Sorghum is one of the most important crops in Africa, but it faces challenges from drought and the devastating parasite Striga or witchweed. Striga affects an estimated 40% of arable savannah land and the livelihoods of more than 100 million people in Africa.
One of the first commercially released hybrid sorghum varieties, Hageen Durra 1, was developed and tested in Sudan by the International Crops Research Institute for the SemiArid Tropics (ICRISAT) in the early 1980’s. Hageen Durra 1 was both drought tolerant and high yielding producing 50%–100% higher yields than traditional varieties. Drought tolerant hybrid varieties were later developed in Niger that produced yields 4–5 times the national average. Some of the most significant advances were made in the 1990’s with the development of Striga tolerant hybrid sorghum varieties.
Sorghum breeder Gabisa Ejeta and team used several breeding approaches to identify genes for Striga resistance then used these in crosses with locally adapted and modern sorghum varieties. The new Striga tolerant sorghum varieties were widely adapted to different African environments and are now grown from Sudan to Zimbabwe. Sorghum productivity was also enhanced through the introduction of an integrated Striga management system that included weed resistance, soil fertility improvement and water conservation. In 2009, Gabisa Ejeta was awarded the World Food Prize for his seminal achievements in improving the livelihood opportunities of African sorghum growers.