School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Breeding Groundnuts for Prosperity in Malawi

Breeding Groundnuts for Prosperity in Malawi

Mr Masoud Sultan graduated with his Master’s in Plant Breeding through the Improved Master’s in Cultivar Development in Africa (IMCDA) programme at UKZN which is funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

This programme – which combines research with internships – enabled students to spend between six and 12 months as interns at a seed company, national breeding programme or Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Centre where they carry out their research projects. This experience aids graduates in finding employment or PhD funding.

Sultan conducted his research during his internship at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Malawi. He now works in his home country of Tanzania as an Agricultural Research Officer at the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI). He co-ordinates all groundnut research activities and collaborates with researchers on other crops.

His Master’s research was concerned with increasing groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L,) productivity through improving traits that will make it more resilient to drought stress. Groundnut is a key food and income crop for smallholder farmers in Malawi. It boosts dietary diversity and food security in a country dependent on a maize-heavy diet, providing a source of fats and proteins. It also fixes nitrogen to improve soil quality and its by-products are used for animal feed.

Despite its importance, groundnut is not highly productive due to factors such as drought and variable rainfall. Farmers’ yield is around 53 percent lower than realisable yields obtained at research stations. Sultan worked to close this gap by developing groundnut varieties enhanced with tolerance to drought stress to improve the livelihoods of farmers for whom irrigation is not feasible. He evaluated 25 genotypes from ICRISAT; identifying a number of drought tolerant groundnut genotypes which he hopes will contribute to the yield improvement in drought prone areas of Malawi and sub-Saharan Africa.

The process of attaining his Master’s has broadened his academic and research experience, access to modern breeding facilities and knowledge enabled improvement of his research and communication. Working with ICRISAT in Malawi strengthened his research network, experience and access to resources.

He believes this programme is contributing to training breeders who can contribute to solving problems of food security in Africa. ‘Breeding experience acquired from the programme is the cornerstone of my future breeding career,’ he said.

He thanked AGRA for the financial support of his research, and expressed gratitude to Dr Julia Sibiya and Dr Alfred Odindo for their supervision and guidance. He also thanked Dr Patrick Okori and Dr Samuel Njoroge at ICRISAT for advice and support. He credited Professor Hussein Shimelis and Dr Learnmore Mwadzingeni for their input, and Dr Cousin Musvosvi and Ms Kary Smithers for their support and assistance. He also thanked administrators in the IMCDA for their contributions, ICRISAT scientists and administrators for their advice and support as well as his family, siblings and friends for their continued encouragement and support.

He gave his best wishes to other members of the 2016 IMCDA cohort.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied