An international team, led by the University of Georgia’s Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory, will work to sustainably increase sorghum production through a $4.98 million grant recently funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project is part of Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative.

Through the new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resilient Sorghum, the researchers will use new genomics tools to address urgent needs for a more drought-resilient food supply, increase rates of sorghum improvement to better meet long-term population growth and investigate production systems that promote sustainable farming, particularly regarding preservation or restoration of soil resources and water quality.

Sorghum is sometimes called “the camel of cereals” because it is able to grow in arid climates prone to drought, which has made it essential in areas like the Sahel region of Africa where it is often too dry to grow other cereals. Despite its importance, sorghum improvement has lagged behind that of maize, wheat and rice.

Although sorghum is the most drought-tolerant of the world’s major cereal crops, moisture stress remains one of the major constraints to its production. With a worldwide water crisis looming, a primary goal of the new project is to improve drought and heat tolerance, mitigating threats of drought to food security.

The researchers also seek to transform sorghum production systems to reap multiple crops from single plantings, increasing the extent and duration of soil cover by plant roots to mitigate disadvantages of conventional annual crops including soil erosion and nutrient leaching.

Spreading seed and soil preparation, or sowing costs, over multiple cropping cycles may also permit smallholders to be able to afford hybrid seed and benefit from hybrid vigor.

The research team includes partners from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (India and Africa), Jimma University (Ethiopia), The Land Institute (Kansas, USA) and the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa.

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