'Keshen' - a new variety of high-yielding and stress-tolerant sorghum in Kazakhstan

Date: 20.01.2016.

'Keshen' is distinguished by its expressive soil salinity tolerance, re-growing ability and high sugar content in the stems, calculated before and during plants flowering. Photo by Dr. Kristina Toderich.

In southern-western part of Kazakhstan like in other Central Asian countries, intensive irrigation leads to soil erosion, loss of organic matter, salinization and waterlogging. Furthermore, poor quality of soil and lack of water cause shortages of forage for livestock feeding in arid and semiarid regions resulting in recurrent malnutrition for rangeland animals. To tackle the associated risks for sustainable agriculture and the long-term welfare of rural communities, researchers point to the need for diversification of agro-biodiversity and development of sustainable arid fodder and livestock feeding production.

For example, in marginal lands with different levels of water and soil salinity, it is more beneficial to use alternative salt- and drought-tolerant crops to replace or interchange with traditional crops (e.g. wheat, cotton and rice), which are sensitive to soil salinity and water deficit. Dual-purpose crops (for forage and grain) such as sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) and pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) are a case in point. Both crops need less water for irrigation and are highly tolerant to drought, heat and soil salinity. Supporting stable system of grain production and fodder supply, their cultivation also helps to prevent land erosion and improve soil productivity.

Since 2005, together with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and national partners, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and ICARDA have been assessing ways and benefits of integrating pearl millet and sorghum into local crop-livestock feeding and farming production systems in diverse agro-ecological zones. The new promising dual purpose high-yielding variety of sorghum named 'Keshen' has been released as a result of selection of high productive populations of improved lines (ICRISAT) and local variety (Uzbekistan 18) during 2010-2015 at experimental station of the Kazakh Research Rice Institute in Kyzylorda.

'Keshen' is distinguished by its expressive soil salinity tolerance, re-growing ability and high sugar content in the stems, calculated before and during plants flowering. It can be grown as the main crop in early spring or as the second crop in pure stands or mixed with different salt tolerant legumes after winter wheat harvest or in rice rotation systems. Plant survival, forage and grain yield values indicated that 'Keshen' grows and produces viable seeds on medium saline soils. It can also thrive on highly on sulfate-chloride type soils as found in experiments in the Syr Darya river basin areas in Kazakhstan. Furthermore, as experiments showed, it has fairly good digestibility and palatability for small ruminant and cattle animals.

The next step is to ensure wide adoption of the new variety, including seed multiplication and supply. 'Keshen' has been approved by the State Variety Testing Commission of Kazakhstan in December 2015 for wide scale adoption by farmers on marginal lands in south-western and south-eastern regions of Kazakhstan (Kyzylorda, Chimkent, Taraz, and Almaty). At the moment seed production is in early stages. In the future seeds can be produced by individual or cluster farms of nearby villages. Since it is a relatively new grain crop in the region, with no readily available markets, it is important to secure a market prior to large-scale cultivation. Thus, 'Keshen' can play a significant role in filling gaps in the crop-livestock feeding systems in the dryland areas of Central Asian countries.

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