37) Providing science a human face (March 2000)

CHENNAI, MARCH 3. "Our new agenda is science with a human face for improving the livelihood of the 300 million poor inhabiting the semi-arid tropics (SAT) across the globe,'' said Dr. William D. Dar, new Director-General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Patancheru near Hyderabad.

In an exclusive interview, the 46-year-old Filipino scientist- administrator, who took charge in mid-January, said that beyond producing quality and cutting-edge science or relevant research, the work the ICRISAT did in cooperation with its partners must benefit the marginalised, the disadvantaged, and the hungry. "This is the human face of the science and agricultural research we do. This will be the over-arching theme of our efforts, the paramount motive of our endeavours,'' he said.

The ICRISAT has generated a lot of important technologies in the past 27 years, and with this comparative advantage it can catalyse application, working with the national agricultural research systems (NARS) and other partner agencies, to improve agricultural productivity and reduce poverty.

Highlighting the new paradigms in the new millennium, Dr. Dar said the ICRISAT was uniquely placed to act as bridge, broker and catalyst. With the advantage of a neutral, publicly- funded international centre with scientific excellence, it can act as a bridge between Asia and Africa. It will use its international character to act as a trusted broker between NARS and various other stakeholders in dealing with technology transfers to find win-win solutions.

Referring to the use of new science, particularly applied genomics for crop improvement, Dr. Dar said the institute will look for traits, in crops it is working with to help solve problems such as physiological factors, poor soil and unpredictable rainfall.

With the largest collection of over 113,000 accessions of its mandate crops, the ICRISAT is the world's largest repository of food crop germplasm. This collection is held in public trust on behalf of the Food and Agricultural Organisation following the global Convention on Biodiversity.

As germplasm becomes increasingly entwined with issues of intellectual property rights protection, ICRISAT's holdings assure the security of the germplasm heritage of SAT, and ensure free access to this genetic wealth among nations.

Dwelling on the recently formulated "ICRISAT's Africa Agenda'', Dr. Dar said he saw more opportunities in the region. "We have to convert the challenges into opportunities.'' While some are pessimistic about trends in Africa, the ICRISAT views the continent as one with enormous potential while admitting that the challenges are far from trivial.

The Africa Agenda is formulated through participatory approach, and it has identified major research issues for Africa. "This initiative will enhance Africa-Asia cooperation. It will help in cutting time and making necessary adjustments. It will serve as a platform for bringing in more resources to accelerate research and development in Africa. It will also provide opportunities to create partnership between various development agencies,'' he said.


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