Crop diversification for dryland farmers

Diversified crop uses and cultivation of non-mandate crops for
economic benefits

December 2009 (Issue No. 4)


Crop diversification minimizes the risk of crop failure that might result from the vagaries of the climate and also helps farmers increase their incomes. Farmers in the moderate climates of the drylands can choose from a wide variety of crops for diversification, provided the risk of drought can be managed. Many of these are high-value crops and have tremendous market potential.

Sweet sorghum Women farmers make a living by growing vegetables.

Farmers could greatly benefit by adding high-value specialty crops such as fruit trees, vegetables, fibrous grasses, herbs and medicinal plants to the traditional cereal crops of the drylands. Apart from bringing in more cash, diversified systems create a more nutritious household diet and provide remunerative labor opportunities as well as valuable by-products such as firewood, fibre and fodder.

ICRISAT’s work on diversification hinges mainly on three objectives: improving the livelihood options of the farmer, the effective use of scarce water resources, and sustainability. However, water acts as the trigger for diversification. The degree of diversification into high value crops is decided by the availability of water and its management. Research by ICRISAT and its partners have proved that different types of land require different diversification plans depending on the availability of irrigation facilities.

For instance, biodiesel crops such as Jatropha and Pongamia can thrive well on degraded lands and act as a surface cover because they are not relished by cattle. Around 500 hectares (ha) of degraded lands in Kurnool, Ranga Reddy and Nalgonda districts of Andhra Pradesh in India are under the cover of these two crops. Biodiesel crops not only increase the water retention capacity of the degraded land but also help the farmer to cultivate higher value crops in the vicinity. Similarly, medicinal and aromatic crops such as Ashwagandha and lemon grass require less water but fetch better prices for the farmer. If farmers could conserve water through water harvesting techniques such as watersheds, they could cultivate vegetables. Small irrigated plots in mostly rainfed areas of West and Central Africa, known as the African Market Gardens, are able to produce vegetables, thus reducing malnutrition in the famine-prone areas and adding to the incomes of the farmers.

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Vegetables in West and Central Africa

Highly productive small market gardens are essential alternatives that are helping to reduce poverty and improve nutrition in the Sahel region of Africa. They can be particularly profitable for the most marginalized members of society. Vegetables are considered a luxury as poor farmers do not have the means to purchase food after droughts, and in 2010 two and a half million people in Niger will be in the grip of a famine due to drought-induced crop failure.

Sweet sorghum
Dates in the Sahel are proving to be a good income-generator for smallholder farmers..

Tending small irrigated vegetable plots of 100-500 square meters has become an important agricultural activity across the Sahel, at times offsetting the losses of unreliable rainfed agriculture. Despite their small cultivated areas, vegetables get extra income for women who dominate vegetable marketing and much of its production.

ICRISAT along with AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center (formerly the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center) has launched initiatives that focus on the alleviation of poverty and malnutrition through the increased production and consumption of safe vegetables.

Sweet sorghum Okra is sold for profit and is also consumed by the farming household.

ICRISAT’s high value crops program in the Sahel began in 2001. The program had many accomplishments in growing vegetables, enhanced by the partnership with AVRDC since 2007. AVRDC has brought to the program a wealth of new germplasm for testing and has also strengthened the plant breeding expertise, especially an intensive breeding of okra (Abelmoschus spp.), an indigenous crop of West Africa. A large number of cultivars of nine different popular vegetable crops have been screened for heat tolerance, high yields and quality traits.

Efforts in crop diversification yielded good results with the success of ICRI-Xina tomato. The improved ICRI-Xina selection was grown on 200 ha in Niger during the rainy season, a season usually not suitable for tomato, hence providing unexpected income to the growers. ICRISAT supported the setting up of 2,500 African Market Gardens (AMG, a low pressure drip irrigation system) in the Sahel. The ICRISAT-AVRDC program developed and extended a holistic management approach for AMGs. Several models have been worked out that provide high profits of up to $1500 for those with a land area of only 500 square meters and with access to water.

Tests show that the incorporation of trees such as dates or moringa can also significantly improve profitability and the nutritional value of the gardens. Moringa is the most popular vegetable in Niger and in 2009, ICRISAT and AVRDC provided 50 kilos of seeds of the superior Indian variety PKM 1 to 40 new moringa seed producers of Niger. The leaf yield of PKM1 (7.5 tons per hectare) is three times greater than that of the local varieties and the taste is also better. An additional 100 moringa growers were trained in optimal plantation management. This is expected to lead to a significant increase in moringa cultivation and consumption in three to four years, particularly of the PKM 1 variety.

The program also shows a positive impact on the marginalized women of the Sahel who are often landless. It makes it possible to bring back degraded and abandoned land into production. In June 2006, a group of 120 landless women in the Dosso region of Niger started growing hardy indigenous vegetables on 7 ha of degraded land. This transformed the degraded area into a fertile plot in three years. Now, 70 hectares of land are under cultivation and the expansion is continuing.
By applying ICRISAT’s methods and using crops such as the new short-duration okra cultivar, Koinni, jointly developed with AVRDC, these women have been able to make an income where none was possible before. At present, 5,000 rural women and their households are benefiting from these technologies. The ICRISAT-AVRDC partnership is making a major difference in the Sahel.


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Jatropha and Pongamia - Pro-poor biodiesel

From the vegetable gardens of the Sahel, we shall now explore yet another remarkable effort in crop diversification – ICRISAT's innovative research on biodiesel crops, including Pongamia pinnata (karanja) and Jatropha curcas (Ratanjot). Diversifying into biodiesel crops not only ensures energy, livelihood and food security for dryland farmers, but also reduces the use of fossil fuels, which in turn can help in mitigating climate change. These crops are apt for drylands -- they do not require much water, they help in reducing surface runoff, can withstand stress and are not expensive to cultivate.

To encourage these crops, ICRISAT is striving towards forging partnerships with governments and industry leaders that can economically benefit the poor and marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics. In partnership with the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) state and the Government of India, ICRISAT has developed a model to rehabilitate 300 hectares of degraded land, which is part of the common property of Velchal and Kothlapur villages of Ranga Reddy district. The landless families have the right over the profits of biodiesel plantations in these villages.

Sweet sorghum Jatropha seeds are used to extract biodiesel.

Similarly, ICRISAT and the AP government helped the poor tribal community of Powerguda village in Adilabad district to grow biodiesel plantations and establish an oil extraction machine. The biodiesel extracted from this unit is used locally or sold in the market. In partnership with GTZ, the German development cooperation organization, ICRISAT works with Southern Online Biotechnologies, which has already established a 40 kiloliter-per-day (KLPD) biodiesel plant in Nalgonda district of AP.

Biodiesel brings down air pollution even more than ethanol. Compared to fossil fuel-derived diesel, biodiesel reduces un-burnt hydrocarbons by 30%, carbon monoxide by 20% and particulate matter by 25%. Since biodiesel is a renewable source of energy, producing it qualifies for earning carbon credits to counter global warming. The planting of biodiesel crops also helps hold atmospheric carbon into tree biomass. The World Bank bought 147 tons of carbon credits from Powerguda to neutralize the emissions of air travel by participants of an international conference held in Washington DC, USA, in October 2003.

The efforts did not stop in India. ICRISAT has established a Jatropha nursery at its research station in Niamey, Niger, in West Africa, where seeds collected under 18 different ecological conditions around the world (including Mexico, Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and India) are being grown to breed the best plants with the most appropriate traits.

ICRISAT initiated systematic research on Jatropha and Pongamia to assess the genetic potential of germplasm and standardize agricultural practices for achieving higher crop yields. Following are some of the major outcomes of the research:

Research Outputs

  • The results of oil analysis of various accessions of both Jatropha and Pongamia revealed greater variability among the accessions. It was found that oil content of Jatropha accession ranged from 27.8 to 38.4%, and 21.3 to 40.9% in Pongamia accessions.

  • Inoculation of Jatropha seeds with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal (AM) cultures enhanced seedling height by 34% and the stem girth by 10%. Similarly, seed treatment with AM and rhizobial cultures resulted in 92% and 46% higher shoot and root mass respectively in Pongamia seedlings compared to control at three months after sowing in nursery.

  • Research field trials on Jatropha revealed that application of 100 grams of urea and 38 grams of Single Super Phosphate (SSP) per plant improved growth parameters significantly. Also, pruning at 60 cm increased the number of branches compared to control after 21 months of planting under rainfed condition.

  • Farm studies revealed that planting Jatropha with 3x3 m spacing recorded better growth compared to doing it with 4x2 m and 3x2 m spacing.

  • Oil cakes of Pongamia and Jatropha are valuable source of organic matter and plant nutrients for agricultural use (see Table1). Both oil cakes provide high level of macro and micro nutrients, comparable with any other organic manure.

Table 1: Nutrient analysis of Jatropha and Pongamia cakes used as organic manure (a: from Tumkur, Karnataka and b: Powerguda, Andhra Pradesh).

Nutrients Jatropha cake Pongamia cake (a) Pongamia cake (b)
Nitrogen (%) 4.91 6.14 4.28
Phosphorous (%) 0.90 0.72 0.40
Potassium (%) 1.75 1.07 0.74
Calcium (%) 0.31 0.96 0.25
Magnesium (%) 0.68 0.35 0.17
Zinc(ppm) 55 95 59
Ron(ppm) 772 1053 1000
Iron(ppm) 22 41 22
Manganese (ppm) 85 108 74
Boron(ppm) 20 43 19
Sulphur(ppm) 2433 3615 1894

Source: Biodiesel Crops as candidates for the Rehabilitation of Degraded lands in
India-Research @ICRISAT


ICRISAT demonstrated on-farm trials of Jatropha in Kurnool, Kadapa and Medak districts of AP under the Rain Shadow Area Development Programme. ICRISAT has so far restored more than 380 ha of degraded lands in Ranga Reddy and Kurnool districts with biodiesel plantations under the National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development Board (NOVOD) project, adopting a participatory model. The model has paved the way for the community to use common property resources for their livelihoods. Powerguda, a tribal village, became an environmental pioneer. Here, women’s self-help groups (SHGs) extract oil from Pongamia seeds collected from the nearby forest areas. They then sell oil and oil cakes to farmers, who use the oil to operate pumps for lifting water and the cakes as manure. At Chalpadi, a tribal hamlet in Adilabad district, women SHGs generate electricity from the 7.5KV generator using Pongamia oil, supplying 10-12 kWh power per day. ICRISAT has so far trained more than 500 farmers from different districts of Andhra Pradesh in biodiesel crop husbandry and SHG members in nursery techniques for raising biodiesel crop seedlings.

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Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

ICRISAT has adopted yet another innovative approach for improving livelihoods through crop diversification. This is through public-private partnerships (PPP) to link smallholder farmers with reliable partners who provide production technology and market high-value medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) (Ravinder Reddy et al. 2008). The lead crops selected under the ICRISAT-Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Programme (APRLP) project titled Medicinal and Aromatic Plants for Diversifying Semi-Arid Tropical (SAT) Systems: A Case of Public Private Partnership (PPP) include lemongrass (Cymbopogan flexuosus), coleus (Coleus forskolii) and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).

Sweet sorghum Lemon grass and other aromatic herbs can be grown in community watersheds.

With the overall objective of improving livelihoods in drought-prone districts of AP, community watersheds were used as an entry point to engage with rural families (Wani et al. 2003, 2008). Watershed villages were selected in Kurnool and Nalgonda districts, based on the proactive attitude and willingness of farmers towards crop diversification. They visited other farmers’ fields and also trained at ICRISAT research fields. The selection of crops was left to the participants. Farmers having water sources, and good water holding capacity soils selected lemon grass and coleus and some farmers selected Ashwagandha to grow in rainfed conditions with low inputs.

To facilitate hassle-free marketability of the produce, a memorandum of understanding was signed by ICRISAT and the MAK Royale Herbal Biosys Pvt. Ltd. Company, which involves the sharing of benefits and expenditure to develop model MAPs on-station-training center at ICRISAT and the marketing of farmers’ MAPs products in the selected villages. Thus, ICRISAT facilitated a buyback agreement between smallholder farmer groups and industry for the sale of essential oils extracted from lemongrass. The agreement will also help the sale of raw products of herbs at the village level through private partnership.

On-station training

A model Medicinal and Aromatic Plants center was established at ICRISAT for five medicinal herbs and five aromatic plants. A multi-crop steam distillation plant was erected on the site to extract aromatic oils and thus add value to MAP products. On-station training programs for farmers were conducted at ICRISAT so that they could take up cultivation and processing of MAPs. Farmers from Kurnool, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar districts participated in these programs.

After sessions in the classroom, farmers observed cultivation practices on the fields. Selection and the timing of planting two different crops were demonstrated in the fields. Intercropping of coleus and Eucalyptus citriodora; lemongrass and Eucalyptus citriodora, their planting methods and cultivation aspects and economics of production were discussed in detail for the benefit of the farmers.

After harvesting, the farmers were given hands-on experience in adding value to MAP products, particularly lemongrass, by teaching them how to use the steam distillation plant. Important operations such as management of temperature of the boiler and condensing unit, and the effect on quantity and quality of oil, were demonstrated. As roots are the required plant parts of coleus and Ashwagandha, farmers were taught about the harvesting procedure, time of harvest and the processing of roots. Methods of storage of MAP products were also demonstrated. While the buyback agreement with Mak Royale worked well for the lemongrass farmers, a second supply chain for the other two crops has been identified.

On-farm activity

Farmers who expressed a common interest in growing MAPs were brought together as the Medicinal Plants Growers Group (MPGG) in the watershed villages of Kurnool and Nalgonda districts. During kharif 2004, the farmer group cultivated medicinal herbs and aromatic plants, which are not only marketable but also suitable for dryland soil, rainfall pattern and marginal lands.

ICRISAT also facilitated financial linkages between farmer groups and state Medicinal Plant Board. The board has a program to support cultivation of MAPs through a subsidy of 25% on the cost of cultivation. As well, the buyback agreement designed by ICRISAT helped farmers to opt for a risk free sale of their produce. The agreement is between the MPGG and the buyer (partner) and was signed in the presence of the village lead workers and the representatives of the District Watershed Management Agency (DWMA), which is the funding agency.


  • A successful partnership between ICRISAT and MAK Royale Company has established a model MAP training center and replicated it on a pilot scale in Karivemula village in Kurnool district and Padamatipally village in Nalgonda district.

  • Crop diversification into medicinal and aromatic crops has increased the income of smallholder farmers by 60 to 160% through new crops when compared to conventional crops such as groundnut, sorghum and sunflower (Tables 2 & 3).

  • An innovative partnership between private industry (buyer) and farmers (producer) has overcome the risks involved in the marketing of MAP products. It has increased the trade value of crop products and also adds value by processing in the villages.

  • The holistic approach includes new science tools, linking on-station research to fields in the watersheds, and technical backstopping through partnerships and consortium of institutions. Successful models developed for crop diversification are being implemented in two villages.

  • Research and development activity includes intercropping of medicinal herbs like ashwagandha, kalmeg, nelavesiri, nelavemu, coleus and nelathsangedu. Aromatic crops like lemongrass and citronella with Eucalyptus citriodora are under study.

  • By-products can be utilized in impressive ways. De-oiled grass can be used for fodder and vermicomposting. Soil mulch can reduce the number of irrigations in Eucalyptus citriodora plantations.

Table 2. Yield and economics of MAP cultivating farmers in watershed villages.


Cost of production
(in Rs. ha-1)*a

Yield in kg ha-1* Gross income in Rs.ha-1* Net income in Rs.ha-1*
Aromatic Plant        
1.Lemongrass 18750 187** 65450 46700
Medicinal Herbs        
1.Coleus 10750 1125 57625 46607
2.Ashwagandha 3312 614 19648 16336

*Average of all farmers
a=family labor input was not included in total cost
Selling price of oil Rs.350kg-1
Selling price of coleus dried roots Rs.51kg-1
Selling price of ashwagandha dried roots Rs.32kg-1

Source: Global Theme on Agroecosystems Report: 44

When we compare the net income farmers obtained by the sale of medicinal and aromatic crops with that of the conventional crops like groundnut, sunflower and sorghum (see Table 3) the MAPs clearly have an edge. The difference is that the high-value crops are sold for higher prices in the niche market.

Table 3: Yield and economics of conventional crops grown in the project area.

Crops* Cost of Production
(in Rs h-1*)
Yield in kg ha-1* Gross income in Rs ha-1* Net income in
Groundnut** 13500 2200 35200 21700
Sunflower 9500 2000 38000 28500
Sorghum ** 1800 8100 8100 6300

* Average of 10 farmers
a= family labour input was not included in total cost
** Average fodder value was Rs.1500ha-1
Selling price of groundnut pod Rs.16Kg-1
Selling price of sunflower grain Rs.19kg-1

Source: Global Theme on Agroecosystems Report: 44

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Sweet Sorghum and a bio-ethanol value chain

Soaring prices of fossil fuels and pollution made several developing countries, including India, to make the blending of petrol with ethanol mandatory. Large volumes of ethanol will be needed to meet the current and future blending requirements in these countries. However, ethanol derived from sugarcane molasses are unlikely to meet the demand in the long run for example in India. This is because molasses-based ethanol distilleries operate for only 180 days a year at 50% efficiency due to a lack of feed stock. The National Biofuel Policy, India, 2009 envisages 20% blending of petrol with ethanol by 2017 and encourages research and development of other feed stocks including sweet sorghum.

Sweet sorghum Juice extracted from sweet sorghum stems is used for the production of bio-ethanol, leaving valuable bagasse for fodder.

Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench), which is similar to grain sorghum but with sugar-rich stalks, shows better efficiency in water use and has a very good potential as an alternative feed stock for ethanol production. Juice from stalks is used primarily for fuel alcohol production. Juice can also be used for the production of jaggery and syrup. Bagasse (the leftover stalks after juice extraction) and the leaves, can be used for generating power and also as animal feed or even organic manure.


Advantages of sweet sorghum over sugarcane

  • Shorter growing period of around 4 months.

  • Cost of cultivation three times lower than sugarcane.

  • Seed propagated and suitable for mechanized crop production.

  • Eco-friendly ethanol production compared to that from molasses.

  • Superior burning quality – less sulphur than from sugarcane and high octane rating.

Even though ICRISAT began research and development of sweet sorghum for forage and fodder way back in 1980, work on the crop for ethanol production took off only in 2002. ICRISAT in collaboration with national programs developed several improved sweet sorghum lines with high stalk sugar content (18-20% Brix). A total of 30 hybrids developed by ICRISAT are under different stages of evaluation. Research shows that the hybrids produce a higher biomass than varieties, besides being early and more photo-insensitive.

ICRISAT started forming public-private partnerships to make sweet sorghum a viable supplement feed stock for ethanol production. It is working with national agricultural research systems (NARS) partners in India, Philippines, Kenya, Mozambique, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico. Its tie-up with the Rusni Distilleries Pvt Ltd., Medak district, Andhra Pradesh, the world’s first sweet sorghum based distillery, which was set up with the support of ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), amply demonstrated the commercial viability of this technology.

The criteria behind zeroing in on Medak district for establishment of decentralized crushing units as part of the project was based on sorghum acreage and suitability of agro-ecological conditions. A group of villages in Medak district, located more than 30 km away from Rusni Distilleries were identified for establishing decentralized crushing units to produce syrup from sweet sorghum. This reduces the transportation costs of bulky raw material and also provides the needed flexibility for the distilleries to use syrup during off-season for ethanol production. To begin with, an area of 50-75 ha is being used to demonstrate a viable and up-scalable value chain model in 2008 and 2009 under the National Agricultural Innovative Project (NAIP), India.

As per the buyback agreement, Rusni Distilleries purchases the syrup. The bagasse is handed over to farmers for their own use. The transportation charges of transferring syrup are borne by Rusni Distilleries. The syrup produced by the decentralized units is storable for 9 months without any deterioration.

Economics of sweet sorghum-based ethanol production at a glance (as per Rusni Distilleries)

  • 24 ha sweet sorghum stalks (870 t) needed per day for 40 KLPD unit.

  • US$10.8 paid per ton of sweet stalks

  • Stalks passed in series of two rollers, so crushed twice

  • Juice produced is 40% of cane yield in terms of weight

  • Juice pasteurized at 1000C for a 30 minute batch

  • Enzymes added to break down starch to glucose

  • Yeast is added and allowed to ferment for 34-45 hours

  • 40 to 45 liters ethanol per ton of cane obtained

  • Sweet sorghum stillage - 2200 kilocalories per kilo at 50% moisture

  • Carbon dioxide produced: 30 t per day and sold at US$0.1m-3

  • Methane collected from spent wash, used as fuel in boiler (3300 cubic meters per day)

  • Molecular sieve converts rectified spirit into fuel ethanol up to 99.8%

  • Plant operates 270 days as per law (Potential of 300 days with sweet sorghum)

  • Production cost: US$ 0.391 per liter

  • Production outlet pays US$ 0.51 per liter, while private outlet pays US$ 0.60 per liter of ethanol.

Sweet Sorghum bagasse and stripped leaves as fodder

Giving fillip to the crop diversification efforts of ICRISAT, a study conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at Patancheru along with the National Research Centre for Sorghum, Rusni Distilleries, Miracle Fodder and Feed Pvt Ltd and ICRISAT, concluded that sweet sorghum can provide grain, fodder (bagasse/leaf residues) and bio-ethanol at the same time. Farmers too consider sweet sorghum as a multipurpose crop.

Sweet sorghum
Feed block made from sorghum bagasse.

Selling of sorghum stalks to distilleries after grain harvest diverts the biomass away from the livestock, worsening the problem of feed security (Blümmel et al. 2009). Recycling of the bagasse residue (after extracting juice from the stems for ethanol production), together with the leaves could compensate for some of the fodder loss. Conversion of bagasse and stripped leaves into a marketable fodder could provide an additional source of revenue.

The study Evaluation of Sweet Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.Moench) used for Bio-Ethanol production in the context of optimizing whole plant utilization) explored opportunities for value addition or optimization in a sweet sorghum-food-ethanol-fodder production chain in a wide range of varieties and hybrids. Issues specifically addressed are: biomass partitioning between grain, stover, extract and bagasse; laboratory fodder quality traits in sweet sorghum stover and bagasse and stripped leaves; possible exchange between traits and palatability of sweet sorghum bagasse and stripped leaves for cattle when offered as a major component of a mixed ration feed block.

In the decentralized sweet sorghum bio-ethanol value chain, where sweet sorghum stalks are processed in the villages, sweet sorghum bagasse and leaves were sold fresh to sorghum stover fodder traders. Fresh bagasse and leaves newly out of the crusher fetched a price of 50 paisa per kg. Fresh chopped bagasse and leaves fetched a price of Rs 1.2 per kg. Selling of bagasse and leaves for fodder increases the benefits in a sweet sorghum value chain.

Opportunities from Multidimensional Crop Improvement for Sustainable Improvement of Livelihoods in Mixed Crop Livestock Systems

Meeting the predicted future demand for meat and milk in a way that poor livestock keepers benefit more from their animal assets will require sustainable inputs of labour, land, water and nutrients to produce the feed required. The increasing demand for livestock products offers market opportunities and income for smallholder producers and even landless, thereby providing pathways out of poverty. However, the inability of smallholder producers in developing countries to feed animals adequately throughout the year remains the major technical constraint in most crop-livestock systems. Under the resource scarce conditions prevailing among smallholders, crop residues (CR) are the major feed resource, requiring no additional input in form of land and water. Crops residues are generally considered to be of low nutritive quality, but this statement implicitly relates to cereal CR, since leguminous CR can have excellent fodder quality. Until recently, the feed quality of CR was largely ignored in crop improvement, although farmers were traditionally aware of differences in the fodder quality of CR even within the same species.

Embracing a new research paradigm ICRISAT in collaboration with ILRI and their national partners responded to the need for dual purpose cultivars that provide superior food and fodder at the same. Increasing the feeding value of CR by such multidimensional crop improvement depends upon: a) close collaboration between crop and livestock scientists, b) nutritionally significant cultivar-dependent variation in CR fodder quality; c) sufficient independence between CR fodder traits and primary traits such as grain and pod yield; and d) technologies for quick and inexpensive phenotyping of a large set of samples for fodder quality traits. These conditions were found to be met in several key crops that were investigated in collaborative work between ICRISAT, ILRI and their national partners (Blümmel at al. 2009b). These findings were reported at a high level livestock nutrition meeting in New Delhi in February 2009 resulting in the priority recommendation of adopting the ICRISAT-ILRI approach to multidimensional crop improvement on a national level.

There are several levels of intensity of such crop-livestock collaborative work on food-feed crops. For example screening of released and commonly grown cultivars (which are often astonishingly small in number) for fodder traits, does not need any specialized laboratory equipment for phenotyping of CR fodder quality. Our collaborations have shown that such screening can detect cultivars with very superior food and feed traits (Blümmel et al. 2009c, Prasad et al 2009). Routine phenotyping of new cultivars submitted for release testing – with the objective of including feed traits as release criteria – does require more advanced laboratory infrastructure. The ICRISAT-ILRI collaboration has established a NIRS hub at the ICRISAT campus at Patancheru that supports such large scale food-feed type research in sorghum, pearl millet, groundnut, pigeonpea, chickpea, rice and maize. For example the National Research Center for Sorghum (now Directorate of Sorghum Research) seconds laboratory technician to this hub for about 6 months per year to phenotype for sorghum stover quality traits in all cultivars submitted for release testing with the objective of developing weighing criteria for stover traits in new cultivars release decisions.

The research described above identifies superior food-feed type cultivars from existing cultivars. Till recently we devoted less effort to target further genetic enhancement of nutritive value towards food-feed. However, as our pioneering efforts in pearl millet research has shown this is feasible using conventional breeding techniques such as recurrent selections as well as and marker assisted breeding. Within two recurrent selection cycles, digestible organic matter intake measured in sheep increased by 17%, and with tissue retention becoming positive. This improvement in stover fodder quality did not come at any penalty for grain or stover yield (Bidinger et al. 2009). Nepolean et al. (2009) used Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) mapping to provide a better understanding of the genomic regions controlling stover quality and yield traits in pearl millet. With these objectives in mind, QTLs for stover in vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD) and metabolizable energy (ME) content were identified and introgressed into four parental lines of existing hybrids having good agronomic performance. Improved hybrids were synthesized from these QTL homozygous lines and were evaluated in multi-locational field trials. Results from the laboratory analysis of whole plant straw samples showed that one of the improved hybrids has at least 6.3% higher stover fodder quality compared to the control hybrid. The new hybrid also produced a 10% increase in grain yield and 4% increase in stover yield. These results suggest that new hybrids can be developed concomitantly improving grain and stover traits.

Crop productivity in smallholder crop–livestock systems is generally low relative to the genetic potential of the crops. In most national crop improvement programs new cultivars fulfill the releasing criteria if they outperform grain/pod yields of check cultivars by 10%. A mere 10% increase in grain/pod productivity may offer too little incentive for such cultivars to be widely promoted, multiplied and lastly to be adopted. As recently shown with a dual-purpose groundnut cultivar in India, a concomitant increase of about 10% in each of pod yield, haulm yield and haulm fodder quality (as reflected in higher milk yield) provided sufficient incentives for fast and large scale adoption of the new cultivar (Pande et al. 2006). The ICRISAT-ILRI collaboration has shown for these accumulated benefits – higher grain/pod yield, higher crop residue quantity and higher crop residue – are biologically possible. Release criteria for new cultivars intended for crop-livestock systems should therefore be revisited and augmented to include CR fodder traits.

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Considering present market factors and environmental concerns, there is an urgent need to diversify farming systems and produce high-value and less water demanding crops with the help of integrated crop, soil, nutrient and pest management options. For sustainable development, farmer incomes need to be raised while still protecting land, water, and environmental resources. ICRISAT demonstrates the diversification of systems with increased soil and water conservation in a catchment area for increasing farmers’ income.

By adopting an integrated genetic and natural resource management approach, ICRISAT is able to demonstrate an improvement in livelihoods on a sustainable basis in rainfed areas, particularly by introducing high-value fruit, vegetables and value-added plant products and with options of additional irrigation. ICRISAT’s expertise in the area of agriculture and energy is also growing, particularly in the provision of substitutes or dilutants of oil and petroleum. This is likely to be an area of expansion in the future.

Earlier studies showed that livestock contribute to improving livelihoods in watersheds. Therefore ICRISAT’s focus is on sustainable rural livelihoods that capitalize on the integration of agroforestry, livestock improvement, horticulture and silviculture depending on the quality of land and the assets of village communities.


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Bidinger FR, Blümmel M and Hash CT. 2009. Genetic enhancement for superior food-feed traits in a pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.) variety by recurrent selection. Animal Nutrition and Feed Technology, accepted.

Blümmel M, Rao SS, Palaniswami S, Shah L and Reddy Belum VS. 2009a. Evaluation of sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.)Moench) used for bio-ethanol production in the context of optimizing whole plant utilization. Animal Nutrition and Feed technology, 9:1-10.

Blümmel M, Seetharama N, Prasad KVSV, Ravi D, Ramakrishna Ch, Khan AA, Anandan S, Hash CT, Belum VS Reddy, Nigam S and Vadez V. 2009b. Food-feed crop research and multidimensional crop improvement in India. Animal Nutrition: Preparedness to Combat Challenges. Proceedings of Animal Nutrition Association World Conference 2009, Volume 1 Lead Papers 17-19.

Blümmel M, Khan AA, Vadez V, Hash CT and Rai KN. 2009c. Variability in stover quality traits in commercial hybrids of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R.Br.) Animal Nutrition and Feed Technology, accepted.

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