He has been leading the project activities since 2008. Through the project, EIAR has obtained diverse chickpea germplasm from ICRISAT. This germplasm is undergoing different breeding schemes using marker-assisted recurrent selection (MARS) and marker-assisted backcrossing (MABC) for evaluation.
The germplasm is now in the pre-release testing phase. Some of the work is being done by postgraduate students trained by TLI (two PhDs and 1 MSc). The project is using MABC to introduce drought-resistant traits into proven superior cultivars. “We expect good gains in productivity for drought-prone environments, which will make a huge difference. The varieties we hope to release will increase not only quantity, but also quality,” says Fikre. “We anticipate some of these improved chickpea varieties will be released in the course of Phase II of the TLI project, based on work that began in Phase I.”
Capacity-building is a crucial cornerstone. “In addition to our three postgraduate students, about five or six of our researchers and technicians have been trained in molecular breeding and related areas, mostly at ICRISAT in India ,” reports Fikre. And that is not all: “We have also benefited from infrastructure improvements, including construction of a rainout shelter for our drought trials and coldrooms for seed preservation. A glasshouse will also be built for trials under controlled conditions.”
Fikre further notes, “These facilities and staff development will make us more effective in achieving the objectives we have set in the project. In addition, because the infrastructure is shared with other colleagues not directly involved in the TLI project, it is also an indirect conduit for further cementing synergies and collaboration, even as we already have good synergies with the national programme’s breeding scheme.”
Fikre is keen to see the capacity building translate into a larger critical mass of breeders conversant with molecular breeding, as well as an increase in the information on chickpeas, an area in which students have been extremely instrumental in eriching. “We are all learning a lot from molecular technologies through TLI, and beyond that, how to actually apply these technologies in a breeding programme.”
VIDEO: Fikre discusses capacity-building with other TLI colleagues
Looking into the future, what are Fikre’s projections and aspirations regarding TLI Phase II? “It is now time to test the drought-tolerant breeding lines already processed and tested through MARS. We will be undertaking this testing over the next two to three years or so, to see what gains have been made towards improving chickpeas.”
This testing will be done through multilocation trials both in research stations as well as on farmers’ fields, and will include a parallel evaluation and validation by colleagues outside the project.
“By the end of TLI Phase II, our goal is to have varieties that will go to farmers’ fields that will make a clearly discernible difference,” concludes Fikre.
VIDEO: Involving farmers in selecting varieties – Fikre and other TLI colleagues
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