1. Agriculture World

ICRISAT Scientists Developed 'Chakti,' an Iron-Fortified Pearl Millet

This Iron biofortified Pearl Millet, as a low-cost dietary source of iron and zinc in the region, has the potential to improve nutrition for millions of farming households, as well as improve physical and mental performance, particularly among adolescents.

Shivam Dwivedi
'Chakti,' an Iron-Fortified Pearl Millet (Pic Credit-ICRISAT)
'Chakti,' an Iron-Fortified Pearl Millet (Pic Credit-ICRISAT)

In drier parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso, pearl millet is a staple food. Pearl millet is a climate-smart crop because of its resistance to drought, heat, soil salinity, and high water use efficiency. It also contains a lot of protein, minerals, and dietary fibre.

With the help of HarvestPlus, scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) developed Africa's first iron biofortified, extra-early maturing, drought-tolerant pearl millet variety "Chakti" using traditional plant breeding techniques.

This biofortified variety with high iron content and yield was developed using intra-population improvement methods with a focus on grain iron (60 ppm) and zinc (45 ppm) densities

This Iron biofortified Pearl Millet, as a low-cost dietary source of iron and zinc in the region, has the potential to improve nutrition for millions of farming households, as well as improve physical and mental performance, particularly among adolescents.

Challenges To Address:

Anemia is caused by iron-deficient diets, which is a major public health concern in Africa, particularly among women and children. Iron deficiency can affect cognitive and physical development in women, children, and infants, with women, children, and infants being the 'at-risk' groups.

This is due to higher micronutrient requirements during rapid growth and development (i.e., early childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy), as well as blood loss caused by menstruation in women. This can cause anaemia, which puts women and their children at risk during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as causes low birth weight, premature birth, and maternal and perinatal death.

The iron biofortified pearl millet varieties are designed to give rural farming communities in arid and drought-prone areas more dietary iron. Stunting, loss of appetite, low immunity, and an increased risk of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections are among the other health problems linked to zinc deficiency.

Results Achieved:

The iron biofortified pearl millet variety "Chakti" was recommended for the drought-prone areas of West Africa's Sahelian zone, which is characterized by low rainfall, due to its relatively high resistance to downy mildew and Striga hermonthica.

Following its commercial release in West Africa in 2018, Chakti has been tested in over ten locations, including Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Senegal, in over 10,000 farmers' fields. Chakti seeds were distributed to various stakeholders who were interested in assisting farmers in growing this super crop.

Communities in 3,500 villages across 129 communities in eight Senegalese regions were empowered to sustainably increase consumption of nutritious and safe diets, as well as increase on-farm availability and market supply of diverse, micronutrient-rich foods like Chakti, thanks to the Feed the Future Senegal Kawolor project, which was funded by USAID. This programme has reached 150,000 households totaling 1.5 million people in the last five years.

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