SATrends Issue 66 May 2006
  • A new "Oasis" on the horizon
  • Working from the ground up
  • Let them eat cake!

  • 1. A new "Oasis" on the horizon

    The Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR, in support of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), have a new Systemwide initiative approved by the by the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers in April 2006, called Oasis. The UN has declared 2006 as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification, and the launching of Oasis is a tangible sign of the CGIAR's commitment to the cause.

    The UNCCD estimates that about 70% of the earth’s agricultural drylands have been affected by desertification, defined as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variation and human activities”. If not treated in time, this will grow and merge.

    The poor are hurt most, because they depend on the land for a living. Estimates show that 250 million people in more than 110 countries have been affected so far, with economic losses in the range of US$42 billion per annum.

    The CGIAR has long recognized the importance of research to improve the sustainability of dryland agriculture, and even created two international centers entirely focused on these zones: ICRISAT and ICARDA for the tropical and non-tropical latitudes, respectively. Other Centers also invest a significant portion of their effort on the desertification-prone drylands. Initial partners in Oasis are CIAT, CIMMYT, ICARDA, ICRAF, ICRISAT, IFPRI, ILRI, and WARDA, and more are expected to join.

    The CGIAR, represented by ICRISAT and ICARDA has contributed to the UNCCD process since its inception in 1993. Oasis is thus a strengthening of partnerships that have a long history. Oasis is an expansion of the Desert Margins Program and Desertification, Drought, Poverty and Agriculture Consortium (DDPA) into a global Systemwide Program. ICARDA and ICRISAT will jointly convene the Oasis partnership.

    Oasis partnerships are not restricted to the Centers. The strategy, priorities and workplan of Oasis will be discussed by the partners and evolve rapidly in the coming months. Initially, the following six areas are likely to draw attention:

    1. Understanding and arresting land degradation
    2. Mitigating drought
    3. Restoring and stabilizing dryland ecosystems
    4. Policy and institutional options to encourage sustainable land use and greater investments in drylands
    5. Diversifying agricultural systems and livelihoods
    6. Sharing knowledge and technology

    Oasis will begin by creating an inventory of current Center activities geared at combating desertification. This will enable them to identify gaps, overlaps and potential synergies for joint projects and proposals for additional funding.

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    2. Working from the ground up

    As an important oil seed crop, groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea) provide high quality oil and food for humans and livestock respectively. In India, low yield of this crop has been linked to non-availability of improved cultivars and proper production technologies, and to foliar diseases such as late leaf spot (Phaeoisariopsis personata) and rust (Puccinia arachidicola) especially in areas such as the Deccan plateau. The plateau is greatly affected by diseases, as it is covered with the susceptible cultivar TMV-2. These diseases are highly destructive and cause more than 70% of the losses in yield and quality. Considering the limitation in the production of groundnuts, ICRISAT has emerged with an early maturing dual-purpose cultivar, ICGV 91114, which is highly responsive to Integrated Disease Management (IDM). The IDM package consistently obtains higher pod and fodder yield under farm conditions. The IDM technology consists of improved early-maturing cultivar ICGV 91114, fungicide seed treatment with bavistin + thiram @ 2.5 g/kg seed, and one application of fungicide kavach at 65-70 days after sowing.

    A healthy bunch of ICGV 91114 groundnuts.

    The evaluation and promotion of ICGV 91114 and its IDM technology was carried out in three phases from 1995-2004. In collaboration with ANGRAU, INGOs and NGOs, ICGV 91114 performed well, exhibiting lower severities of foliar diseases and higher pod and fodder yields. The results of in vitro tests at ICRISAT-Patancheru showed that the fodder from IDM-treated plots of ICGV 91114 had higher digestibility than that of TMV 2. During this period, the cultivar and its IDM technology spread to several villages in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu states in India.

    Participating farmers in all three states felt the new cultivar gave them higher quantities of pods and haulms as well as higher quality fodder that in turn translated to higher milk yields. The cultivar ICGV 91114, therefore, has rapidly become the favorite of several participating and non-participating farmers in the three states. Thanks to these advantages, ICGV 91114 and its associated IDM technology, which began with 11 farmers in 1995, spread to nearly 5000 farmers in 2002 and to about 10000 farmers by 2005.

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    3. Let them eat cake!

    Henry David Thoreau once said, "The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest." For thousands of years, human beings have been able to exploit animals on the sole belief of intellectual superiority. The animal kingdom is so integral to our society that we have become accustomed to their expected role.

    Associations between herbivorous insects (including those that eat our crops) and their natural enemies are not excluded from this trend since the most natural of their enemies continue to be exploited by man. The parasitic wasp, Campoletis chlorideae, is not only harmless to humans but is also beneficial because it provides biological or natural control of other insects. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside other insects to enable the survival of wasp progeny. One of its hosts in the agro-system is the cotton bollworm/pod borer, Helicoverpa armigera, which causes heavy crop yield loss globally. Yet, while exploiting Bt genes to prevent Helicoverpa damage, the large-scale deployment of Bt-transgenic crops will have potentially detrimental consequences on the survival and development of the parasitic wasp C. chlorideae.

    Campoletis chlorideae parasitizing a Helicoverpa larva.

    The introduction of Bt-transgenic crops has aroused the interest and concern of ecologists and plant protectionists about interactions between plants-herbivores-natural enemies, and consequently the potential exploitation of natural enemies for arthropod pest management. As an alternative, the potential use of C. chlorideae on the larvae of several lepidopteran insect species viz., H. armigera, H. assulta, Spodoptera litura, S. exigua, Mythimna separata, Sesmia inferens, Achaea janata, and H. armigera host crops such as cotton, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, sorghum, and pearl millet are now being studied under laboratory conditions. Scientists at ICRISAT found that C. chlorideae has 20 to 80% parasitization on H. armigera larvae reared on different host crops. The herbivore-induced plant volatiles play a key role in insect host location by many parasitoids, as they change the biochemistry of host plants, affecting growth and survival of herbivores. This in turn influences the activity and population of natural enemies. Although, the insect hosts have considerable influence on survival and development of the parasitoid, the parasitic wasp still has sufficient parasitic potential on other herbivore insects. These studies help to develop strategies for the large-scale deployment of transgenic crops, and conservation of the natural enemies on alternate insect hosts in the agro-ecosystem.

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