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Improving lentils production in Ethiopia

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has started a project to protect and improve lentil production in Ethiopia

The project seeks to provide smallholder farmers with knowledge and tools to address the biotic stresses – viruses, foliar and soil-borne diseases – which are threatening the legume’s production.

The early maturing lentil crop is an important revenue source for farming communities in the Ethiopian highlands and represents a valuable opportunity for farmers at lower altitudes to capitalise on the crop’s high-yield potential.

The impacts of climate change however are limiting the crops’ potential to improve farmers’ livelihood. More frequent and intense droughts are resulting in stronger virus impacts and untimely rainfall in November is causing more rust epidemics. 

A team of Ethiopian and Australian researchers will work with smallholders growing lentils in the cereal-based cropping systems of Ethiopia to help manage the growing biosecurity threat. The five-year project is led by Professor Martin Barbetti from University of Western Australia (UWA).

“We expect that the adoption of the new practices for management of virus, soil borne and foliar diseases will be a precursor to reducing the risk of lentil crop failure and increasing productivity and profitability of the farming system as a whole, taking into account social, cultural and technical preferences and constraints of the farmers,” said Prof Barbetti.

The project will also mobilise expertise at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to support the lentil breeding and provide lentil germplasm with high resistance to target diseases. Also, the researchers are working with farmers to co-design new farming practices considering plant pathology, genetics, agronomy, livestock nutrition and farming system analysis. 

The collaboration between Australian and Ethiopian research institutes will lead to germplasm exchange. Valuable traits like earliness and resistance to root rot and to viruses will be used by the Australian breeding programme for developing future high yielding and disease-resistance lentil varieties.

Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR research programme manager for crops, said the research in Ethiopia will contribute to Australia’s preparedness. “Lentil is an important crop in Australia. The Australian lentil breeding program has recently increased its attention to improving virus resistance, for viruses present in Australia and exotic viruses,” he added.

The project is implemented by the University of Western Australia in collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), New South Wales Department of Primary Industry and ICARDA.