SATrends Issue 17 

April 2002


1. Disaster Relief with a Difference

African agriculture has many enemies – and two of the worst are drought and conflict, which displace thousands of poor farmers every year. The victims arrive penniless in a new environment, with few skills except agriculture. Unfortunately, with neither seeds nor farming implements, they must depend on hand-outs to survive.

Seed fair 1 copy.jpg (9099 bytes)NGOs and other agencies have responded by distributing free seed to the affected communities, aiming to support a revival of agriculture. But field work by ICRISAT, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and ODI showed that these programs suffer from two problems. Farmers may not get the crop or the variety they want, because decisions are made by the NGO, not by the farmers who receive the seed. And seed is purchased in bulk from outside the community, so only a small share of the money spent enters the local economy.

CRS now uses a different approach, where farmers get not free seed but vouchers that can be exchanged for seed. Why should this make a difference? First, flexibility – each recipient is free to choose what crop and variety to “buy”. Farmers can exchange their $ 8 vouchers for, say, 4 kg of commercial maize seed or 12 kg of seed of a sorghum landrace, or any combination of crops and varieties. Second, the bulk of the seed is purchased from local farmers, so most of the relief dollar goes to the affected community, not to large seed companies.

Here’s how it works. After a disaster, identify the truly needy through community participation (e.g., village meetings) and distribute seed vouchers to these people. Then announce a Seed Fair, where voucher holders and seed sellers are brought together at a convenient location close to the target community. Any seller can participate – a middleman or trader, an individual farmer with spare seed, or a large seed company that brings in a truckload of certified seed. This allows farmers to compare prices and quality, and negotiate the best value for their vouchers. At most fairs, half the seed sellers are women farmers.

Seed fair 2 copy.jpg (9244 bytes)CRS launched the first seed fairs in Uganda 2 years ago, with funding from USAID’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance. The program expanded rapidly -- Burundi, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and now Sudan, where a combination of drought and civil strife has pushed small-scale farmers to the brink. ICRISAT has recently introduced the concept to Mozambique as well, with technical support from CRS. The fairs have been extremely popular with both farmer beneficiaries and seed sellers. Donors such as FAO and DFID have provided strong support, and other partners are joining in. After years of misery, displaced farm families throughout Africa now finally have a real chance to rebuild their lives. (Right, farmers happily milling around at a seed fair)

For more information on Seed Fairs contact
For more information on Seed Systems Research contact


2. From Crop to Tabletop

The journey of a crop from a farm to our tables is a fascinating tale that few know. Mamadou Diawara, a food processor in Mali, is one of those few.  For this reason he was chosen to participate in a project to pilot-test effective contractual arrangements between farmers and processors in order to transform sorghum production into a commercial enterprise.

Sorghum is a key staple in West Africa, but it requires lot of labor by women to make it ready for cooking. The development of ready-to-cook sorghum products through processing will reduce women’s drudgery and increase the crop’s demand. Wheat imports can also be reduced if good sorghum flour is available.

Sorghum processing in the region is constrained largely by irregular supplies of high-quality grains. “It is critical to develop sustainable contractual arrangements between grain producers and processors to help build profitability, commitment, and trust,” says Dr Jupiter Ndjeunga, ICRISAT Economist, who is closely involved with the pilot-test. The project partners are INTSORMIL, IER (Institut d’Economie Rurale), IFAD and ICRISAT.

The project’s genesis is linked to a biscuit, named Deliken. An initiative of the Sorghum Network ROCARS, Deliken was produced with 20% flour from the sorghum variety Ntenemissa. The variety was jointly developed by INTSORMIL and IER. Its high-quality white flour makes Deliken tasty, and demand is high.Deliken copy.jpg (9357 bytes)

But when there was a shortage of Ntenemissa grains and the flour for the biscuit was replaced with that from other varieties, the quality of the biscuits changed and the demand fell. It became necessary, therefore, to make the grain and flour supply consistent.

Project researchers selected about 40 farmers to produce Ntenemissa. Diawara was chosen to buy the grains, make flour and sell it to GAM, the company that is producing Deliken.

Farmers’ payment for the grains (market price + a premium) was fixed in advance. Fertilizers and herbicides were given on credit to be paid back during the sale of grains.

The farmers produced 30 tons of Ntenemissa grains and sold half of it to Diawara. Over 80% of farmers made profits and are happy with the contract terms. The project is so successful that over 680 farmers are keen to participate next year. Diawara plans to sell half of the flour to GAM and sell the other half directly to consumers at supermarkets and grocery stores. (Right, children biting into delicious sorghum biscuits)

The project revealed that farmers are ready to invest in inputs and produce quality grains if committed processors such as Diawara are available.

For more information contact


3. Golden Millet, Naturally!

An exciting finding has revealed that some of ICRISAT’s pearl millet genotypes with yellow endosperm (left) appear to have beta-carotene levels comparable to those of "Golden Rice".

Pearl millet.jpg (9083 bytes)

Beta-carotene, also known as provitamin A, is a substance found in food that we must take into our bodies to make vitamin A. There are several such substances, called precursors, but the best is beta-carotene, because our bodies can make two molecules of vitamin A (retinol) from each molecule of beta-carotene.

“To have a staple food with a natural high content of beta-carotene would be the easiest way to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, which is one of the most important nutritional problems in developing countries,” stated Juergen Erhardt, a researcher from the University of Hohenheim, who helped analyze the beta-carotene content of some of ICRISAT’s millet genotypes.

Vitamin A deficiency causes hundreds of thousands of cases of irreversible blindness every year, especially among children in developing countries. There have been many studies examining the possibility of using foods naturally rich in vitamin A or provitamin A to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.

The results of Dr Erhardt’s analysis are quite close to what ICRISAT scientists had earlier found using different extraction methods. Although excited about the finding, Dr CT Hash, ICRISAT Millet Breeder, said, “Dr Erhardt and I feel that some more time is needed to optimize the extraction procedure and analyze the isomers to more accurately calculate the potential intake of retinolequivalents from pearl millet grain.” style="font-size:10.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial">

Dr Hash also added that millet grains containing a substantial amount of pro-vitamin A would be acceptable to farmers “if this higher nutritional value can be delivered in locally-adapted, pest- and disease-resistant cultivars that have reasonable yield potential.”

The “golden millet” is thus an exciting new alternative that deserves further development, keeping in mind that it would reduce but not eliminatethe need for vegetables and other sources of pro-vitamin A.

For more information contact



4. The “Green” to “Blue” Water Continuum

“Green” to “blue”, another way of saying from rainfed to full irrigation.  Who are the principal players in the semi-arid tropics? The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) India Regional Office and the host center ICRISAT, are working towards a closer collaboration on this issue. The primary focus of joint research in India during 2002 will be on watershed management (WM) and development. Since this area is a priority with both ICRISAT and IWMI it is envisioned that similar collaboration will be built in other regions like Africa and Southeast Asia.

In India, an investment has been made by the farmers, the Central and State governments, and NGOs to develop watershed-based land and water resources, particularly in semi-arid areas. Various approaches to WM have been devised, revived and implemented. But there are lingering concerns about the outcomes for the livelihoods of the rural poor, the institutions charged with asset management, and the environmental resource base.Water.jpg (8464 bytes)

ICRISAT has been at the forefront of soil and water management, crop improvement and adaptation, and socio-economic and policy-oriented approaches to WM in the Indian SAT. IWMI approaches watershed resources (including irrigation, its previous exclusive focus) from a river basin perspective where upstream and downstream linkages are emphasized. The two perspectives, when complementarily merged, set up interesting and creative possibilities for research and future watershed investments.

The collaboration will review the existing policy and institutional aspects of integrated soil and water management research and the different models of WM in India. By preparing an inventory of successful technologies, the project will identify potential beneficiaries and livelihood impacts on the community and help design future technologies.

IWMI will emphasize upstream and downstream tradeoffs and scaling up issues in water-use and land-use intensification resulting from different WM approaches. Similarly, ICRISAT will focus on assessing and identifying factors behind the success or failure of the different WM approaches with emphasis on biophysical factors and socioeconomic constraints at different levels.

Finally, the initiative will identify knowledge gaps and suggest priority areas for further research for private and collective investments in soil and water management resulting in resource use intensification. An additional outcome will be an assessment of whether suggested research investments generate sufficient international public goods benefits and how best CGIAR centers address these issues and promote sustainable intensification of agriculture in the SAT.

Joint proposals will indicate further research and will be assessed at an annual meeting of key researchers from both centers.

For further information contact, or, or


Highlights of Previous Issues:

March 2002:On the Wild SideA Handful of Seed •Here's to Fungus - hic!

February 2002: 36 Percent -- and Rising •Of Stalk and Livestock •Stalking the Enemy •Sorghum Scoop from Mali

January 2002: Back to the Drawing Board •Weed Better, Weed Faster •With Minds of their Own! •Closing Ranks against the Pod Borer

December 2001: It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a Super scientist!   Viva Sorgo! Small is Big! •Abortion Leads to Rebirth

November 2001: Sorghum Products: Poised to Take Off •Cash from Cattle Food •Empowerment Through Technology •Outwitting an Unfair Bug

October 2001: Backing a Winner •More than a Thousand Words •Sowing a New Future for Eritrea •A Casting Coup: Farmers' Day 2001

September 2001:Don’t Get Left on the Shelf • Nigeria Targets ‘Groundnut Leprosy’ •Two Heads Are Better than One • Desperately Seeking Seeds

August 2001: Finding Chinks in the Armour •  Brazilian Farmers get a Boost from the Sahel  •Sahelian Partners Smash the Ivory Tower  •What You See is What You Get - Simulation Modeling for Successful Farming

July 2001: Balaji Makes IT Waves • A Hot Date in the Sahel  •It All Adds Up  •More from Less •That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

June 2001: Space-Age Partnership in West Africa Bad Taste is Good •Out of Africa Seed Priming: Rhapsody in Simplicity

May 2001:Dodging Drought in Kenya •Vietnam and ICRISAT Save Watersheds •Farmers Enrich Malawi's Soils •Groundnut Mystery Disease Identified

April 2001: Women Farmers Guide Scientists in Namibia   Ashta Puts it Faith in IPM Sahelian Farmers Place Their Bets China and Pigeonpea: Love at Second Sight

March 2001: Agriculture: an Ally Against Global Warming? Breaking the Spell of Witchweed •Groundnut Taking Root in Central Asia and the Caucasus •Zimbabwean Smallholders Drive the Research Agenda

February 2001: Somalia: Seeds Deliver Hope Amidst Chaos • The CGIAR Fights Desertification in Africa • Creating the World's First Molecular Marker Map of Chickpea •Aflatoxin and Cancer: Cracking a Hard Nut in Developing Countries

January 2001: Things Grow Better with Coke®: Micro-fertilizer System Sparks 50-100 Percent Millet Yield Increases in the Sahel Groundnut (Peanut) Production Accelerates in Vietnam   Pigeonpea Broadens Farmer's Options in Sudan   Private Sector Invests in Public Plant Breeding Research at ICRISAT.

December 2000: International Symposium on SAT Futures •Centers Team Up to Help East Timor •Spatial Variability in Watersheds •World's First Cytoplasmic Male-Sterile Hybrid Pigeonpea •Groundnut (Peanut) Variety Boosts Malawian Agriculture •National Researchers Persevere in El Salvador •ICRISAT Celebrates India-ICRISAT Day •ICRISAT and World Vision International Work Together in Southern Africa.