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Understanding the potential for adoption of high-iron varieties of pearl millet in Maharashtra, India: what explains their popularity?


Pearl millet is one of the most important food staples of poorer populations in the drylands of India. To better understand the potential market for high-iron, pearl millet hybrids, we explored factors associated with growing pearl millet, and those that influence whether farmers grow major (popular) hybrids, as compared with minor cultivars in the State of Maharashtra. We tested the relationships among cultivar choice, seed source, and information sources. The data confirm that pearl millet is more likely to be grown by poorer households in drier, drought-prone areas. Scheduled castes are more likely to grow popular hybrids, and less likely to grow minor cultivars, but are no less likely to acquire seed from commercial vendors than less privileged people. Farmers who ascribe more importance to consumption attributes are more likely to grow minor than popular hybrids. De facto, popular pearl millet varieties are likely to reach less privileged farmers. To attain adoption potential, popular hybrids could be targeted for iron enrichment, and commercial marketing strategies should be pursued with diversified public and private sector partnerships.

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  1. High-iron pearl millet varieties are developed by ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) with funding and guidance provided by HarvestPlus ( The first high iron pearl millet variety – an open pollinated variety – was commercialized in 2012 as truthfully labelled seed in partnership with a private seed company (Nirmal Seeds). In 2014, this variety was officially released and notified as Dhanashakti for growing in major pearl millet growing areas of India. In the same year, a hybrid high-iron pearl millet variety was commercialized in partnership with another private seed company (Shakti Hybrid Vardhak Seed). Currently, an estimated 125,000 farming households are growing one or the other of these in several major pearl millet growing areas of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Haryana and Andra Pradesh. Several other high-iron, pearl millet hybrids, with even higher levels of iron, are currently in the breeding pipeline.

  2. Fewer than 5 % of farmers grew more than one pearl millet cultivar, and given the data structure of the survey instrument, it was difficult to match all information on the second cultivar. For these farmers, only the primary cultivar is included.


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Correspondence to Melinda Smale.


Annex 1

Table 5 List of traits included in trait score

Annex 2

Table 6 Diagnostic statistics for recursive, multivariate probit regression of cultivar choice and information source

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Smale, M., Diressie, M.T. & Birol, E. Understanding the potential for adoption of high-iron varieties of pearl millet in Maharashtra, India: what explains their popularity?. Food Sec. 8, 331–344 (2016).

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  • Pearl millet
  • Adoption
  • Iron deficiency
  • India