16) ICRISAT presents technologies to tackle drought (4 August 2004)

As many parts of India face the possibility of a rain-deficient year, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is committing its package of technologies - a combination of natural and genetic resource management - to tackle the possible drought situation.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the Institute's applied research has given the Indian farmers, especially those in the rainfed tracts of the country, the ability to produce more crops per drop of water. This, in turn, has helped to improve their livelihood security.

"As in the past 31 years, we stand strongly behind the Indian Government and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and all our partners in tackling the drought situation," Dr Dar said.

On 14 July, President APJ Abdul Kalam recommended ICRISAT technologies in his address to the Members of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly. His Excellency the President said:

"ICRISAT with its international experience of working in arid regions is located in Hyderabad. They have developed short duration, disease and drought resistant varieties of crops of this region beneficial to our farmers. They have introduced various tillage practices and nutrition management techniques to boost crop yields even under drought stress. Our farmers should interact closely with ICRISAT and other research institutions to absorb and adopt these technologies for improving their income. It is important for the Legislature to spread this message to the farming community."

Expressing his gratitude on the President's confidence on ICRISAT's work, Dr Dar said that the Institute would strengthen its partnerships and projects in India. Dr Dar hoped that the Government of India would also strengthen its support for ICRISAT in the coming years, since the vision and mission of the Institute matches with that of the New deal to rural India envisioned by the Dr Manmohan Singh's Government. In his address to the Nation, the Prime Minister had focused on the agricultural and rural sectors, and said that there was need for increased public and private investment in agriculture.
ICRISAT is one of the 15 international agricultural research institutes that are part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It is the only international agricultural research institute headquartered in India. The impact of ICRISAT's work in India is significant since it works for improving agricultural productivity in the rainfed areas, which constitute two-thirds of area under agriculture in the country.

Watershed development

ICRISAT's model for watershed development has been selected for replication in many parts of the country by governments, ICAR, donors and non-governmental organizations. Three ICRISAT-led consortia are implementing watershed development projects:

  • The Tata-ICRISAT-ICAR project is being supported by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. This participatory watershed project is working to arrest land degradation and improve farmers' livelihood through enhanced agricultural productivity, natural resource and crop-livestock management systems. The project watersheds are in Madhya Pradesh and eastern Rajasthan.
  • The Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihood Project-ICRISAT-ICAR project is being implemented in 150 watersheds in Andhra Pradesh, as part of the state government program. The objective is to improve livelihoods through a convergence of agricultural and allied activities in Mahaboobnagar, Nalgonda, Kurnool, Prakasam and Ananthapur districts.
  • The Asian Development Bank-ICRISAT-ICAR project is being implemented at several locations in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. It aims to improve rainfed agricultural production through watershed development.

Improved seeds

ICRISAT's strategy to help farmers cope with drought also includes the development of seed varieties that are drought and disease resistant, and mature early to overcome the limitation posed by a short growing period. The new varieties are developed both by conventional and biotechnologically-assisted breeding. Major impacts from ICRISAT's research in India are:

  • 142 improved varieties of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut released in India, raising production and small farmer income.
  • Over 70 pearl millet hybrids cultivated on about 4.5 million ha (about half of pearl millet area in the country) contributed to cultivar diversity and increased the crop's national productivity.
  • Wilt-resistant pigeonpea Maruti revived the crop in central India.
  • Extra-short duration pigeonpea ICPL 88039 is gaining popularity in the rice-wheat systems of the Gangetic Plains.
  • Short-duration, fusarium-wilt resistant desi and kabuli chickpea varieties have contributed to the increase in area and productivity in central and southern India. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the increase has been eightfold.
  • A hybrid pigeonpea program based on cytoplasmic male sterility is expected to be more productive and drought resistant.
  • Controlled field trials are underway at the ICRISAT campus at Patancheru on genetically-modified groundnut with resistance to the Indian peanut clump virus and pigeonpea resistant to the pod borer Helicoverpa.

Private sector partnerships for improved seeds
In collaboration with private sector seed companies, ICRISAT has initiated a Hybrid Seed Consortia, which enables the companie to access and commercially exploit high-yielding varieties and hybrid seed parents developed by ICRISAT using conventional and biotechnological tools. More than 25 private seed companies partnered with ICRISAT to form these consortia, one each for sorghum, pearl millet and pigeonpea.
The Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics
The Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) is a strategic information, communication and non-formal distance education coalition hosed by ICRISAT. The coalition explores the interface of information and communication technologies with open and distance learning to share information and knowledge in innovative and effective ways. The goal is to help vulnerable rural communities to manage drought, by reaching to them the right information at the right time.

For further information, contact S Gopikrishna Warrier at w.gopikrishna@cgiar.org

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.