To generate step change in the capacity and productivity of sorghum breeding programs in sub-Saharan Africa and to provide a strategic platform (germplasm, tools and information) to underpin genetic gain for productivity in environments that are water limited.
Water limitation causes significant crop losses and food insecurity in major dry land sorghum growing regions, such as those in Ethiopia. There are considerable opportunities to make more effective use of available water in these environments by improved tailoring of genetic and management options. Unfortunately the capacity of Ethiopian plant breeding and agronomy programs limits their ability to exploit these opportunities. In addition, although considerable variation exists for key traits associated with water extraction and transpiration efficiency, little is known about their genetic control or efficient means to select for them in Australia and Ethiopia.
The project aims to improve sorghum productivity in drought prone areas of Ethiopia and Australia by
- Generating step change in the capacity and productivity of sorghum breeding programs in Ethiopia by a combination of breeding program redesign, equipment purchases, training and intensive mentoring of Ethiopian scientists by their Australian counterparts.
- Providing Ethiopian crop improvement specialists with the capacity to identify more productive and less risk combinations of genetics and management using crop simulation modelling. This will be achieved by developing simulation technology for Ethiopian environments and production systems to allow the evaluation of production risk and the identification of best bet combinations of traits and management to enhance productivity and manage farmer’s risk.
- Providing the capacity for sorghum breeders worldwide to more effectively select for drought resistance traits associated with root angle and transpiration efficiency. This will be achieved by developing high throughput screening systems for these traits, identifying genetic regions and genes associated with these traits and finally developing high throughput screening systems (markers or phenotypic) that can be used by sorghum breeders in Australia and Ethiopia.
To achieve these goals, the program has established strong linkages with key institutions in Ethiopia to build and sustain a country-led program for sorghum improvement. Achieving productivity gains requires appropriately focused long term investment in well equipped (training and tools) and staffed crop improvement programs targeting specific environments. The project will enhance the efficiency and capacity of local programs by providing necessary equipment and mentoring via “training by doing”. The ability to integrate new technologies in molecular genetics, breeding, crop physiology, modelling and agronomy in local programs is vital to the long term prospects and enduring outcomes we seek in this project. This will require development of human and institutional capacity. We will apply and adapt the newly developed capacities in an action-learning crop improvement activity that will target the identification and development of superior genotype and management packages for the target regions. We will contribute to knowledge generation by developing a deeper understanding of the physiology and genetics of traits that determine drought tolerance in sorghum with the view to rapidly using this knowledge in applied crop improvement programs.