34) Private Sector Invests in Public Plant Breeding Research at ICRISAT (February 2001)

Alarmed by continuing declines in Western assistance to the developing countries for agricultural research, a coalition of small and large seed enterprises in India is helping to fill the breach. Fourteen companies have pledged $109,000 annually to help support applied plant breeding research at ICRISAT for five years. All materials developed through this research will remain as international public goods, freely available to all.

The confidence shown by the private sector in ICRISAT stems from a proven track record. To quote M. Prabhakar Rao, President of the Seedsmen Association, "Over the years the Indian farming community in general and the seed industry in particular have derived enormous benefit from ICRISAT's research. Most of the germplasm being used in our research and development programs has some of its origin in ICRISAT. ICRISAT has been very generous and liberal in providing germplasm and other forms of assistance in crop research."

ICRISAT's research with ICAR, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, stimulated the take-off of the pearl millet seed industry in India in the 1980s and early '90s, by developing resistant varieties that controlled the downy mildew fungus - a scourge that had farmers on the brink of abandoning the crop. An estimated 75% of pearl millet hybrids in India, as well as 60-80% of private-sector sorghum hybrids, have been derived from ICRISAT parent lines.

Pigeonpea research by ICRISAT and its partners led to the control of the devastating wilt fungus, shaved months off plant duration, and resulted in the world's first-ever hybrid of any food legume crop. And a project partly funded by India's largest indigenous seed company, MAHYCO, has painstakingly developed a new and easier system for producing the hybrids, known as the cytoplasmic male-sterility (CMS). It is poised for major impact in the coming years.

Companies committed to the coalition include global enterprises, along with a large number of home-grown seed companies: Advanta India, Cosmo, Ganga Kaveri Seeds, Hindustan Lever, J K Agri-Genetics, Mahendra Hybrid Seeds Co., MAHYCO, New Nandi Seeds Corporation, Plantgene, Proagro Seed Co., Prabhat Agri Biotech, and Shriram Bioseed Genetics India.

The research focuses on key issues like diversifying the genetic base of these crops to reduce vulnerability to diseases and pests and fit them into a wider range of cropping systems; seed quality; pest resistance; improved suitability for hybrid seed production; and field testing of promising hybrids.

"As wonderful as these investments are, they do not replace the enormously important role of international development assistance. Rather, they complement it," said Dr William D. Dar, Director General of ICRISAT. Targeted investments by the private sector deliver quick impacts in poverty reduction and increased productivity. Public-sector investment ensures that long-term issues on matters such as environmental protection and poverty reduction remain at the heart of ICRISAT's agenda. Combined, they underpin a balanced research program for sustainable rural development.

For more information, please contact r(dot)ortiz(at)cgiar(dot)org.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.