Purdue sorghum field

Genetic Enhancement of Sorghum to Promote Commercial Seed Supply and Grain Market Development

Award Amount

$1,687,356 (2013 - 2023)

Research Team

Gebisa Ejeta               Bedru Abdi
Tamirat Bejiga           Alemnesh Bekele
Ketema Belete           Solomon Derese
Abiy Fekadu               Amare Hailessilase
Etaferahu Kassa        Abiy Kibebe
Hailegebriel Kinfe     Zeleke Legesse
Feyera Liben              Firew Mekbib
Moges Mekonen       Taye Mindaye
Solomon Mitiku         Habte Nida
Mulat Zerihun

U.S.A. collaborating institutions

Purdue University
Kansas State University

International collaborating institutions

Ethiopia - Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Holeta Agricultural Research Center, Melkassa Agricultural Research Center, Oromia Agricultural Research Institute, Sirinka Agricultural Research Center, Tigray Agricultural Research Institute, Haramaya University


Despite sorghum’s important place in the Ethiopian economy and culture, one area of challenge remains for the sorghum industry – the lack of a commercial sorghum seed system. A sustainable and effective commercial seed system can offer greater consistency and reliability to producers, which can result in better performing, higher-quality sorghum crops that can be marketed at a higher value.



In an effort to address this need while simultaneously developing better varieties with improved adaption to local production environments, researchers have registered and released a white sorghum hybrid variety in Ethiopia that is particularly well-adapted to lowland growing conditions. The hybrid, ESH 5, is an early-maturing and high-yielding variety demonstrating strong drought tolerance. It also demonstrates good qualities for injera production (injera is a staple bread product consumed throughout Ethiopia), making it a desirable variety for both producers and consumers. The release of this hybrid within Ethiopia is a key step towards the establishment of a strong hybrid sorghum breeding program that can then serve as a catalyst for the development of a commercial sorghum seed system.



This project and research was funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet, known as the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab (SMIL). This lab is funded by USAID and managed at Kansas State University.

Project Description

Ethiopian sorghum has been a great source of novel genes and valuable traits for improving the sorghum crop, worldwide. Modern sorghum breeders have relied heavily on the natural diversity in sorghum landraces in search of useful traits in advancing sorghum as a feed crop in major economies, particularly in the Americas and Australia. Unfortunately, sorghum improvement in Africa lags far behind the successes that the crop has enjoyed in these other geographies. It is possible that modern research advances made on sorghum improvement in these advanced economies may benefit current and future sorghum research efforts in Africa.

This project employs tools of biotechnology, breeding, and agronomy to unleash the potential of the sorghum crop for needy farmers. The project team is developing a core-set of sorghum germplasm population to characterize the inherent variability through genotyping by sequencing. The team is also phenotyping valuable traits under target environments and treating data with appropriate bioinformatics and statistical procedures to identify useful allelic variations for drought and Striga resistance. The team is developing local capacity and restoring rigor and discipline to the Ethiopian sorghum breeding program to produce superior sorghum cultivars on a regular basis.

The project aims to develop a functional sorghum breeding program in Ethiopia focused on the development of adapted, high-yielding sorghum hybrid cultivars for broad societal impact. The team is working to promote the use of hybrid cultivars to strengthen the seed supply value chain and catalyze the development of a commercial sorghum seed enterprise system in the country. Building a commercial value chain system for sorghum is among the most salient investments in Africa.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

Purdue University
Distinguished Professor of Agronomy
2009 World Food Prize Laureate
Phone: 765-494-4320
Email: [email protected]

Regional Impact

Ethiopia - East Shewa, North Wollo, Addis Ababa, Arsi, East Harerge, West Gojam, South Tigray, East Tigray

Country Coordinator

Dr. Alemu Tirfessa

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR)

Progress and Impact

Phenotypic data was generated on a subset of 358 Ethiopian sorghum landrace accessions for a study on drought tolerance. Data on response to drought were combined with GBS data to conduct GWAS for drought tolerance from which a marginally significant QTL was consistently detected.

Toward that effort to establish heterotic pools among Ethiopian sorghum landraces, a set of 108 hybrids has been evaluated. Twenty-eight of them resulted in a higher yield than the best check hybrid. The new hybrids have shown potential for boosting productivity with higher yields of as much as over 50% compared to the best local check hybrid. Nineteen landraces were identified as having high combining ability and as potential candidate parents that can be used in hybrid breeding programs. This result is significant and important as baseline information for heterotic pool determination and parental line development based on landraces that have unique adaptations to local conditions. Moreover, 300 newly generated hybrids of Ethiopian landraces were planted for heterotic response determination. Genetic diversity analysis on 103 landrace B-lines and 457 landrace R-lines using 338,974 SNPs showed that the B and R line populations appeared to form clearly separated genetic pools that can potentially be grouped into complementary heterotic groups and predictably produce elite sorghum hybrids.

In an effort to promote and support the development of a sorghum hybrid seed system, progress has been made in the demonstration of hybrid seed production techniques to researchers and seed enterprises. Seed productions were undertaken by a range of seed units in the country. Notably, a large-scale hybrid seed multiplication has been conducted over an area of 24 ha by a private company that produced over 70 quintals of hybrid seed. Farmers participated in educational programs on the agronomic and economic merits of hybrids. This was achieved through on-farm demonstrations of released hybrids and farmers’ field days.

November 22, 2022

Genetic Enhancement of Sorghum to Promote Commercial Seed Supply and Grain Market Development

While Ethiopian sorghum has played a crucial role in sorghum traits globally, the crop needs a viable, sustainable commercial seed system for producer reliability and performance. A sustainable seed system provides greater consistency and reliability, allows for higher-quality production at a higher price and ultimately leverages the crop’s potential.

Presentations and Publications