hope to Ethiopian producers and consumers.

The study showed 103 landrace B-lines and 457 landrace R-lines with the potential of grouping for elite sorghum hybrids, allowing Dr. Ejeta and his research team the on-farm study needed to leverage the crop’s commercialization potential.

For more information on sorghum functionality and quality development for food applications, visit the SMIL website here: https://smil.k-state.edu.

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