Plant breeding is a pretty long and strenuous process. It takes several years for breeders to develop new seed varieties with desired traits. At the end of the period, if the desired traits are not reflected as anticipated, the chances of whole exercise going completely waste are very high.

This development holds a good promise for India as the demand for pigeonpea (tur or arhar) is increasing significantly. According to a study, India might import 1.2 million tonnes of pigeon pea by March 2024, reflecting the timeliness of this open-access protocol.

It offers a blueprint for rapid, efficient pigeonpea variety development, contributing significantly to the goal of achieving self-sufficiency in pulse production.

Scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) have come out with a novel method of breeding where the whole process is cut short significantly. It’s a kind of speed dating. In this instance, they cut the breeding time just to four years in pigeonpea against 13 years that it takes in the traditional methods.

“This the world’s first pigeon pea speed breeding protocol. This will bolster food security in Asia and Africa,” an Icrisat executive said.

The new convention promises to substantially cut the time required to develop new pigeon pea lines with desirable traits, effectively bringing food to dryland communities faster.

Breeding cycle cut

Historically, pigeonpea’s long growth cycle and sensitivity to day length have hindered breeding efforts, with only about 250 varieties released globally over six decades. ​

In the conventional methods, pigeonpea breeding can take up to thirteen years. But with the new protocol’s emphasis on material breeding and control over factors like photoperiod, temperature, and humidity, the breeding cycle can now be shortened to just two to four years, as opposed to the conventional period of seven years.

Pigeonpea, a staple in tropical and sub-tropical diets, is crucial for food security and soil health globally and is lauded for its nutritional value and versatility.

“This pigeonpea speed breeding protocol represents a significant advancement for major pigeonpea-producing regions, paving the way for self-reliance in pulse production and meeting the dietary necessities of nations such as India, Myanmar, Kenya, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Mozambique,” Jacqueline Hughes, Director-General of Icrisat, said.

This new speed breeding protocol addresses these challenges head-on, enabling researchers to develop climate-resilient, nutritionally superior, and higher-yielding pigeonpea varieties at an unprecedented pace.

“Building on our achievements with chickpeas, we’re proud to extend our speed breeding protocols to pigeonpea, marking a significant milestone towards securing a nutrition-rich future,” Sean Mayes, Director of Icrisat’s Global Research Program – Accelerated Crop Improvement, said.

“This standardised speed breeding protocol caters to different maturity groups, facilitating rapid development of climate-resilient varieties and hybrids. This refined protocol not only accelerates the breeding cycle but also enhances precision through innovative techniques such as seed or pod chip-based genotyping and marker-assisted selection,” Lead Researcher on the Project, Prakash Gangashetty, said.

The project received support from the Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), Government of Odisha, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.