Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With an 8-million-dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating this 5-year project.
With the world population growing and environmental problems increasing, we’re facing a huge challenge to secure our food production. How can we feed so many people in a sustainable way? Fortunately, nature has billions of potential helpers on offer. Microbes are often associated with disease and decay. But the vast majority supports us with essential services, ranging from purifying our water to breaking down toxins and protecting crops against diseases and pests.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, sorghum is a major resource for food and feed. But its production is severely constrained by the parasitic plant Striga. Known as ‘witch weed’, this widespread, purple-flowered beauty feasts on the roots of sorghum and there isn’t much smallholder farmers can do. Current research shows that the average yield loss of sorghum in Sub-Saharan Africa due to Striga can exceed 50%, aggravating poverty and hunger. But this could be about to change.
The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) is one of the largest research institutes of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), with more than 200 employees and students. It is specialised in fundamental and strategic ecological research. Since early 2011 the NIOO is based in a sustainably built research laboratory in Wageningen, the Netherlands.