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Improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers
Tef cereal improvement for Ethiopia
Syngenta Foundation supports the University of Bern in the development of dwarf tef plants. The aim is to raise the yields of this important cereal for Ethiopia.
Watch our film about the tef project, released in April 2016.
Tef (Eragrostis tef, sorghum/millet family) is an African "orphan" crop, meaning that it has not been the subject of much research and development work.
Tef is the most important cereal in Ethiopia, where about 85% of the population lives in rural areas. The crop adapts excellently to the climatic and soil conditions there. Tef grows better than other cereals both in drought and water-logged conditions. The seeds contain high protein levels and are free of gluten, which is very important for people with a gluten allergy.
However, average tef yield is much lower than for most other cereals. "Lodging" is the major problem: tef has tall, tender stems which easily fall over. The Foundation is thus working with the University of Bern, Switzerland, to develop shorter, "dwarf "plants. The breeding of semi-dwarf cultivars in major crops like wheat and rice contributed to their huge yield increases during the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s.
So far, conventional breeding of tef has not led to significant genetic improvement. To address this challenge, the team in Bern, led by an Ethiopian researcher*, is using a technology called TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions IN Genomes). This novel non-transgenic, plasma renin concentration (PRC)-based method is designed to identify and introduce hereditable genetic variation in genes that affect the relevant traits. Scientists have already used TILLING successfully to improve crops such as corn, barley, and wheat.
The project's own website is www.tef-research.org.
The BBC featured tef in April 2015 - including comments by project lead *Zerihun Tadele.
Also in 2015, Zerihun introduces his work, and himself, in a Bern University magazine (in German).
In 2014, the Tef R&D team published the cereal's genome and transcriptome and reviewed the genomic research .
Here's some "Tef Talk" from Zerihun Tadele in International Innovation.
Earlier in 2014, Switzerland's Le Temps wrote about the project (in French).
Here is a 2013 (YouTube) film made for Switzerland's "SystemsX" public research initiative.
Read a 2012 paper on sustainable agriculture by Zerihun Tadele. Sections 6.2. and 7.11 look at tef.
Watch a 2012 interview with Tadele hosted by PAEPARD (the Platform for African-European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development).
Here's what one of Switzerland's Sunday papers said about Ethiopian agriculture in June 2012, including an interview with the tef project leader (in German).
Also in German is what a major Swiss newspaper wrote about the project in October 2011.
Earlier that year, experts on tef met in Bern. Among their guests were the country's ambassador to the UN, and Syngenta Foundation Deputy Director Mike Robinson. Here is Bern University's meeting announcement in English and German (original).
The African Techonology Development Forum Journal devoted an entire issue to so-called "orphan crops" - including a chapter on the tef project.
Objectives and activities
The main aim of the project is to implement a crop improvement technique called TILLING in order to identify candidate tef line(s) with short stature that resist lodging.
The project started at the end of 2006 with the support of the Syngenta Foundation. Its main focus is to: