SATrends ISSUE 39                                                                                                                  February 2004

  • Hitch your Hatch to a Star!
  • Taking Away the Toxins
  • Une Nouvelle Image de la Forêt
  • Crops on Contract
  • 1. Hitch your Hatch to a Star!
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    Wary of the risks involved in starting an agri-business? Require access to state-of-the-art facilities? Need to encounter world-class public and private sector partners? Do this and more at the Agri-Business Incubator at ICRISAT.

    ICRISAT has joined hands with the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurial Development Board, of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, to develop an Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at ICRISAT-Patancheru, India, with infrastructure support from DST and ICRISAT.

    ICRISAT hopes to promote several technologies ranging from farm-based technologies to advanced biotechnologies based on the needs of the entrepreneurs. While these are primarily aimed at reducing the risks in commercialization and improved impact, the final beneficiaries will be the resource-poor farmers who will have an easy and affordable access to these technologies and their products. While there are over 2000 Technology Business Incubators in the world, and several in India, ABI will be the first of it's kind in India that is dedicated to Agri-Business. We hope to expand the scope internationally with the help of international donors.

    The broad mission of ABI-ICRISAT is “creation of competitive agribusiness enterprise through technology development and commercialization” with the strategic goal “to improve on-farm productivity, livelihood and on-farm income of the Indian farming community, to stimulate agri-biotechnology development and transfer between ABI-ICRISAT and entrepreneurs, and to provide the required infrastructure support to entrepreneurs for commercializing technologies developed by ICRISAT and its partners in India and abroad”.

    The ABI-ICRISAT is aimed at providing an interface between public and private sectors for enhanced synergies in technology development and deployment. The prime focus will be on human resource development in modern technologies, creating a congenial environment for encouraging R&D in the biotechnology and agricultural, and promoting conservation of bio-diversity and sustainable exploitation of bio-resources.

    For more information contact k.sharma@cgiar.org

    2. Taking Away the Toxins
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    Mycotoxins (as opposed to just plain toxins!) are chemical substances naturally produced by fungi that contaminate crops, either during the cropping season or while in storage.

    In the semi-arid tropics, crops susceptible to mycotoxins include groundnut, maize, cottonseed, sorghum, millet, rice, brazil nuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, spices (particularly chillies), walnuts, and their by-products.

    Mycotoxins are aflatoxin, produced by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus; and fumonisin produced by Fusarium verticilliodes. Both are commonly found in legumes and cereal crops. Aflatoxins are potent carcinogenic and immunosuppressive agents. Aflatoxin contamination of groundnut and maize has become a global problem due to the effects on human and animal health, and the negative impact on commodity trade. Malnutrition increases disease prevalence and further reduces the ability of the human body to cope with mycotoxin exposure.

    Many importing countries have set strict quality standards to control the health risk from mycotoxin contamination. However, most poor, small-scale farmers in the semi-arid tropics cannot meet these standards.

    Mycotoxin-contaminated products cause significant economic and trade problems at almost every stage of production and marketing. Many of our crops are affected by these mycotoxins, and standards are becoming progressively stricter.

    The research program aims to develop inexpensive, practical methods to reduce or eliminate the levels of aflatoxin in groundnut and its products, and to disseminate information on the dangers of aflatoxin. Ultimately, the goal is to help small-scale farmers in the semi-arid tropics to produce aflatoxin-free food and feed product.

     An Elisa kit nestles among potentially contaminated products.

    Using agronomic packages to manage aflatoxin during the cropping season significantly reduces the contamination. Based on ICRISAT's farmer participatory research in India, these practices coupled with the use of improved tolerant varieties of the crop can reduce the aflatoxin contamination by as much as 90%.

    ICRISAT has developed an ELISA kit for the detection and estimation of aflatoxins. The procedure is very simple, and can detect total aflatoxins or B1, B2, G1 or G2 in a variety of crops, crop by-products, and milk.

    For more information contact f.waliyar@cgiar.org

    3. Une Nouvelle Image de la Forêt
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    Albert Nikiema reveals the importance of under-estimated non-timber forest species by finding out their informal economic values.

    Il était un temps où la forêt symbolisait l’inconnu et la mort. Walt Disney, Grimm ou Perrault ne nous diront pas le contraire. Leurs héros ont vécu la forêt comme on vit un passage initiatique, en frôlant la mort pour mieux vivre leur vie. Mais de nos jours, cela est révolu. Finies les sorcières. L’homme a arrêté de les brûler. Finies ces forêts théâtre de l’inconnu. Ont fait place des espaces gérés, un jardin à l’image voulue par l’homme. [PICTURE: image composite

    Un photo-montage proposé par Albert Nikiema loin de l’image des forêts des pays développés. Ici la forêt n’est pas récréative ou industrielle mais elle est un lieu d’habitat.

    Cette image voulue inquiète Albert Nikiema, doctorant basé à l’ICRISAT Niamey. Ce n’est pas tant le concept moderne de jardin planétaire qui l’inquiète : Agro-forestier de formation, il sait qu’une gestion appropriée est bénéfique à la forêt. Ce qui le trouble est le fait que ce soit la représentation de la forêt venue des pays développés qui se propage dans les hauts lieux de prise de décision. Cette représentation-là, basée sur un système libéral, est trop réductrice. En effet, dans les pays en développement, un nombre très important d’espèces forestières échappe aux récoltes de données mise en place pendant l’élaboration d’un projet car ces espèces sont cantonnées au marché informel. Leurs transactions s’effectuent souvent directement du cueilleur au consommateur sans laisser de trace écrite. Albert Nikiema, a alors cherché à révéler ces espèces sous-estimées en chiffrant leur valeur commerciale. Il a mené une série d’enquêtes dans les marchés locaux. Il a pu ainsi identifier 16 espèces importantes et a calculé les revenus qu’elles génèrent. Ces espèces sont vendues sous diverses formes et unités de mesures (petit tas, poignée, bolée…), avec des transactions dont l’unité varie de 50 FCFA (0,10 USD) à 800 FCFA (1,6 USD).

    Ses estimations, élaborées d’après des enquêtesqu’il a réalisées au Burkina Faso, font ressortir en 2002 des revenus annuels de 7,6 millions de dollars engendrés par le karité et 8,3 millions par le Néré.

    Ces montants, non pris en compte jusqu’alors, auraient été ainsi équivalents, en 2002, à 7% du PIB burkinabais. Ce pourcentage prouve à lui seul l’importance de ces espèces forestières méconnues et la nécessité de les intégrer à tout projet de gestion durable des forêts africaines sous peine de changer considérablement les traditions locales et donc d’échouer.

    Pour plus d’information contacter a.nikiema@cgiar.org

    4. Crops on Contract
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    Farmers grow grain, traders buy it, we eat it. But how exactly does the marketing chain work, and who benefits? How can marketing arrangements be made more efficient? How can smallholders gain a bigger share of the pie? To find the answers, ICRISAT economists are studying farmer-trader arrangements in different countries and for different crops.

    Traditionally, small-scale farmers in Africa sold their crops to traders, through cash market transactions. Prices could fluctuate considerably, depending on the size and quality of the harvest – high prices in a drought year, low prices during a glut.

    But such cash transactions are gradually giving way to contract farming, where a buyer commits – before the crop is even planted – to buying a certain quantity at an agreed price. The buyer may pay after harvest, or may offer part payment in advance. Some buyers go even further. For example, beer manufacturers have regular contract farmers who provide them with sorghum grain, an essential ingredient in opaque beer. The company supplies seed and fertilizer on credit, periodically inspects the crop, provides extension advice – and even pesticides, if needed. Farmers are paid after harvest, after deducting the value of seed or other inputs supplied.

     Farmers growing seeds with confidence.

    Contract farming offers advantages for both sides. Farmers can plan their land allocations, labor requirements, and input purchases well in advance. They get good seed and good technical advice. Their risk is reduced. And because they are contracted to a reputed firm, they can get credit more easily. The company benefits because it can ensure adequate supplies, uniform quality of grain, and reduced costs.

    ICRISAT economists are examining different kinds of contract arrangements. One objective is to see how NGOs and other organizations can facilitate contracting and ensure that farmers get a fair deal.

    In many cases, the critical problem is risk. Farmer and buyer may know that a deal is potentially profitable, but are worried by the risk involved. So no contract – unless a third party agrees to shoulder this risk to encourage agricultural development. For example, CARE Zimbabwe offers credit guarantees to facilitate the supply of fertilizer – a key component of grain production contracts. Village-level traders obtain fertilizer on credit from wholesalers, and sell to smallholder farmers. Worried about payment? CARE steps in, offering to pay if the trader defaults. Once wholesalers were assured of being paid, trade expanded rapidly, and good business relationships developed. In fact, of the 800 traders who were “guaranteed” by CARE, over 600 now deal directly with the wholesaler or manufacturer, without the need for credit guarantees.

    For more information contact   j.rusike@cgiar.org