SATrends Issue 55                                                                                                                  June 2005
1. Breaking ground (nut) through farmers in West Africa
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Investments by ICRISAT and partners have resulted in the development of a broad range of groundnut varieties in West Africa. With the support of the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), a broad range of groundnut germplasm has been assembled and conserved in the region. The capacity of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) to manage and utilize genetic resources has been enhanced.

There is a disconnect, though. Farmers have little access to seed of improved varieties. A large proportion of groundnut is sown from seed stocks saved by farmers.

The key to overcoming this problem is to make available a range of modern varieties to farmers and train them on how to efficiently produce seeds of selected varieties, using modern technologies. A major thrust of the CFC-NARS-ICRISAT groundnut seed project in West Africa is to establish sustainable community-based seed systems.

The project's approach is to maintain an inventory of the variety traits, growing varieties with preferred traits for evaluation and selection by farmers, and producing breeder and foundation seed of newly released varieties and those in advanced stages of testing. These are some of the ways of establishing sustainable seed systems. Besides, organizing field days and variety demonstrations at the community level, monitoring the adoption of improved varieties, identifying constraints to broaden adoption, and developing a community-based seed production system form an integral part of the strategy.

Interacting with farmers for a better groundnut crop.

During 2003 and 2004 the project achieved many successes:

  • Two hundred participatory variety selection (PVS) trials were established in 45 pilot sites across Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal
  • Individual farmers and farmers' associations were initiated into producing seed of selected varieties
  • Over 1000 farmers, extension agents, NGO staff trained in seed production and variety maintenance, and pre- and post-harvest crop management
  • Ten socio-economists trained in impact assessment methodologies
  • Hundred rural entrepreneurs trained in small-scale seed business skills
  • Market prospects for groundnuts in West Africa assessed
  • Current seed systems documented
  • A revolving funds for breeder and foundation seed established in Niger and Nigeria

Implementing the project, the managers learnt that the farmers are highly motivated by new varieties. They are aware of the needs of processors and consumers. They also recognize the importance of good quality seed. It was realized that small-scale groundnut producers and farmer organizations are important part of a sustainable community-based seed system.

Among the other valuable lessons from the project was that seed and product markets should target national and regional markets. Contractual arrangements between producers and processors could encourage private sector entry into the groundnut seed industry. About 30% of the farmers purchase seed from the market through cash and credit. Thus there is a need to link farmers to credit institutions. Information on seed supply and demand across has to be disseminated across countries.

ICRISAT's partners in this project are: the Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Institut National de Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), Niger; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, Nigeria; Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISAR), Senegal; groundnut farmers, and private sector. The Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) provides financial support and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is the Supervisory Body (SB).

For further information, contact Bonny Ntare at b.ntare@cgiar.org .

2. VASAT bridges distance via Videoconferencing
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The Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) has been experimenting with use of the state-of-the-art information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance the reach and impact on knowledge empowerment of rural communities. VASAT has effectively used videoconferencing to bring together experts and farmers, and facilitate interaction between them.

A farmer and experts interact at MSSRF,
while other farmers are linked through video.
 

The first videoconference (VC) was the facilitated by VASAT and hosted by the MS Swaminathan Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai ( www.mssrf.org ), in February 2005. Experts interacted with groundnut farmers of Pudukottai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur and Dindigul via the high bandwidth video link available with MSSRF. The VC went on for over four hours with questions ranging from suitable varieties to post harvest management. Farmers found it as good as face-to-face interaction with the experts. It also encouraged farmer-to-farmer interaction.

It was a new experience for the experts as well. They appreciated the tool as it provided them with a wider reach and better impact. Experts were able to examine the affected specimens displayed by farmers via video and diagnose the problem with a fairly high degree of accuracy. They however admitted that a short training on how to interact via video would facilitate better articulation with their remote clients.

The second VC was organized in June 2005 for dairy farmers of 30 village clusters of the same districts. This interaction covered animal health and management issues besides feed and fodder issues. Experts represented International Livestock Research Institute, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. The interaction lasted for over five hours.

Employing videoconferencing for facilitating farmer-experts interaction has brought several additional benefits to VASAT. The questions and answers recorded during the VC serve as high quality content. These are being compiled and edited to bring out frequently asked questions (FAQs) on groundnut and livestock management.

Besides facilitating such VCs, VASAT has also been participating in several interactions with researchers across the globe via video link. The recent one was a video-mediated discussion involving participants from four continents. Some of the VASAT members are part of the Learning Technology Standards Committee of the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). They participated in a video-discussion convened by Erik Duval of the Catholic University of Louven. (Erik is an advisor to the CGIAR project on Online Learning Resources led by ICRAF, Nairobi).

The meeting employed a new technique called Flashmeeting developed by the Open University in the UK. The users need to have a desktop video cam and Flash Player 7 (on Win XP) and adequate bandwidth (not necessarily broadband). Mediameeting is available to any user for free and requires advanced reservation at the site, www.mediameeting.com.

For further information, contact Sreenath Dixit at s.dixit@cgiar.org .
3. Locked in!
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Can history be dangerous? A recent study by ICRISAT and partners – Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi; the Directorate of National Rural Extension, Mozambique; the University of Zimbabwe; and the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute – highlights the damage caused by a phenomenon known as ‘lock in'. A technology solution is adopted, perhaps for sound historical reasons. Twenty years later, science has moved on, and better solutions are available. But we remain ‘locked in' to the old ways, and pay a heavy price.

One example is the computer keyboard. The arrangement of letters (QWERTY) was developed for the manual typewriter – specifically to prevent keys from jamming at high typing speeds. This isn't a problem with a computer keyboard. Another arrangement would be more efficient – but the world is ‘locked in', and QWERTY remains the global standard.

QWERTY doesn't do much harm, but other cases of ‘lock-in' are far more serious.

In the 1980s, Malawi introduced a type of basal fertilizer known as 23:21:0+4S. The reasons? Imports were difficult because of the civil war in Mozambique; it was simpler to import a single kind of fertilizer for the whole country; and this formulation was ideal for tobacco, the main cash crop. Today Malawi can import a range of fertilizers, suitable for different crops and different regions. But it remains locked in to the old formulation, and farmers pay high prices for sub-optimal fertilizer.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Zimbabwe faced trade sanctions. It needed fertilizers that could be produced locally and suitable for large-scale commercial farmers who were the major users. The answer: Compound D, which was at that time, almost state-of-the-art. Today there are no sanctions, fertilizer demand has shifted from large-scale to small-scale farmers, and more suitable formulations are widely available. But Zimbabwe is still locked in to Compound D or its minor variants.

How to get out of lock-in? One prerequisite is better information – users, traders and policy makers must all be aware of the different options available, and their costs and benefits. Decisions concerning millions of potential users have to be carefully made. They cannot be reversed easily; for example, choosing the wrong fertilizer or the wrong telecommunications standard.

In the southern African context, regional technical bodies can play a vital role in guiding these decisions, and avoiding the consequences of lock-in. ICRISAT is part of the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA), which aims to do just that. SOFECSA's goals – better technology, better awareness of these technologies, and appropriate, effective technology solutions.

For further information, contact Joseph Rusike at j.rusike@cgiar.org.

4. Le photopériodisme en Afrique de l'Ouest
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Le climat de l'Afrique de l'Ouest est sous l'influence de 3 anticyclones : ceux des Canaries et de Lybie au nord, celui de Saint-Hélène au Sud qui conduit l'humidité du Golfe de Guinée vers la région. Le long de la limite entre ces masses d'air, nommée le Front Intertropical (FIT), se déclenchent des perturbations qui circulent d'est en ouest en lignes de grain situées au sud du FIT. Ce FIT se déplace au cours de l'année de sa position la plus sud à 5°N en Janvier jusqu'à sa position la plus nord, à 20-25 °N, en Août. Ce déplacement vers le nord, qui détermine la date d'arrivée de la pluie à chaque latitude est donc plus long que son retour vers le sud et il est aussi plus variable d'une année à l'autre. Ainsi à Bamako, les premières pluies peuvent arriver entre le 15 mai et le 15 juillet, tandis que la dernière pluie intervient entre le 15 Septembre et le 10 Octobre. La durée de la saison pluviale varie donc entre 90 et 140 jours, alors que la date de la dernière pluie est connue à 15 jours près.

C'est précisément à cette date moyenne de la fin de la saison des pluies que fleurissent les sorghos traditionnels et de nombreuses espèces annuelles de la région.

Chez les espèces sauvages, les graines qui sont tombées sur le sol germent en effet avec les premières pluies et la maturation du grain se fait pendant le début de la saison sèche. Il en va de même des variétés traditionnelles de sorgho ou de mil, qui sont normalement semées dès l'arrivée de la pluie. Le cycle végétatif de ces plantes peut donc avoir une durée très variable puisqu'elles ont adopté une date de floraison fixe grâce à leur très forte réponse photopériodique. Les cultures commencent ainsi leur croissance en même temps que les mauvaises herbes, à un niveau de compétition raisonnable, avant que les populations d'insectes prédateurs des semis ne se soient multipliées, avant que l'humidité générale ne devienne trop intense, et bénéficient du flash de minéralisation azotée déclenché par le retour de la pluie. Elles fleurissent en même temps que de nombreuses graminées locales, avant que les insectes prédateurs des fleurs et des jeunes grains ne se soient multipliés. Enfin les grains se remplissent au début de la saison sèche, en l'absence d'inoculum de moisissures auxquelles ils sont très sensibles et simultanément avec les espèces sauvages qui participent alors à nourrir les essaims d'oiseaux sur toute l'étendue du territoire.

La date fixe de floraison des variétés traditionnelles de céréales apporte donc une série d'avantages adaptatifs qui doivent être conservés dans les variétés créées actuellement pour cette région.

Pour plus d'information, contactez b.clerget@cgiar.org .