30) ICRISAT renews its focus in Asia and Africa (12 February 2004)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has initiated programs to strengthen its position as the center of excellence for biotechnology and crop improvement for Asia, and for integrated genetic and natural resources management in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that the renewed focus is a result of the recommendations of the external reviews in 2003, and is part of the theme of 'ICRISAT moving forward.' The refocusing is also on the basis of the assessment of the impact from the Institute's work in the last 31 years, and on the basis of the relative strengths of the national agricultural research systems (NARS), with whom ICRISAT collaborates.

“We are committed to alleviating poverty in the semi-arid tropics in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and we have chosen different strategies in the two continents,” Dr Dar said.

ICRISAT's focus in Asia is on biotechnology and crop improvement (BCI), by re-engineering and expanding the Institute's breeding program while concentrating on the generation of biotech-assisted germplasm enhancement and new breeding methodologies.

  • The Institute will accomplish this by:
  • Using strategic partnerships with the private sector
  • Building capacity of NARS and NGOs for BCI
  • Brokering knowledge and germplasm transfer
  • Extracting international public goods from applied research
  • Scaling up and out

In Africa, the focus is on a market-driven integrated genetic and natural resource management, which will foster dynamic interventions such as market-oriented production and value addition for small farmers. There will be strategic partnerships with international, regional and national organizations in the public and private sector.
The major thrusts in Africa are:

  • Encouraging market-driven agriculture to escape poverty
  • Diversifying farming systems to enhance livelihoods and ecosystems
  • Applying new science to scale up technologies for impact
  • Harnessing the power of modern information and communication technology

“The biotechnology research being carried out at our Patancheru center is also targeted towards the needs of the African farmers, and we already have some products that can be transferred to Africa for testing and evaluation purposes,” Dr Dar said. “We feel that biotechnology research can be best carried out here in India due to ready availability of skills and resources. However, our focus will also remain on African needs as well.”

As a part of the biotechnology initiative in Asia, ICRISAT signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Andhra Pradesh Government in December 2003, to establish an Agri-Biotech Park. This Park, which will be within ICRISAT's Patancheru campus, will be a part of the State Government's Genome Valley Project.

The Institute will facilitate private sector companies to establish their facilities inside the Patancheru campus. These companies can tap into ICRISAT's technology base if they require. In some cases, there will be opportunities for joint collaborative projects with private sector companies based on mutual interest and ICRISAT's mandate. The private sector entrepreneurs can tap into the US$7 million technology infrastructure already existing at the campus.

ICRISAT's other initiative at Patancheru, the commissioning of an Agri-Business Incubator, is an effort to help such agri-business ideas bloom. The Incubator project was initiated with corpus funding from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and infrastructure provided by ICRISAT. Entrepreneurs can use the ABI to test technologies, before they can be commercialized.

In the last two years, ICRISAT has also initiated the contained field trials of two transgenic crops. In 2002, it was for transgenic groundnut, resistant to the Indian Peanut Clump Virus. In 2003, the trials were launched for transgenic pigeonpea, resistant to the pod borer, Helicoverpa armigera.

ICRISAT has also obtained successes in collaborating with a consortium of private sector seed companies, to use biotechnology tools for rapid crop improvement. The success of this project can be measured from the fact that the companies agreed to double their annual investment to the consortium.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.