Zooming the research lens on Ethiopian lentils

10 December 2021
Bag of grain (lentils) in market

A new ACIAR project to protect and improve lentil production in Ethiopia has commenced.

The 5-year project, led by the University of Western Australia (UWA), 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 threatening the crops’ potential to improve farmer livelihood. More frequent and intense droughts are resulting in stronger virus impacts and untimely rainfall in November is causing more rust epidemics. 

To protect and increase the productivity of lentil crops in the mid-highlands of Ethiopia, 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 new project is led by Professor Martin Barbetti from UWA, whose research team recently discovered the cause of Faba Bean Gall Disease through similar ACIAR-funded research.

‘We envision the adoption of the new practices for management of virus, soilborne and foliar diseases as 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,’ says Prof Barbetti.

Project inception meeting in Ethiopia
Project participants in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, meeting with researchers online to commence the new ACIAR project.

The research 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. Additionally, 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 program for developing future high yielding and disease-resistance lentil varieties.

Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR Research Program 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,’ said Dr Huttner.

‘Through participation in this project, the Australian scientists will be better prepared to address biotic stresses as they emerge and the Australian lentil industry—from research to production—will benefit through increased knowledge, capacity, and preparedness.’

Throughout the project, the Ethiopian and Australian researchers will work to develop lentil germplasm with a high level of resistance to target diseases and determine the disease mitigation actions that can protect and increase farmers’ productivity. Additionally, they will define the critical lentil diseases, their incidence and their impact, threatening sustainable production.

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.

The research project is scheduled to run until 2026. Learn more.