Drought tolerant and Striga resistant sorghum and pearl millet varieties combined with moisture conservation, right time of planting and optimal fertilizer application | Crop Management (Crop Varieties)

Sorghum and pearl millet are the most important sources of staplefood and animal feed in Eritrea. The grain is primarily used for food; whilethe leaves and stalks are used for feeding animals. Sorghum and pearl milletare mainly produced by resource-poor subsistence farmers who live in areas withinfertile soils that are drought-pron Read more..

Description of the technology or innovation

Sorghum and pearl millet are the most important sources of staplefood and animal feed in Eritrea. The grain is primarily used for food; whilethe leaves and stalks are used for feeding animals. Sorghum and pearl milletare mainly produced by resource-poor subsistence farmers who live in areas withinfertile soils that are drought-prone and infested by parasitic weeds. Thesefarmers generally have very limited options for growing food crops as mostcereals are less adapted to low-moisture production conditions. Thus, thelivelihoods of small-scale farmers in these areas are heavily dependent onsorghum and pearl millet production. Due to poor infrastructure in the semi-aridlands, farmers experience hardships in accessing farm inputs like quality seedand fertilizers. Similarly, seed delivery systems and market outlets forsorghum and pearl millet grain are limited. Because of the, above constraints,the production of these two crops is very low, ranging from 0.1–0.5 tons/ha.


Drought is the most important abiotic stress limiting sorghum andpearl millet production and productivity in different agro-ecological zones inEritrea. It certainly has a great effect in the western lowlands, whererainfall is generally low and its distribution is erratic. In the westernlowlands, the average grain yield is as low as 0.2–0.5 tons/ha for sorghum andpearl millet in farmers’ fields. This problem necessitates the introduction oridentification of drought-resistant and early-maturing varieties that canescape water stress and increase the production and productivity by about 50%.Other associated factors that aggravate the problem of stress include; highoccurrence of infestation by pests and parasitic weeds; shortage ofagricultural inputs and low soil fertility.


Despite such challenges, farmers struggle from year to year toproduce enough sorghum and pearl millet grain to meet their family foodrequirements. This situation has demonstrated the need to utilize innovativetechnologies and farmer-knowledge-based information to help manage the effectof drought and climate variability in the country.


The purpose of this activity was to improve access to improvedtechnologies and ensure enhanced, sustainable production and productivity ofsmall-scale sorghum and pearl millet production systems in drought-prone and Striga-infestedareas, in order to contribute towards improved household and national foodsecurity. It was planned to identify, integrate and promote technologicaloptions that effectively alleviate the harmful effects of drought in sorghumand pearl millet production systems.


It’s believed that the adoption of new technologies could solvethe problems of the small-scale farming community and commercial farmers.Drought-tolerant pearl millet, sorghum and Striga-resistant varieties combinedwith suitable packages like moisture conservation (tie-ridges, soil bunds andterracing), right time of planting (mid-June to mid-July; timed to coincidewith the onset of rainfall season) and optimal fertilizer application (100 kg/ha DAP, 50 kg/ha Urea) will reduce the grain yield losses and increase theproduction and productivity significantly (Figure 1). The identifieddrought-tolerant pearl millet and sorghum varieties include; Kona (ICMV 221),Hagaz, Gergef (ICMV 95490), White Kona (White ICMV 221); and Seare (ICSV 111IN), Bushuka (ICSV 210), Tebeldia (P9401), Maeloba (P9407) respectively.


In addition, it’s also anticipated that the beneficiary farmers,who are linked to a strong seed system, could potentially stabilize the market,through distribution (supply) of the surplus product to other deficit areas andto the flour milling factory for processing.

Figure 1: Pearl millet seedmultiplication, 2011.

Assessment/reflection on utilization, dissemination & scaling out or up approaches used

The foundation seed used for seed multiplication was sourced fromthe National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). Seed multiplication wascarried out by individual farmers organized by the Seed Unit of the Ministry ofAgriculture (MoA). Dissemination of the foundation seed to the target farmerswas done through the extension staff and the local administration in theintervention regions (Figure 2). The dissemination approaches were organized bythe local administration in collaboration with the MoA extension staff. Since membersof the local administration are part of the farming communities, the adoptionand dissemination of the technologies was effective due to community ownershipof the project activities. The critical and essential factors for thesuccessful promotion and adoption of the technologies were mainly timely andsustainable availability of quality and clean seed. Availability of seed wasassured by closely following up on the activities of the seed production andmultiplication program of the National Research Institute and Seed Unit of theMinistry of Agriculture in collaboration with the extension staff and localadministration.


There is a strong support by the government policy for thepromotion of the technology. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture is workingon strengthening the seed system both at the ministry and zoba level. TheMinistry of Agriculture has established seed units in three regions (both atministry and zoba level) and these units are working together with NARI on seedproduction and dissemination with limited capacity. The establishment of seedunits will be extended to the other three zobas over time.


Evaluation of technologies was done in collaboration with theMinistry of Agriculture (MoA) headquarters, zoba and sub-zoba extension staffand zoba local administration. The evaluation was done during field daysorganized by NARI. Discussions with farmers and other partners were carried outduring the field days and information shared. Moreover, the outcome of thetechnologies was compiled in the form of reports and presented and discussedduring annual meetings at NARI and ministry level.


During the off-season, farmers are given a limited amount oftraining on soil and water conservation, seed production, and agronomicpractices. The training is organized by NARI and zoba extension staff and it’sdone jointly by the NARI and the extension staff. The main challenge in thedissemination and adoption of the technologies is the limited availability ofquality seed. The production of foundation seed should be done in an organizedway, starting from the ministry down to the zoba and sub-zoba levels. There isneed to put in place mechanisms for timely follow-up of the progress andcollection of feedback for future work.


The best way to disseminate the technology is by testing materialsin farmers’ fields and then organizing joint evaluations with farmers and otherpartners. Strengthening the seed system at national level is another importantactivity that has to be accomplished. Cross-border scaling-up of the technologycould be achieved by strengthening regional research activities and seedharmonization at the regional level, to allow for free exchange of germplasmand circulation of seed across borders.

Figure 2:Discussion with farmers during field day at Shambiko Research Station, 2011.

Current situation and future scaling up

This technology is likely to appeal to end-users as it addresses acritical production problem. Striga causes severe sorghum and pearl milletyield losses. This technology has strong gender inclusivity attributes as itcan be applied by all gender categories, although it is especially relevant forwomen, who constitute majority of sorghum farmers.

Economic Considerations

The technology provides benefits in terms of high yields whichtranslate into higher incomes earned by farmers. Farmers engaged in seedproduction are producing large quantities of seed which are sold to the MoA atthe market price and 25% premium. Where the technology has been applied inEritrea, its benefits are evident within just a season.

Gender considerations

The total number of beneficiaries in the3 project areas is about 47,479 farmers who are engaged in crop-productionactivities. Moreover, the project targets needy and vulnerable farmers andbenefits 25% of female-headed households. The benefiting farmers belong todifferent ethnic groups such as Tigregna, Tigre, Belen, Kunama, Nara and Saho.

Contact details

Ministry of Agriculture;

National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI);

PO Box 4627;

Asmara, Eritrea.

Tel: +291 8600048


Negusse Abraha Russom;

Researcher, Plant Breeding and Genetics, NARI;

Asmara, Eritrea.

Tel: +291 1159801

Mob: +291 7148835

Fax: +291 1159801

Email: negusseabraha@yahoo.com

Additional information

The success story of seed production in zoba Gash Barka, sub-zobaSmabiko is a good example. There were about 55 farmers who received seed (forthe improved variety ICSV 111 IN) and fertilizers (for maintaining soilfertility) from NARI though the extension staff. The farmers established atotal of 110 ha for sorghum seed production. During the crop growth period,close follow-up was made by the NARI and extension staff. At the time ofharvest, farmers were provided with threshers to help them in threshing the harvestedcrop. The farmers produced a total of 198 tonnes of seed and estimated grainyield of 1.8 ton/ha. They sold the seed to the Ministry of Agriculture atmarket price, plus 25% premium. Similar benefits were also enjoyed by farmersin zoba Anseba and sub-zoba Hagaz, who produced seed on about 40 ha of land.They planted the single pearl millet variety Kona (ICMV 221) and produced about32 tonnes of seed. They also sold their seed to the Ministry of Agriculture whichdistributed it to farmers through the extension staff of the zoba. 

The farmers involved in seed production receivedtraining from the extension staff ahead of time. The NARI provided seed of theimproved variety along with variety descriptions, as well as theirrecommendations, to the extension agents, so that they could closely follow-upon the seed multiplication program activities. 


Laswai, HS, Shayo, NB, Kundi, STP. 2000. Collaborative project toinvestigate consumer preferences for selected sorghum and millet products inSADC region of Africa. Web. www.afripro.org.uk/papers/paper07Laswai.pdf.  Accessed 30October 2013.

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