December
Issue No: 1749
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Feature Stories


‘Learning by doing’ helps mothers tackle under-nutrition in Malawi – showing significant improvements in just 3 weeks

Malnourished children under two in rural Malawi whose mothers were trained in diet diversity, hygiene and food safety have shown significant improvements of their nutrition and health in just three weeks. The study  published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition, Cambridge University Press (https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980017003652), on January 17, 2018, demonstrates the rapid impact a properly designed nutrition education intervention can have.

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Under-nutrition is a persistent and complicated problem in the developing world, where imbalance in nutrition intake is a major problem. Growth impairment resulting from malnutrition is among the highest in Malawi, where over 37% of children are stunted (Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2016). Now, a study conducted in rural Malawi has taken on this challenge: in just 21 days, children whose mothers were given comprehensive training on diversified complementary diets, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices, and food safety, showed significant improvement in wasting, underweight and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC), all important measures of under-nutrition.

This nutrition research was conducted amongst mothers of children of under two years of age, in the districts of Mzimba and Balaka in Malawi, by a team of scientists from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), in Malawi. This research was supported by the Mc Knight Foundation and the CGIAR Research Programs on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and Grain Legumes.

The lack of diet diversity is a major concern for the majority of Malawian families who are smallholder farmers, growing crops for both food and income. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO), more than half of the Malawian population lives in poverty, with high food insecurity. Typically, farmers grow maize, relying on the same for their food. Other crops, when grown, are almost always grown for commercial purposes, with only recent interventions encouraging the use of millets and groundnuts for dietary diversity. Women carry out an estimated half of all farming work, alongside the majority of other household tasks and childcare, but often have limited control over household resources.

During the study, scientists ensured that they used locally available foods and practices to develop a model that could significantly improve nutrition amongst young children. Using the food group approach, they developed a porridge recipe that combined nutritionally rich cereals and legumes like finger millet and pigeonpea, in addition to maize, groundnut, carrots, amaranth leaves to complement breastfeeding and provide all amino acids and vitamins and minerals required for child growth. Significantly, the methodology followed in the intervention moves beyond knowledge transfer and instead focused on the participation of mothers who were already raising healthy children to lead cooking and training sessions for mothers with undernourished children. Also known as the positive deviant or Hearth model, this method of ‘learning by doing’ has the benefit of using stakeholders’ knowledge and practices, in order to encourage adoption and ensure continued results outside the duration of the study.

Carried out in the 2014-15 post harvest period among 179 mothers and their children, in-depth data from the study indicates the first significant scope of low-cost nutrition, food safety and hygiene training and the impact such simple practices can have on children’s health. While incidence of diarrhoea almost entirely disappeared, impact on wasting showed progressive improvements on days 7, 14, and 21, with the largest impact observed on the last. Similar trend were noticed in other indices, though the study period was too short for observing effects on stunting. “Using the ‘food group approach’ in addition to basic training on WASH practices, we were able to achieve significant improvements in measures of under-nutrition in just 21 days. If this model were to be scaled with the help of public and private development partners, the gains made could be significant in eradication malnutrition in Africa,” said S. Anitha, an ICRISAT scientist leading the study.

The study also indicates a huge area of concern on food safety, since more than half the urine samples of children studied indicated aflatoxin contamination, though this did not exert significant effect on nutrition outcomes per se. In conclusion, the research points to new direction and approaches for achieving better health outcomes amongst low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa.


Women trying out a wholegrain recipe in M’Pessoba, Mali. Credit: Jerome Bossuet

Women trying out a wholegrain recipe in M’Pessoba, Mali. Credit: Jerome Bossuet

Achieving better nutrition, one cookery class at a time

A recently published research paper reveals how technology, knowledge and effective communication can help to address dietary misconceptions and encourage better nutritional practices in rural settings. The paper reports on the success of the innovative methodology used for knowledge transfer (collective cooking) among women in rural communities in Mali during the An Be Jigi (‘Hope for All’ in Bambara) nutrition project. The intervention, driven primarily by women, resulted in a significant increase in adoption of the use of whole grain sorghum for food preparation, especially for young children.

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When the An Be Jigi project began in 2006, women and children in the Koulikoro region of Mali suffered from malnutrition, low growth and anemia. Despite sorghum and millets – cereals rich in iron and zinc – being a significant component of the local diets, researchers found that uptake of these essential minerals was low because of the way the grains were cooked.

For example, to prepare a local dish , women pounded the sorghum grains for decortication (removal of the seed coat). The women explained that decortication was considered essential as incompletely pounded grains were considered a sign of laziness on the part of the cook in their community. Decortication also imparted a wealthier status to the family. Unfortunately, the removal of bran also resulted in about 50% loss of iron and zinc.

To solve this issue, the project team developed alternative methods of cooking whole grain sorghum (without pounding out the bran): soaking and drying the grains before grinding in a mill. They also created new recipes that used the flour obtained by this method. For spreading these ideas among the main stakeholders of community nutrition – the women (especially young mothers) – the team conducted group cooking (cuisines collectives) sessions to teach women the recipes and discuss child nutrition and hygiene issues. Several remarkable women came forward to become nutrition leaders in their regions, conducting workshops and information sessions. They explained that using whole grain not only increased the nutritive value of their food, it also freed up the time that the women would otherwise spend pounding the grain in a mortar and pestle.

Aminata Sanogo and Assa Kayentoo are two such nutrition leaders who use the local idiom to explain the science behind nutrition, growth and health. To make an impact on a largely illiterate audience, they use pictures, drawings and examples drawn from day-to-day life (“Proteins are essential – like the bricks to build a house”).

During these sessions, apart from learning new, wholesome recipes, women could also discuss among themselves other problems and difficulties. This led to greater understanding of the workings of rural communities, the roles played by women in the family and the age-old perceptions associated with food. A post-project survey in 2015 revealed practical problems faced by the rural women in including whole grain in their diets, such as not having a flour mill close by for grinding the whole grain sorghum into flour, and having to depend on men to drive them to the mill.

Nevertheless, the work done by An Be Jigi has resulted in a significant increase in the consumption of whole grain sorghum in the region, especially among young children. The above-mentioned paper about the study, conducted after conclusion of the project, revealed that over 71% of the women were feeding whole grain to their children at least every other day. About 56% of families were having whole grain diets every day.

By reaching out to the women in novel ways and digging deep to understand their motivations for adopting certain cooking practices, An Be Jigi researchers have broken new ground in social science research. They have shown that knowledge and technology sharing reaps richer rewards with a cultural understanding of the local milieu.

Mothers in the Koulikoro region of Mali are leading by example to create a more capable younger generation. While some challenges still exist – removing gender-based distinctions on activities (e.g. riding motorbikes) – women like Aminata, Assa and others have contributed immensely to changing the mindsets and practices of villagers in Mali, giving the children a solid base for a stronger, healthier adulthood.

Partners: Malian National Agricultural Research Institute, IER (Institut d’Economie Rurale); Helen Keller International; McKnight Foundation; Association Malienne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD); Union Locale des Producteurs de Céréales de Dioila (ULPC); Coopérative pour la Promotion de la Filière Semence de Siby (COPROSEM); Wageningen University (Netherlands); Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD, France); Département de Technologie Alimentaire of IRSAT (Burkina Faso); ICRISAT.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
2-zero-hunger good-health 4-gender-equality 9-reduced-inequalities 17-partnerships-goals 


Indian smallholder farmers could soon benefit from the growing confectionary peanut market, as the first-ever high oleic groundnut varieties adapted to India are ready for release

To respond to the growing demands for high oleic peanuts, groundnut scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and partners across India have just developed the first-ever oleic-rich peanuts in Spanish and Virginia bunch types, adapted to Indian farm conditions

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Until now, Indian groundnut farmers have not benefited from the fast growing global confectionary market, as they could not supply high oleic content peanuts as required by the confectionary industry. High oleic peanuts have tenfold lower oxidation compared to normal peanuts, improving its shelf-life from 2 to 9 months. It avoids rancidity and high oleic peanuts have much better flavour. Oleic acid or omega-9 fatty acid which can be found in olive and nuts like almonds also have important health benefits.

Groundnut breeder Dr Janila who led this demand-driven breeding programme since 2011 explains, “Six years ago, we had foreseen this new market demand for high oleic content and we wanted to incorporate this market trait into popular local varieties grown by Indian farmers, by crossing with an American runner type variety rich in oleic acid (Sunoleic 95R). Thanks to new advancements in molecular research and crop improvement tools[1], we have rapidly and cost-effectively identified a handful of very promising lines adapted to Indian agroecologies. These high oleic varieties have the quality the industry wants and have shown excellent performance in the fields.”

Currently, Indian groundnut farmers grow bunch type groundnut varieties adapted to rainfed environments, early maturing and with rapid filling of the pods after flash rains. Such groundnuts are however low in oleic acid, around 45 to 50% of total fatty acids. Certain groundnut varieties grown in America and in Australia are much richer in oleic acid (above 80%) thanks to specific mutations in the gene coding the enzyme fatty acid desaturase or FAD, which blocks the conversion from oleic acid to linoleic acid.

At present, multinational confectionary companies are sourcing tons of high oleic peanuts from Australia for their Asian processing units, in order to respond to the growing Asian market of peanut-based confectionary products like chocolate bars and breakfast cereals.

Knowing the cost of importing peanuts and rising global groundnut prices, leading food companies are seeking opportunities to locally source high oleic peanuts from India and other countries in Asia and Africa where they operate. Such market pull for high oleic groundnut varieties would improve incomes of many smallholder groundnut farmers.

This strategic market-driven research is an on-going collaboration between ICRISAT, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-Directorate of Groundnut Research (DGR) in Junagadh, Gujarat, the Main Oilseeds Research Station of Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Palem Research Station of Telangana State Agricultural University, Oilseeds Department of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore Department of Regional Agricultural Research Station and the Regional Agricultural Research Station of Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.

Breeders were able to cut down costs and crop selection time from hybridization to national testing trials from 10 to 6 years, thanks to several innovations including rapid-generation advancement, the use of single nucleotide platform (SNP) marker-assisted selection to screen oleic acid-rich FAD mutants among thousands candidate lines and near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) for robust and non-destructive phenotyping. Since 2016, best-bet lines have been tested across India and shared with partners in Asia-Pacific region and African countries that include, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Myanmar and Australia. The improved lines show similar or even superior productivity than the current check varieties grown by local farmers.

Sixteen high oleic lines have been tested in a national multi-location trial, for their agronomic performance and market quality, under the All India Coordinated Research Program on Groundnut during 2017. It was the first-ever “specialty” trial in India for groundnuts. Results from 2016 multi-location testing show well-adapted lines for the major groundnut producing States of India (Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), that perform better than farmer-preferred local varieties (from 5-15% up to 84% yield increase) and oleic content over 80%.

Recent sensory testing of these newly bred high oleic lines, conducted in collaboration with a global confectionary food company, has revealed equivalent flavour quality to the confectionary high oleic peanuts normally used by the industry.

As nationwide trial was conducted with all the major national research partners, scientists recommend a fast-track official release to start certified seed production from this year. “With such results, there is now a real potential for smallholder groundnut farmers from India, but also other Asian and African countries to supply new markets, like the confectionary industry, with locally produced high oleic peanuts. This can be a win-win situation as farmers would benefit from a premium price and food companies would tap into a local supply instead of using expensive imported peanuts”, says Dr Janila. “We have to be ready for scaling up this innovation.”

ICRISAT is engaged with an innovative farmer organization from Gujarat, Khedut Foods and Feeds, a Gujarat company, which works with 8,000 small farmers with average farm size between 1 to 2.5 acres. This farmer organization is already engaged in seed multiplication and production of good quality commodity to meet food safety standards as they understand farmers need to grow what the market wants. Khedut proposes premium prices for farmers that respect good crop management practices (incorporate organic soil matter in the soil, avoid drought, storage and harvest conditions) to prevent aflatoxin contamination, another prerequisite of the food industry.

This research enabling the fast-track development, testing and commercialization of ‘high oleic’ groundnut varieties that can be grown in the 4.8 million hectares of groundnut belts of India has been funded by the National Mission of Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP), Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DoAC) of Government of India.

[1] P. Janila, Pandey MK, Yaduru S, VariathMT, Manda S, Khera P, Manohar SS, Nagesh P, VishwakarmaMKa, Mishra GPb, Radhakrishnan Tb, ManivannanNc, DobariyaKLd, VasanthiRP, VarshneyRK (2016) Molecular breeding for introgression of fatty acid desaturase mutant alleles (ahFAD2A and ahFAD2B) enhances oil quality in high and low oil containing peanut genotypes, Plant Sciencehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plantsci.2015.08.013


Cowpea seller at Bodija market IbadanWoman trader selling cowpea at Bodija market Ibadan Nigeria. Photo: IITA

Cowpea seller at Bodija market IbadanWoman trader selling cowpea at Bodija market Ibadan Nigeria. Photo: IITA

CGIAR Launches Program to Improve Rural Economies and Nutrition through Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

The CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals Agri-food Systems (CRP GLDC) launched focused on increasing the productivity, profitability, resilience and marketability of critical and nutritious grain legume and cereal crops grown in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. This second phase CRP combines the lessons learned from three phase 1 CRPs: Dryland Cereals, Grain Legumes, and Dryland Systems. CRP-GLDC is a Research for Development investment of US$413 million over five years (2018-2022).

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CRP-GLDC is one of 12 CRPs delivering to the CGIAR’s Strategy and Results Framework (SRF) 2016–2030. By 2030, CGIAR and its partners will aim for 150 million fewer hungry people, 100 million fewer poor people, at least 50% of whom are women, and 190 million ha less degraded land (http://www.cgiar.org/about-us/our-programs/).

The CRP has prioritized integrated research for development on six legume (chickpea, cowpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, lentil, soybean) and three cereal (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet) crops grown in semi-arid and sub-humid dryland agroecologies.

CRP-GLDC will be managed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Bioversity International.  These CGIAR partners will lead key programs of the CRP along with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the French-Agriculture Research for Development (CIRAD), and Institute of Research for Development-France (IRD).

Broad partnerships are essential for CRP-GLDC and include the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) collaborators in West Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger), East and Southern Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique), and South Asia (India and Myanmar), Sub-Regional Organizations, non-Government Organisations and private companies to increase regional adoption of improved crop varieties and enhance market opportunities for smallholder farmers.

A formal GLDC program launch will take place in early 2018 coordinating partners into specific activity clusters aimed towards meeting program targets by 2022.


In the media



Mother-to-mother training in Malawi helps battle child malnutrition

Three weeks is all it takes to change the fortunes of a baby’s life, simply by training mothers to make small changes to what they are fed and how their food is prepared, according to scientists who studied malnourished infants in rural Malawi.


Access to quality seeds: the example of local seed ventures in Malawi

For Sub-Saharan African smallholder farmers, poor harvests can frequently be attributed largely to poor quality seed. But providing varied, high-quality seed is one of the most efficient and cost-effective strategies for boosting green sustainable growth. In Malawi, over the past 15 years, an innovative seed revolving fund has gradually given rise to a local, privately-owned seed industry that has provided a platform for relaunching the country’s groundnut production.


Scientists develop first-ever oleic acid-rich peanut

Small-scale groundnut farmers, especially concentrated in the southern states of India, have all the reasons to rejoice. In a major breakthrough, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) scientists have developed the first-ever oleic acid-rich peanut adapted to Indian conditions and it is ready for release in the fields. This has been possible due to the use of biotechnology, especially molecular breeding.


ICRISAT develops oleic-rich peanut

Groundnut scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and partners across India have developed the first-ever oleic-rich peanuts adapted to Indian farm conditions.


ICRISAT develops constructed wetlands, a new technique to treat sewage in Telangana 

With booming population and burgeoning urbanisation, the water bodies are become increasingly filthy and unfit for human utilisation. Lakes and rivers are turning into giant gutters carrying waste and sewage. To provide a solution to this problem, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) has been working on a new concept called Constructed Wetlands (CW).


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Enabling Marginalized Farmers to Have a Say in Crop Cultivar Selection

In Indervelly village, North Telangana, India, a few weeks after the last rains in mid-November, cotton seeds are ripening, ready for harvest and farmers are getting their fields ready for post-rainy (rabi) crops such as chickpea and sorghum. Sorghum is often cultivated in the less fertile plots, but is still an important food crop for the marginalized families of this region. Here, delicious rotis (soft flatbreads) are made with flour of the local landrace of this dryland cereal. Yet, sorghum yields are very low in this region (less than 900 kg per hectare) as only 20% of rabi sorghum fields are planted with improved varieties. Farmers still prefer local landraces  mainly because of their grain qualities determining the unique taste.

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“Farmers’ adoption of improved crops varieties will be higher if they can choose a variety suiting their particular needs, and if they feel a sense of participation and ownership in the varietal selection process”, says ICRISAT crop physiologist Jana Kholova. “It is of utmost importance that the variety fits the local farming conditions: e.g. inputs (rainfed/irrigated, fertilized/non-fertilized), soil (shallow/deep) and so on.”

On-farm farmers’ participatory varietal selection/improvement is a successful method used to boost the adoption of cultivars in many countries; however, this approach is not effectively used to develop crop for under-privileged social sections in India. Studies have shown that lack of resources (fertilizers, irrigation, seeds, even manpower) plays a significant role in inhibiting adoption of improved varieties by farmers. Especially, smallholder farmers from socially underprivileged sections cannot afford to take the risk of trying out new cultivars which may ultimately not fit their needs; as a result, they are slower to adopt new varieties.

To achieve satisfactorily high rates of adoption, crop scientists need to understand the preferences and cultural background of the farmers and provide them the range of variety choice relevant to their farm situations and their crop management practices. In short, smallholder farmers need to be included in the process of testing and adopting new varieties.

Dr Kholova from GEMS has initiated efforts to involve farmers in remote areas of Telangana State (Pataguda village in Adilabad district) in farm testing of lines pre-screened for better production in low-input crop management practice. Feedback from the farmers will stimulate development of a larger testing network and inform crop improvement programs to develop cultivars more adapted to farmers’ needs. This would ultimately increase adoption of improved varieties of rabi sorghum with greater impact on sorghum yield, nutrition and farmers’ income.

The initial part of the experiment involved:

  1. Screening 50 sorghum lines for agronomic performance and adaptability to local farming conditions
  2. Planting the six (best-bet) selected cultivars back in the farmers’ field along with the local landrace (called Persa Jonna locally) and standard rabi sorghum cultivar (Maldandi) as checks.
  3. Analyzing the farmers’ feedback based on his/her preferences (look/feel/taste/yield).

The farmers participatory approach experiment is, as of now, in the initial stages, with the scientists trying to lay the baseline for a more rigorous study which will involve analysis of multiple socio-agro-ecosystem aspects. The scientists foresee that, with time and a greater trust between them and the traditionally marginalized farmers, these shall have more impact on the crop improvement decision-making process. This approach requires crop scientists to confront the reality of crops grown in the marginal land in the farmers’ fields.

Breeding programs of agricultural research institutes such as ICRISAT, when developing elite lines with drought/pest-resistance, high yields, and other beneficial traits, have to start with the end-user demand. By analyzing the main drivers of adoption of rabi sorghum, and by devising participatory crop breeding protocols that truly take into account farmers’ preferences, Dr Jana Kholova and her colleagues at ICRISAT are hoping that these adapted lines reach the most vulnerable sections of farmers.

About the author:
Rajani Kumar,
Communication Officer, Strategic Marketing & Communication,
ICRISAT.

Dr Jana Kholova,
Senior Scientist – Crop Physiology,
ICRISAT.


Groundnut farmer Narasimha Reddy comparing groundnut variety K6 with ICGV 03043.

Oil super rich groundnut ICGV 03043 ready to quench India’s thirst for peanut oil

“I’m very pleased with new groundnut variety ICGV 03043 because its seed rate is low, it requires less fertilizer and pesticides, and takes less time to weed compared to K6, the variety I normally cultivate. Threshing is also a lot easier because of its thin stem,” says Mr Narasimha Reddy, groundnut farmer from Sri Rangapur village of Wanaparthy district, a 2-hour drive from Hyderabad in Telangana State.

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Holding aloft a healthy groundnut plant with 30 pods, Mr Reddy is describing to 200 fellow farmers from the district at a farmer demonstration day on 20th January 2018, what he likes best about ICGV 03043, an oil-rich groundnut variety developed and released in a partnership between ICRISAT and ICAR-Directorate of Groundnut Research and Junagadh Agricultural University, Gujarat under a project supported by the National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm, Government of India.

Since 2011, groundnut breeder Dr P Janila and her team have embarked on a journey to develop at a faster rate, varieties that can perform well in farmers’ fields in terms of yield and disease resistance, and respond to specific market needs, selecting traits like high oleic acid content and richness in oil.

In 2011, ICRISAT scientists identified high-oil candidates among pre-existing groundnut lines. Following 5-6 years of rigorous multi-location testing for adaptation and using innovative approaches like rapid and non-destructive oil estimation using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS), three high oil varieties were narrowed down for national release in 2016-2017, including ICGV 03043 adapted to Telangana State, but also in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka  and parts of Maharashtra States.

A variety that grows well, and sells well

Yellow and green. The contrast is striking between the lush green sandy field of ICGV 03043 and the yellow patch of K6, the locally popular groundnut variety.  K6 which has been cultivated for more than 15 years in Wanaparthy, was severely hit by leaf spot this year.

ICGV 03043 performs much better than best local varieties as it resists leaf spot disease (tikka) and pests like Spodoptera moth as the small and narrow leaves are a deterrent for the moth to lay eggs.  Its evergreen foliage is also a good source of quality fodder. Excess rain after planting this year damaged the K6 crop, and farmers expect no more than half the normal production, around half a ton per acre. ICGV 03043 is more climate resilient as higher pegging (up to 40 against 15) and a slightly longer growing cycle (140 days against 120 days in the post-rainy season) means it has higher chances of recovery.

Groundnut variety ICGV 03043 has the highest oil content of 53% among cultivars grown in India. Normal varieties have about 48%, and farmers get a higher price with every additional 1% of oil in the produce.

Dr SK Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner at the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, one of the funders, explains why such a new variety is important for Telangana farmers and for India. “Every year, India imports massive quantities of oil, about 15 million tons. We need to increase our domestic oilseeds production, in particular groundnut oil which is a healthy all-purpose oil for cooking. Telangana farmers are innovative and eager to adopt new technologies that fit their farming conditions and improve their incomes. ICGV 03043 has great potential as it is very productive even under low-input conditions and responds to specific market needs.”\

Dr SK Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner, interacting with groundnut farmer Narasimha Reddy on the benefits of oil-rich ICGV 03043.

Dr SK Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner, interacting with groundnut farmer Narasimha Reddy on the benefits of oil-rich ICGV 03043.

Mr Swamy, another farmer who has been growing ICGV 03043 since last year, warns of the younger generation’s alienation from agriculture if they don’t see profitability, and while groundnut is an important crop for their region, local varieties give neither bumper harvests nor good prices at the market. He was pleased with the yield of the new variety and its resilience to pests. “Its richness in oil will help us get better prices. And since it requires minimum inputs, it may be interesting to go for organic cultivation, as I may get better prices for organic groundnut.”

This led to an animated conversation between farmers and the project team about how ICGV 03043 seeds could be supplied quicker to farmers. Even though it has a 20% lower seed rate than the local check, farmers still need about 150 kg of seeds per hectare. A centralised seed system would not make sense due to prohibitive logistical costs, so it was recommended that farmers keep a share of their harvest as their own seeds at home for the next growing season. Low-cost air-tight triple layer storage bags to keep seeds safe from pests may be of great interest for this purpose.

Add value at the farm gate to make groundnut more attractive

Alongside demand-driven breeding and extension efforts to ensure groundnut farm production increases, farmers, researchers and agriculture officials need to work hand in hand to create a market environment for farmers to reap benefits after harvest. “Adding value to your groundnut production has to be a continuous process. We have to first look at the low hanging fruit, grading, and make sure the crop is aflatoxin free. That is your first step for better profitability. Then you’ll benefit also from ICGV 03043’s superior oil content,” explains Dr Venkat Ramana, Associate Director of Research from Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Hyderabad.

However, farmers in the district usually market their own produce and several complained about not getting remunerating prices. An initiative for the collective marketing of groundnuts that are graded and certified aflatoxin-free would be of great interest to the food industry, and it would fetch farmers much better prices as well.

Farmers from Wanaparthy district have a comparative advantage. There is low incidence of aflatoxin since groundnut is grown in the post-rainy season in light sandy soils, under irrigation, and harvested in the dry season, ensuring proper drying of pods. ICRISAT plant pathologist Dr. Hari Sudini recently tested local groundnut samples which showed that the occurrence of this harmful fungal toxin was nil or under permissible limits. “Groundnut quality is crucial for the market and such low incidence of aflatoxin will increase farmers’ bargaining power,” he says.

Ms Swetha Mohanthi, Collector of the region advocated investing in local groundnut processing units and low cost aflatoxin testing laboratories, so that her constituency becomes a groundnut value adding hub.

With better linkages to groundnut markets and seeds that fit industry needs, there is no doubt that Narasimha and his fellow villagers will soon reap benefits with this new oil-rich groundnut.

Project: Commercialization of high oleic and high oil groundnut varieties meets demand from food industry and export market to enhance profitability of groundnut cultivation in India; Funders: the National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm; the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Government of India and the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes. Partners: Indian Council for Agricultural Research – Directorate of Groundnut Research, Junagadh; Junagadh Agricultural University, Junagadh; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore; Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), Tirupati; and Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Hyderabad.

Authors:

Jerome Bossuet
Co-Head – Communications and Partnerships
Strategic Marketing & Communication
 

Dr P Janila
Principal Scientist – Groundnut Breeding
Crop Improvement

Interview


Demand-driven Innovation for the Drylands to “deliver better nutrition for you and economic opportunity for smallholder farmers”

Moving up the value chain through processing

Dr. David Bergvinson is the Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which conducts agricultural research for rural development in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Bergvinson has worked in international agriculture research for over 25 years and focuses on applying technology to improve lives and crops.

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The original goal of ICRISAT was to improve food availability in drought-prone areas. More recently, this goal has shifted to include creating and sustaining rural livelihoods. The organization combines crop commodity research, including specialized breeding and integrated genetics, with natural resource management practices.

Bergvinson holds an M.S. in Pest Management and Forest Entomology and a Ph.D. in Biology. As a scientific researcher, he helped develop new varieties of maize and wheat that are more resistant to insect infestation and more productive. He joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007, where he worked on the Agriculture Development team and led the Digital Design for Agriculture initiative developing digital tools for farmers. In January 2015, Bergvinson joined ICRISAT to lead its strategy development and build partnerships to translate science and apply digital technology to improve consumer nutrition and the lives of farmers.

Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss agricultural challenges and potential solutions in semi-arid tropical regions with Bergvinson.

Food Tank (FT): What are some of the challenges faced by farmers in the semi-arid tropics and how is ICRISAT working to overcome them?

David Bergvinson (DB): Dryland areas of the world face high levels of poverty, malnutrition, and environmental degradation. The challenges faced by farmers in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are many. Climate variability manifests in extreme weather events and shifts rainfall patterns (intensity, onset, and duration). Arable land loss and depleting soil nutrients on available land. Water stress as agriculture consumes over 70 percent of the available fresh water. Lack of access to improved seeds, fertilizers, farm equipment, and other essential inputs, such as extension services, to optimally use inputs to maximize profit and reduce risk. Lack of access to credit, insurance, and markets. Resource scarcity as farmers lack the means to invest in technology. High transaction costs due to information asymmetry. Lastly, agriculture is not attractive to youth—we urgently need to make the agrifood sector a viable business for women and youth.

ICRISAT works on multiple fronts using a holistic approach as shown in the diagram below:

We work along the continuum from the science of discovery to the science of delivery to improve the profitability and livelihood of farmers.

Genomics & biotechnology: Analysis of genetic variability in pearl millet has led to a better understanding of how it can survive temperatures above 42 degrees Celsius and its exceptional drought tolerance. A biotechnology breakthrough using Host-Induced Gene Silencing technology can make groundnuts resistant to aflatoxin.

Crop Improvement: Developing varieties with improved nutritional value (higher density of micronutrients and protein) and yields; early maturing varieties which can escape terminal droughts and fit into short fallow rotations with other crops; varieties which can withstand pest and disease attacks. Machine harvestable varieties are being developed to bring down input costs and decrease time and labor required for harvesting.

Soil Health Maps: Soil health maps at a regional or national level are a decision-support tool for policymakers and farmers alike by providing targeted fertilizer recommendations and balanced fertilizer application for sustainable intensification.

Improving water availability: Watershed management, on-farm water conservation through farm ponds, and building rainwater harvesting structures to conserve rainwater help provide water for irrigation during the dry season or when rains fail.

We are encouraging farmers to diversify by growing legumes in rotation or intercropped with cereals to improve soil fertility and yields and reduce fertilizer costs. There is a package of agronomic practices developed and disseminated to farmers to improve yield, control pest attacks, and conserve soil and water resources. Digital Agriculture tools, developed within ICRISAT’s ihub ecosystem, are being deployed to provide scalable, low-cost solutions tailored to the specific needs of an individual farmer. ICRISAT’s agribusiness incubator encourages and supports entrepreneurs to attract youth back to farming.

FT: ICRISAT focuses on the entire agricultural value chain. Why is this important instead of just focusing on production?

 

Connecting farmers to markets

DB: ICRISAT works on dryland cereals (finger millet, pearl millet, and sorghum) and legumes (chickpea, pigeon pea, and groundnut) which have poorly developed value chains and weak markets. Farmers growing these crops face poorly structured value chains and markets that lead to high transaction costs and poor and unpredictable returns. As depicted in the diagram above, productivity improvements offer up to a 50 percent increase in incomes, while value addition and market integration can double farmers’ incomes. This is also in line with the call from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. When farmers move up the value chain they are able to capture more value, which is currently cornered by intermediaries.

FT: How can digital technology improve the lives of smallholder farmers and consumers?

DB: Agriculture is a data-intensive enterprise when one considers soil variability, moisture and nutrient levels, rainfall variability, timing of key operations like planting and harvesting, and market price volatility. Digital Agriculture can help farmers manage these production and market risks through the application of spatial/temporal databases that are cloud-enabled and integrated through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This creates a rich and dynamic data ecosystem that enables advanced analytics to support and inform farmers of the best economic options to maximize profitability and minimize risk—two critical variables farmers in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia would like to manage.

Smartphones are another key intervention as they are equipped with GPS to track where photos of field infestations or hail damage were taken for technical support or insurance claims. Mobile phones enable farmers to integrate into structured markets based on approved grades and standards that can be verified using calibrated photos and settlements made through mobile money. Digital technology will be key to increasing agriculture productivity by delivering tailored recommendations to farmers based on crop, planting date, variety sown, real-time localized observed weather, and projected market prices to optimize recommendations. These recommendations will be based on advanced big data analytics related to down-scaled daily observed weather that will soon be under 1 km x 1 km to feed into crop growth models to estimate yields, harvest date and potential pest and disease outbreaks, and optimize crop management measures.

 

Digital technology can improve profitability

Remote sensing is another big data resource to support the development of derived weather products (radar), improved hydrology and watershed management, soil health, crop coverage, and crop health estimates among other applications. This is now complemented by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that can capture multispectral, high-resolution images to assess crop health, damage, and yield far more accurately than satellites. The greatest impact of Digital Agriculture will be on democratization of market pricing and compressing transaction costs so farmers capture a higher portion of the produce’s marketable value.

FT: How is climate change expected to affect agriculture in the semi-arid tropics and how can farmers adapt?

DB: Climate change affects agriculture in a number of ways. These include changes in day and night temperatures (including intensified heat waves or cold spells), changes in rainfall intensity, timing and duration, and changes in spatial and temporal distribution of pest and diseases. Resource-poor farmers of the drylands lack the ability to cope with and the resilience to recover from such climate-induced shocks. Efforts by ICRISAT and partners include creating climate-smart communities using different approaches (see diagram below) and using digital technology tools to provide an ecosystem of solutions ranging from optimal time to plant (Sowing app by Microsoft and aWhere) to pest and disease recognition and remedies (Plantix app) to market integration for which multiple solutions are available through ICRISAT ihub partners.

FT: A focus of international agriculture development is on providing cheap calories at the expense of a diverse, nutritious food supply. How can this system be improved?

DB: Consumers, companies, and governments are now beginning to realize the importance of diversity on farms as well as on the plate. ICRISAT is spearheading the Smart Food campaign, which aims to increase awareness about the importance of cereals like millets and sorghum for consumers, farmers, and the planet. As part of the campaign, we are working with food processors to incorporate millets in ready-to-eat snacks and foods such as breakfast cereals, malt drinks, etc. A Smart Food show aired on national television in Kenya that saw the viewership go up from 20,000 to 1 million by the end of the season. We are also working to declare 2018 as the International Year of Millets. This has found support at the highest levels, with the Agriculture Minister of the Government of India and stalwarts like Professor MS Swaminathan and Kofi Annan endorsing ICRISAT’s call. At the policy level, we are working with policymakers in India to introduce millets in the school mid-day meal programme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), which provides supplementary nutrition for infants, pregnant women, and adolescent girls.

FT: How can smallholder agriculture compete with international companies?

DB: A win-win situation is for smallholder farmers to come together to set up Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and move up the value chain to become reliable suppliers to national and international agribusiness companies. ICRISAT is already working with FPOs in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India to facilitate this process. In Africa, ICRISAT is doing extensive work in connecting farmers’ groups with large seed companies so that both parties benefit from a relationship based on principles of fairness and transparency. Farmers get a remunerative price while companies get quality seeds.

FT: With increased urbanization and globalization, what do you think is the future of semi-arid tropical agriculture?

 

Machine harvestable chickpea

DB: The world population is expected to be over 9.2 billion by 2050 with more than 60 percent of them residing in urban areas. To feed the burgeoning population, smallholder agriculture will have to rise to the challenge. Agriculture in the drylands will need to produce more with less water through intensive watershed management and water use efficient irrigation systems to cultivate climate-smart crops that offer greater nutrition and resilience. Crops that use less water and are highly nutritious—such as millets (including sorghum)—should be promoted with appropriate policy support and consumer awareness that their food decisions in the grocery store are a vote towards sustainable food systems. Post-harvest losses will have to be reduced dramatically using efficient cold chains, local processing and storage and value chains, and consumer awareness raised on the true cost of food waste so we all live within the ecological boundaries of the planet.

Events


Establishing millet private industry collaborations globally

Over 100 millet companies displayed their products at the Organics and Millets International Trade Fair and conference at Bengaluru, India. “Buyer Seller Meet’ (B2B), an integral part of the Trade Fair brought together international and domestic buyers (including exporters, wholesalers and retailers), suppliers and farmer groups to negotiate trade and marketing.

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Dr Anitha Seetha, Senior Scientist – Nutrition, ICRISAT emphasized the value of diversifying children’s diets with millets to overcome malnutrition.

Dr Anitha Seetha, Senior Scientist – Nutrition, ICRISAT emphasized the value of diversifying children’s diets with millets to overcome malnutrition.

ICRISAT organized delegations of private industry and government representatives from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Iran, to expose them to millet products, companies, processing equipment and research institutes. This is likely to lead to collaborations between the countries, which can fast track establishing stronger millet processing industries overseas.

Nutrition, sustainable agriculture, new markets and future foods were some topics covered during the scientific conference organized by the Indian Institute of Millets Research, IIMR.

Millets were hailed as a Smart Food and the challenges and opportunities around promoting millets were discussed.

‘Millet Industry WhatsApp group’ was initiated and promoted by ICRISAT to facilitate knowledge sharing on market opportunities in India and overseas, research advances being made and to connect industry across the country and along the value chain.

Dr Anitha Seetha, Senior Scientist – Nutrition, ICRISAT emphasized the value of diversifying children’s diets with millets to overcome malnutrition.

“Millets are important to help overcome and manage the rising non-communicable diseases like diabetes but we still need to create modern tasty products with millets and do the right marketing so we can reach the masses and really be able to have an impact on these diseases,” says Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director External Relations & Strategic Marketing , ICRISAT.

Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT highlighted millets as climate-smart crops to ensure nutritional security and incomes for resource-poor farmers.

Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT highlighted millets as climate-smart crops to ensure nutritional security
and incomes for resource-poor farmers.

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General -Research, ICRISAT speaking on how millets are good for the planet at the Trade Fair.

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General -Research, ICRISAT speaking on how millets are good for the planet at the Trade Fair.

Cooking competitions and demonstrations were organized by MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (MSRUAS), Bengaluru.

Cooking competitions and demonstrations were organized by MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (MSRUAS),
Bengaluru.

Sad news



Former DDG Dr YL Nene passes away

Noted plant pathologist Dr Yeshwant Lakshman Nene, former Deputy Director General (1989-1996) of ICRISAT, passed away on 15 January 2018. He was 81. Internationally recognized as a leader in grain legumes research, and an authority on pulses pathology and international agriculture, Dr Nene spent 22 years at ICRISAT (1974-96).

Dr Nene joined ICRISAT as Principal Plant Pathologist in the Pulses Improvement Program. As DDG, he identified wilt/root complex in chickpea, and wilt and sterility mosaic in pigeonpea as the priority areas of research in these crops. His landmark contribution was resolving the ‘wilt complex’ problem in chickpea. He determined that the wilt complex, in fact, included several distinct diseases that included wilt and several other root rots.

As Chairman Emeritus of the Asian Agri-History Foundation, he helped publish numerous articles, conference proceedings, books and medieval texts (translated from Sanskrit, Farsi, etc. into English) on ancient agricultural history. He has authored, edited, or co-authored a total of 440 publications. His research articles have been published in 52 journals.

Dr Nene will be remembered as an accomplished scientist and an active spokesperson for Indian agricultural heritage. ICRISAT offers condolences to his family.

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