hectare to more than 4,000 kg per hectare; finger millet's could rise similarly and much more quickly.

Various finger millet landraces possess genes for blast resistance, robust growth, early vigor, large panicle size, high finger number and branching, and high-density grain. Similarly, there are water-efficient types with high carbon dioxide fixation and low leaf area that could be outstanding new crops for semiarid conditions. Long-glume types with high seed weight are especially promising for increasing seed size. All of these, and more, are genetic raw materials that could transform this crop.

The grain is already nutritious, but it might be improved even more. As noted, types containing up to 14 percent protein are known. Also, it is a high-methionine protein and, of all the essential amino acids, is the most difficult to find in grain-based foods. Thus these finger millets could be a "super cereal" in nutritional terms.

White-seeded forms that make good unleavened bread and bakery products are also known, and they too are undeveloped. Today's crop in Africa is overwhelmingly the coarse, rusty-red form that is mainly useful for porridge and brewing beer.

Hybrids between Indian and African varieties seem promising as well. These high-yielding "Indaf" types are popular in India. Similar hybridization and selection for improved Indaf varieties for African conditions is now being started.9 Hybridization, however, is difficult and mutation breeding is another approach worth exploring.

Some of finger millet's relatives have interesting traits that might be transferable. Among wild Eleusine species are perennials that might lend some of their enduring characteristics to finger millet. Others have genes for tolerance of heat, cold, drought, and waterlogging, as well as resistance to salinity and an ability to mobilize phosphorus and utilize nitrogen efficiently.10

Less dramatic but more immediately practical plant-breeding needs are the fine-tuning of today's varieties. The most important objectives are resistance to blast,11 helminthosporium (another fungus), striga (parasitic witchweed), lodging, stressful soil and moisture conditions, and grain that can be more easily dehulled and ground. Other objectives might include fast seedling growth to compete better with weeds, shade-tolerant types for relay and intercropping, and types with anthocyanin pigmentation in the leaves (possibly obtainable through

9  

This work is beginning at the SADCC/ICRISAT Center at Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (see Research Contacts).

10  

These wild relatives are currently being collected by IPGRI, but several that could be part of the primary or secondary gene pool are not yet represented by even a single collection.

11  

Recently, a number of blast-resistant types have been selected at ICRISAT and are undergoing yield tests in different sites.



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