Norman Borlaug, the Groundnut Improvement Network for Africa and Climate Change
Decades before climate change became a threat to food security, Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, put shuttle breeding to work. The Groundnut Improvement Network for Africa (GINA) is now replicating that success for groundnuts on the African continent and beyond.
Shuttle breeding allowed breeders around the world to evaluate new breeding lines of rice and wheat in multiple environments each year. Varieties moved quickly from breeder to breeder, country to country. Crosses were quickly made, evaluated and moved to the next country and region, taking advantage of multiple growing seasons and environments in the shortest time possible. Researchers used shuttle breeding because the need for food security made it urgent to identify the best characteristics for productivity and quality.
Climate change adds urgency
GINA, a network of breeders, agronomists and molecular biologists in 13 African countries, is now replicating that success with groundnuts. Their goal, like Borlaug’s, is greater productivity, but they also face additional urgency of climate change. As with Borlaug’s shuttle breeding network, GINA allows breeders the opportunity to evaluate varieties in environments, creating a more modern, robust breeding program. The breeders share economies of scale, exchange knowledge and tap into a collection of diverse genetics that they compiled from their breeding programs. Advancing lines in multiple environments allows them to meet farmers’ needs while adapting to climate change. At the same time, partners are developing the value chain and connecting farmers with demand.
Madagascar joins network
Madagascar, where breeders and farmers are looking for improved groundnut varieties and a better rotation for grain crops, is the latest country to join GINA. Groundnut is an excellent rotation crop for grains, providing nitrogen fixation, improved soil health and a break in disease and insect pest life cycles. Based on knowledge gained from GINA, David Okello, director of groundnut breeding in Uganda, and Daniel Fonceka, senior researcher for the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) in Senegal, delivered 15 varieties to the Madagascar program that they anticipate will fit the environmental profile and needs of farmers and consumers. In the very next growing season, these varieties were being evaluated in diverse Madagascar agro-ecosystems. As the Madagascar groundnut program grows and evolves, it adds yet more capacity to GINA — including unique environmental conditions in which to evaluate and advance improved varieties, contributing knowledge, improved lines and value back to the network on the continent.
The USAID Mission in Madagascar is supporting this research through a “buy-in” to the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut at the University of Georgia. The Peanut Innovation Lab is working with the Global Collaboration on Sorghum and Millet at Kansas State University and national programs in Africa to identify improved sorghum and millet varieties that are likely adapted to the Madagascar environments. Better adapted varieties, more diverse crop rotations and improved agronomics contribute to greater resilience of smallholder farmer operations.
Wild species add diversity
Late leaf spot (LLS) and groundnut rosette disease (GRD) are two of the most prevalent and yield-limiting diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. Resistance to these diseases comes from very few sources, thus creating a very limited and narrow “genetic base” of resistance in current varieties, leaving popular varieties susceptible to these pathogens.
Tapping into the diverse genes in wild relatives of groundnuts, breeders in the United States and Senegal have created crosses that hold promise for disease resistance and climate resilience not found in cultivated groundnuts alone. Through GINA and the Peanut Innovation Lab, these lines were transferred to Uganda for trial.
Danielle Ama Essandoh, a master’s student at Makerere University in Uganda (and originally from Ghana), worked with a global team to evaluate these lines for disease resistance, yield, time to maturity and drought and heat tolerance. Using the latest genomics tools aligned with multiyear/multilocation field trials in Uganda, the team identified advantages from these crosses, including:
- LLS and GRD resistance was “pyramided,” broadening the genetic base and adding increased levels of resistance and greater durability in the face of disease pressure.
- Higher yield.
- Early maturity, a climate change adaptation that allows farmers to harvest a crop in short growing seasons and when rains may be unpredictable, or to get two crops in a bimodal rainy season of Uganda or elsewhere in the humid tropics.
Norman Borlaug recognized the power of shuttle breeding to quickly advance varieties and improve food security. The scientists involved in GINA recognize that very same advantage, with the additional urgency of addressing climate change.
Essandoh, D.A., et al. 2022. “Quantitative Trait Analysis Shows the Potential for Alleles from the Wild Species Arachis batizocoi and A. duranensis to Improve Groundnut Disease Resistance and Yield in East Africa.” Agronomy 12(9): 2,202.
Essandoh, D.A., T. Odong, D.K. Okello et al. 2022. Quantitative trait analysis shows the potential for alleles from the wild species Arachis batizocoi and A. duranensis to improve groundnut disease resistance and yield in East Africa. Agronomy