From concept to field: evolution of hybrid pigeonpea technology in India
The role of hybrid vigour in the enhancement of productivity is well recognized. Its application, however, has been restricted to a few crops and legume breeders could never take its advantage due to various seed production issues. Recently, plant breeders have succeeded in creating the world's first commercial hybrid in a food legume, popularly known as red gram or pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.]. This was possible due to success in breeding a stable cytoplasmic nuclear male sterility (CMS) system and exploitation of its partial natural out-crossing. This development has provided golden opportunities to break the decades-old yield plateau in this crop. Among the hybrid combinations evaluated, ICPH 2671 and GTH 1 were found most promising. In the on-farm trials ICPH 2671 recorded 46.5% superiority over the best available cultivar Maruti; while GTH 1 was 33.9% superior to the control, and it was released in Gujarat state in 2004; but for some reasons associated with its stability of fertility restoration it failed to reach the level of commercialization. The outstanding performance of hybrid ICPH 2671 led to its release by both, a private seed company as ‘Pushkal’ and by the state Government of Madhya Pradesh as ‘RV ICPH 2671’ in 2010. The journey of the evolution of hybrid pigeonpea technology was fascinating and challenging. It took a long time of over 39-years from its conceptualization to finally reaching Indian farmers. The impact of this breakthrough was visible when two more hybrids ICPH 2740 and ICPH 3762 were recently released in India. Since it is a path breaking research among food legumes, an attempt has been made here to archive the milestones of this historic plant breeding event.