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Promoting the understanding and appreciation of agricultural research and the vital role it plays in human advancement

04
Jul

Like our crops, we have grown

Mid-way through a meeting between local farmers and close to 30 national and provincial level participants attending a three-day country strategy development workshop with ICRISAT in Zimbabwe, someone asks the golden question: “Is this irrigation scheme making money for farmers?” There is no hesitation in her voice as Sihle Sibanda (40), a single mother and chair of the Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme for the last six years, sits up on her knees, her hands clasped to her chest, and answers for the group: “Because of this irrigation scheme, I have a 21-year-old daughter in her second year of university.” The 13 other farmers gathered under the trees nod solemnly. For many, including project leader, Dr A.F. van Rooyen, this single statement...
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15
Jun

World Day to Combat Desertification: ICRISAT’s definitive steps towards a greener Africa

Every year, 12 million hectares of fertile land are degraded, its six-inch thick topsoil eroded, by drought and soil abuse. This land, that could produce 20 million tons of grain in a year, is turning into desert. Desertification – degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas due to climatic changes and human activity – is a grave issue today in sub-Saharan Africa, home to about one billion people. It is generally caused by: Overgrazing: When grassland/plants are subjected to intensive grazing by large numbers of animals for long periods, without sufficient ‘recovery time’ for the plants to grow back, it results in permanent damage to the plant roots and causes the plant matter to die out. Deforestation: Indiscriminate...
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15
Jun

Nitrogen-efficient crops on the horizon: Can we grow more with fewer emissions?

A group of scientists from the Biological nitrification inhibition (BNI) Research Consortium, of which the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is an active member, believes that science now offers an option to boost crop productivity, dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide an affordable alternative to farmers’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers, highlights the author of a report that appeared this week in the journal Plant Science. The new study describes certain plants that possess a trait known as BNI, by which they suppress the loss of nitrogen (N) from the soil and improve the efficiency of its uptake and use by themselves and other plants.  The authors, who form part of a new BNI research...
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07
Jun

Farmer’s perception of land degradation and solutions to restoring soil fertility in Niger

This post was featured in World Agroforestry Centre. Ensuring food security, reducing poverty and improving the resilient of poor smallholders famers living in the drylands are the biggest challenges in West Africa Sahel countries such as Niger. One the biggest challenges is to prevent soil fertility decline and the degradation of land resources under the existing realities of high and growing human population and livestock increasing the demand for land to meet food and animal feed demand. A literature review reveals that 40-50% of the lands of Niger were deforested over a period of less than 30 years (between 1958 and 1997) with current rates of degradation estimated at 80,000 to 120,000 hectares annually. While desertification is often wrongly attributed...
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02
Jun

Generating interest to boost South-South cooperation in agriculture

The African Development Bank Group held its 52nd Annual Meetings this year at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India from 22-26 May. Over 3500 top business leaders, government officials, NGO representatives, academics and civil society members attended the high-profile event. High-level meetings were focused on the central theme of “Transforming Agriculture for Wealth Creation in Africa.” Apart from these, there were several symposia, seminars and expositions held on the sidelines, one of which was ‘India and Africa: Partners in Growth. An Exposition on Opportunities and Collaborations’ . ICRISAT’s stall at the exposition drew a lot of visitors from different backgrounds and interests. From farmers to researchers, politicians to entrepreneurs, and government employees to business owners; they all came with questions, comments and suggestions....
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25
Apr

IP at ICRISAT: In tune with an evolving innovation landscape

How is ICRISAT adapting to the IP legal framework given present day realities and innovations in agriculture. Find out on the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day today. ICRISAT works towards reducing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics and s bound by the CGIAR Principles on the Management of Intellectual Assets (for details go to  http://www.icrisat.org/ipr_old/) and complies with all national and international laws, including those on the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). ICRISAT regards the results of its research and development activities as international public goods (IPGs) and is committed to their widespread diffusion and use to achieve the maximum possible access, scale, scope of impact on sharing of benefits to benefit the poor, especially farmers...
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21
Apr

Simulating postrainy sorghum yield response to on-station N management in India

Low residual soil moisture and limited nitrogen (N) inputs have in the last few decades stunted the productivity of postrainy (rabi) sorghum, a key multipurpose cereal crop for subsistence farmers of central India. Its adaptability to the harsh abiotic constraints of semi-arid tropical systems is one of the reasons it is preferred on marginal lands. Sorghum is known to respond well to additional nitrogen (N) application in on-station trials. We tried to test if a sufficient dose of N on-station (OS) would significantly enhance postrainy sorghum production. Also, how relevant is typical on-station N management in screening material for postrainy sorghum cultivation under farmer conditions? To test this, 83 districts in central India were identified to simulate postrainy sorghum yields...
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07
Apr

Combating Aflatoxin for a healthy world

What you see may not be what you get: The case of peanut butter   Ever wondered what processes the mouth-watering peanut butter you scoop out of a bottle has gone through before landing on your plate? Who judged if the groundnut was safe to process into food products? Did it go through stringent quality control? Groundnuts are a popular snack and food ingredient in many parts of Africa. They are a rich source of proteins and important source of dietary fiber, fat, vitamin B6, calcium, iron and magnesium. But are we actually getting these proteins or are we ingesting toxins in the name of nutrition? Groundnuts may contain aflatoxins, a carcinogenic chemical compound that suppresses the body’s immunity to...
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24
Mar

When cities come closer to villages

“Villages and urban towns are coming closer. Better roads, infrastructure and connectivity, improvement in transport facilities and greater market integration are helping in easily linking villages with urban towns and cities. Mobile phones, television and internet have now become important sources of information on all facets of the rural economy, enabling better communication with input and output market dealers as well.” Dastha Reddy who lives in Dokur village in Mahbubnagar district, Telangana state describes the effect of the phenomenon of urban sprawl. We had the opportunity to visit Dokur village on 22 March, 2017 as part of a joint project between ICRISAT and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) on “The Dynamics of Urban Sprawl: Land-use changes, Food Supply...
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03
Mar

Combining traditions and technologies among tribal farmers in India

What does bullock cart racing have in common with agricultural research? Normally not much, but in the last week of January, these two merged to highlight a near-forgotten tribal farmer’s event. Teams from ICRISAT got invited to celebrate the revival of bullock cart racing at the Nagoba Jatara, an important 10-day tribal festival  in Keslapur village in Adilabad district of Telangana state, India. As part of efforts to highlight the importance of tribal traditions, and to demonstrate ICRISAT’s support for underprivileged sections (the village’s tribal community consists of marginalized smallholder farmers), teams from genotype by environment by management by society (G.E.M.S; www.gems.icrisat.org) and Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP; http://www.aipicrisat.org/) took part in the event. The fair showcased food products developed by small...
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10
Feb

Sorghum farming helps Kenyan farmers cope with drought

Most parts of Kenya went without rain in the year 2016. According to the Kenyan Government a total of 1.3 million Kenyans are affected by drought. All hope is however not lost. Despite minimal rainfall, farmers in Tharaka Nithi County are defying the harsh weather conditions by farming alternative crops.  With the help of ICRISAT, Mr Shadrack Kithome, a farmer from Chiakariga Ward in Tharaka Nithi County, has adapted to the farming of drought tolerant crops.  Chiakariga ward lies in a semi-arid region where rainfall averages 150mm to 800mm annually with high temperatures during hot seasons. “I was able to get quality sorghum seed from ICRISAT, and I planted in the month of October. The rains came once in the...
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18
Jan

Study reveals pulses as important source of protein in India

Pulses continue to be a major source of protein in Indian diets and play a vital role in sustaining agricultural growth. Increasing pulse production is therefore important for improving food availability, soil health, diet quality and nutrition security. Today is Global Pulse Day. And a study by ICRISAT reveals that there is reason for optimism on the pulse production side in India. While trends in the area under pulses did not increase significantly from 2000 to 2014, apart from some fluctuations in area here and there, production has shown an upward trend (Figure 1). This is the result of a recent study on the “Role of Pulses in Enhancing Nutritional Status of Rural Poor: Micro-Level Evidence from Semi-Arid Tropics of...
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18
Dec

Women and youth in pulse value chains: opportunities for inclusion of smallholders

This post was featured in IYP2016.org. The 2016 International Year of Pulses has brought global attention to the important roles that pulses play in food, environment, and livelihood systems around the world. Smallholder farmers grow a significant portion of pulse crops and 67% of global pulse production happens in Africa and Asia. Through different value chains, pulses are moved from areas of production to areas of consumption around the globe. Pulse value chains are highly diverse, ranging from long-distance commodity export to local markets featuring traditional landraces. All pulse value chain actors are important, and the efficacy and equity of these value chains depends on a better understanding of their major actors, including smallholder farmers. It is equally important to...
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07
Dec

Super-early pigeonpea: Dodging climate change in the drylands

Pigeonpea in India has seen a change in its status from an orphan crop to a cash crop in the last few years thanks to its rising price. Its long maturity duration and low yield restrict its cultivation as a sole crop. Changing rainfall patterns, rise in annual temperatures and erratic climatic patterns together with the crop’s photo and thermo sensitivity have restricted its expansion to wider latitudes and altitudes. However, the crop’s potential to contribute to food security, nutrition, forage and income generation is indisputable. As pigeonpea is mainly cultivated in rainfed areas, when sowing is done at the onset of monsoons and followed by a long dry spell, dry germinated seedlings compel resowing. When the crop is in...
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22
Nov

The “so what” question: Integrating and communicating gender research

The CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network held its annual meeting at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) headquarters in Cali, Colombia earlier this month. The meeting was attended by gender specialists and coordinators from across the spectrum. All the sessions were interactive and participatory.  Gender Research Coordinators gave flash talks of 5 minutes. An interesting series of talks were on how gender research is being used to influence the way CGIAR Research Programs conduct research to be gender responsive. The Gender Network will cease to be after 31 December 2016.  It will take on a new form from January 2017 as a CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research coordinated and hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies,...
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20
Oct

Open source PhenoApps pave the way to efficient data collection in plant breeding

In an effort to introduce new technology into plant breeding programs, members of the Poland Lab at Kansas State University have developed several free PhenoApps for collecting data with Android smartphones and tablets. By fundamentally designing these tools for plant breeders and geneticists, the group hopes to improve specific areas in the plant breeding process where data management remains difficult. Field Book, developed to replace paper field books, gives breeders a simple interface to collect data on field research plots. It was created because other digital note-taking tools were too complex, didn’t allow for fast and flexible data entry, or were prohibitively expensive. Field Book reduces transcription errors, seamlessly collects metadata, and allows for rapid data analysis. Data collected is...
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20
Oct

Listening to people and getting a response is like physics

Mrs Salamatu Garba is the Executive Director of Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN), an NGO in Nigeria that coordinates the activities of smallholder farmers to help them practice sustainable agriculture. Agathe Diama in a freewheeling conversation spoke to her about the role of rural women in agriculture.  Q: What is your vision of sustainable agriculture? Salamatu Garba: Sustainable agriculture and development is a holistic approach that addresses the welfare of the farmer and his importance to society. Society has made the farmer feel that his is a vocation that you take up when you are not important or when you fail in school! Sustainable agriculture is about giving the farmer a voice that will make him more relevant across the...
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16
Oct

Biofortified pearl millet varieties to fight iron and zinc deficiencies in India

Full article Micronutrient malnutrition because of iron and zinc deficiencies is a serious public health problem in low-and middle-economy countries worldwide.  In India alone, about 80% of the pregnant women, 52% of non-pregnant women, and 74% of children in the 6-35 months age group suffer from iron deficiency.  About 52% of children below 5 year are zinc deficient. Iron deficiency causes varying degrees of impairment in cognitive performance, and learning ability, lowered work capacity, and pregnancy complications (e.g., maternal mortality, and babies with low birth weight). Zinc deficiency in children causes stunting, makes them vulnerable to diarrhoea, pneumonia, and can lead to death from these infections. Crop biofortification, which refers to the breeding of cultivars with higher levels of micronutrients,...
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13
Oct

Crop simulation models: predicting the future of pulses

This post was featured in IYP2016.org. From the past to the present, pulses benefit agricultural systems Pulse crops have always been playing a beneficial and central role in crop rotations. Even the Romans and ancient Chinese already knew the benefit of using peas and soybean. When pulses are used as a ‘break crop’ for pests or diseases, wheat yield has been shown to increase by up to 1.2 tons per hectare [1] and the benefit even lasts for an additional wheat crop. Pulse crops have the natural capacity to fix nitrogen gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an association with soil bacteria called rhizobium, something that other crops like rice, wheat or maize cannot do. This brings ‘free’ nitrogen fertilizer...
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09
Aug

Climate-smart crops for Myanmar’s dry regions

A research study in Myanmar seeks to identify crops with the lowest risk options for intensifying dryland cropping systems. Myanmar (formerly Burma) is one country where vast tracts of rice fields span as far as the eyes can see. The abundance of natural resources and low labor costs favor the agriculture sector, which contributes 45% of the country’s gross domestic product. It comes as no surprise then that this sector is the primary livelihood source to 70% of the country’s population. However, Myanmar’s agriculture depends highly on monsoon rains. The country’s Central Dry Zone (CDZ) area, which makes up about 13% of the total land area, and contributes 20% and 54% to the country’s total rice and pulse production, respectively, receives...
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08
Aug

Reverse engineering innovation for impact

I recently spent a week talking to scientists at ICRISAT about innovation and how ICRISAT and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial and Research Organization (CSIRO) could form an alliance to understand how we can get better at it. I saw a number of clusters of work where ICRISAT is doing something different and distinctive and achieving tangible impacts. Surely it is possible to reverse engineer these experiences, extract lessons on how these processes have succeeded and use them to perfect the innovation and impact thing that we are all talking about? But first let me share some of my worries about the global obsession with innovation. Has innovation become the new participation, a normative tyranny where the journey has become more...
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20
Jun

Identifying climate-smart sorghum lines for Mali

I am a PhD student from the Universite des Sciences, des Techniques et des Technologies de Bamako, Mali, working on the integration of crop modelling and crop screening methods to better identify drought-tolerant traits in Malian sorghum genotypes. This will help crop improvement programs develop progenies with highest value in terms of productivity and yield stability in the face of dwindling resources, especially water. To do so, different but complementary objectives were set. As a first step, a crop simulation modelling approach is being used to characterize the sorghum production environment in Mali to identify the major types of stress patterns and the frequency of their occurrence, experienced by two representative genotypes (CSM335 and CSM63E). The model is being allowed...
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20
Jun

On gender and plant breeding

This blog post is one of several in which we aim to tell the story of how plant breeding research and variety development makes a difference to the lives of the rural poor, especially women.  Whilst a majority of the world’s smallholder farmers are women, gender norms often prevent them from being recognized for both their role in and contributions to agriculture. In simple terms, what this means is that women farmers tend to have less rights than men, and thus lack equitable access to resources such as seeds of new varieties, productive land, markets, or even information and networks for agricultural innovation systems. Plant breeding involves many areas of science and technology development, from genetics and bio-informatics to seed...
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06
Jun

Our crops and croplands feed livestock

Can Africa’s growing demand for red meat be met by better utilizing cropland resources and the available feed/forage technologies produced in the mixed crop-livestock systems of the dry Semi-Arid Tropics? The answer came to me when I recently undertook an extended trip in southern Africa  where I visited farmer and National Agricultural Research Systems or NARS collaborators of ICRISAT scientists Martin Moyo in Zimbabwe and  Sabine Homann-Kee Tui in Mozambique. In Jambezi district, Zimbabwe, we were hosted by Chief Shana and farmers, Augustine Sibanda and Phillip Tshuma, in the dry Natural Region V. Here farmers were provided with climate forecasts and sorghum and pearl millet varieties, crops that they had grown in the  past before converting to maize. Chief Shana...
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06
Jun

Small farmers don’t give up on Pendo groundnut in Tanzania

Annual groundnut production in Tanzania doubled from 340,770 tons in 2008 to 810,000 tons in 2012, and smallholder farmers as part of the Tropical Legumes II project largely contributed to this growth. Smallholder farmers hold the key to agriculture all over the world, and it is no different in Tanzania. Here, the Jipe Moyo group (which means ‘don’t give up’) formed in 2011 as a savings and loans group, has discovered the benefits of cultivating groundnut variety Pendo. The group started out with 30 members (13 men and 17 women) and a capital of Tshs 150,000 (US$ 68.19) [(each member contributed Tshs 5000 (US$ 2.27)].  Registering themselves as a savings and loans group, they opened a bank account that qualified...
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