8) Every Day is EARTH DAY at ICRISAT
As the world observes “Earth Day” on 22 April, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), headquartered in Patancheru, Hyderabad in southern India, is happy to join in the global expression of awareness and care for the environment.
“A major part of ICRISAT’s mission is to overcome a degraded environment in the dry tropics through better agriculture,” says ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar. “At ICRISAT, every day is an Earth Day!”
The first Earth Day was observed on 22 April 1970, and marked the modern environmental movement. ICRISAT, established in 1972, focuses on the semi-arid tropics of the world, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, which is home to one-sixth of the world’s population. Persistent drought, unpredictable weather, limited and erratic rainfall, and nutrient-poor soils are the farmer’s challenges in these tropics. ICRISAT helps developing countries in the semi-arid tropics to increase crop productivity and food security, reduce poverty, and protect the environment.
“ICRISAT is intensively working with its partners to develop science-based strategies that empower vulnerable communities to cope with the challenges of these dry tropics,” continues Dr Dar, referring to the current day global challenges brought by climate change.
Thirty-nine years ago, before the first Earth Day was celebrated, the New York Times carried a lengthy article reporting on the rising hysteria of “global cooling”. Today the world is deeply concerned about “global warming”. Scientists the world over are discovering more and more evidence that the threat is very real, and that the effects are already being felt.
ICRISAT data shows that increases in temperature will have a marked (8% to 30%) reduction in grain yields of its mandate crops. Recognizing the implications this would have on poor farmers who are at the mercy of nature’s vagaries, ICRISAT’s research is on the “poor man’s crops”, which are already “Climate Change adapted”. ICRISAT’s crops – sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut – are hardy crops that can grow in harsh environments. ICRISAT has developed improved varieties of these crops, which are pest, drought and disease resistant, and can produce rich harvests despite little or no irrigation.
Besides ICRISAT’s major strides in crop improvement, scientists are also exploring solutions to environmental challenges through an integrated genetic and natural resource management approach. Well known for its work on watersheds, ICRISAT’s expertise is being sought to help with government programs in India, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Rwanda towards watershed management and rainfed farming systems.
Another challenge is the slow extinction of precious crop germplasm. ICRISAT is serious about conserving germplasm, and conserves the world’s biggest collection of germplasm (>119,000 accessions) of its mandate crops. ICRISAT is also a contributor to the global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway, where 111,000 of its germplasm accessions will be stored for posterity.
“Earth Day is an excellent reminder about our global responsibility to planet earth and our environment,” says Dr Dar. “We continue to work and wish for a happy Earth Day.”
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