10) International Public Goods developed by ICRISAT improve agricultural productivity

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a public-funded advanced agricultural research institute, has generated research products that have a significant impact on improving agricultural productivity in the semi-arid tropics in the developing countries of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These research products – improved crop varieties and hybrids, technologies and research tools – have been designated as International Public Goods (IPGs), and are available without patent protection for the benefit of mankind across the globe.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the IPGs generated by the Institute have strengthened agricultural productivity and livelihood security of the poor farmers. They have contributed to the strengthening of conventional and modern crop improvement technologies, natural resource management, genebank management, village level studies, improvement of seed systems and development of markets for agricultural produce.

Biotechnology and crop improvement

In the past five years ICRISAT has made breakthroughs in genomics with the development of protocols and information/analysis systems for the molecular characterization and gene mining of mandate crops, and their pests, diseases and bio-control agents.

ICRISAT developed transgenic lines containing genes for resistance to insects (Helicoverpa armigera) in chickpea and pigeonpea; resistance to peanut clump, bud necrosis and rosette virus in groundnut; resistance to Aspergillus flavus and aflatoxin contamination in groundnut; elevated levels of beta-carotene in groundnut and pigeonpea; sulfur-containing amino acids in pigeonpea and improved drought tolerance in groundnut. These lines are at different stages of development.

Rich and diverse germplasm collection

ICRISAT draws its strength for crop improvement research from its rich and diverse germplasm collection. The genebank at ICRISAT has 118,882 accessions from 144 countries) o f its mandate crops and small millets. A total of 94,390 germplasm and improved breeding lines have been shared with cooperators in 144 countries. Out of this, the national agricultural research partners have released 609 varieties in 77 countries utilizing germplasm and breeding lines from ICRISAT. During the last 5-year period (2003-2007) alone, 21 national programs globally released 85 hybrid/varieties.

Agroecosystems development

ICRISAT initiated the development of agricultural ecosystems by involving a consortium of partners to improve the management of natural resources in micro-watersheds. The consortium’s watershed research began in a few pilot sites in Andhra Pradesh, India, and significantly expanded to several other states in India and to China, Vietnam and Thailand in Asia, and is now replicated in sub-Saharan Africa (eg, Rwanda).

The concept of the African Market Garden based on low-pressure drip irrigation systems was tested first on-station and around Niamey, then in several Sahelian (adjacent to the Sahara) countries. To date, ICRISAT’s partners have replicated this model in eight countries, significantly adding to the intensity of work done worldwide. In the next three years, a generic strategy by which Sahelian farmers, with access to either river or groundwater can substantially enhance their livelihoods by producing heat-tolerant vegetables will be established.

Other significant IPGs developed for the sub-Saharan region are: downscaling of short and medium term meteorological forecasts prediction work and analysis of its acceptance by farmers, management and monitoring of aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnut, fertilizer micro-dosing (phosphorus in West Africa and nitrogen in southern Africa)

Social science research

ICRISAT’s Village Level Studies (VLS) conducted in Indian villages over three decades continues to provide better understanding of livelihood options, household economics and needs of poor farmers to help design suitable technology and formulate appropriate policy. The Village Level Studies is an IPG and has proved to be one of the most valuable contributions of ICRISAT to the knowledge base on rural household economies. The wealth of information provided by the VLS helps scientists identify and understand socio-economic, agro-biological, and institutional constraints to agricultural development in the semi-arid tropics.

Along with partners, the Institute developed policy instruments for technology delivery, market development, and agricultural diversification in the drylands. In Africa, ICRISAT and partners also developed strategies for seed system development, directly linked with crop improvement activities, covering informal (seed village system) and formal quality seed production and distribution (including hybrid seed production methodologies) and institutional arrangements for seed certification and policy intervention.

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