Agriculture in the arid areas of southwestern Kazakhstan is challenged by the poor quality of soil and shortage of water resources. Agricultural production is further constrained by intensive irrigation that is leading to soil erosion, loss of organic matter, salinization and waterlogging. These problems also cause shortage of fodder for livestock, an important element of rural life in Kazakhstan.
To find a solution to these problems, an international research team from the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been assessing ways and benefits of integrating pearl millet and sorghum into farming production and local livestock feeding systems in diverse agro-ecological zones.
Researchers have studied ways to diversify agro-biodiversity resources that enhance agricultural production and increase the income of rural communities. Both crops were considered due to their ability to provide sustainable grain production and fodder supply. They can also prevent soil erosion in saline and drought-prone areas.
The research team evaluated highly productive populations of improved lines from ICRISAT and local varieties in Uzbekistan. The result was a new promising sorghum variety named ‘Keshen’ which proved to be high-yielding, salt-tolerant, and rich in sugar stem. It was tested during 2010-2015 at the experimental station of the Kazakh Rice Research Institute in Kyzylorda. This variety was approved by the State Variety Testing Commission of Kazakhstan in December 2015 for wide-scale adoption by farmers in the marginal lands of the country’s southwestern areas.
'Keshen' can be grown in various conditions: early spring or as a second crop in pure stands, mixed with different salt-tolerant legumes after winter wheat harvest, or in rice rotation systems. Its period of vegetation (from seed germination until seed maturation) varies from 128 to 146 days depending on the agro-climatic and soil salinity conditions. Plant density observations indicated that 'Keshen' grows and produces viable seeds on medium saline soils. It can also thrive on highly sulfate-chloride type soils, as found in experiments in the Syr Darya river basin areas in Kazakhstan. Furthermore, experiments with small ruminant animals showed that ‘Keshen’ has fairly good digestibility and palatability.
The research team looks forward to wide adoption of the new variety because it fills gaps in the crop-livestock feeding systems in the dryland areas of Central Asian countries. However, since it is relatively a new grain crop, it has limited markets. Thus, producers should secure marketing opportunities prior to large-scale cultivation.
‘Keshen’ was developed as a result of collaboration between the Kazakh Rice Research Institute, the Uzbek Scientific Production Center for Agriculture, ICBA, ICRISAT and ICARDA with financial support of the Islamic Development Bank.