SATrends Issue 63 February 2006
  • Partners foster fertilizer use
  • Desert Dike
  • Leaping over the legume yield gap
  • The artful lodger!

  • 1. Partners foster fertilizer use

    Multi-institution partnerships are a key element of ICRISAT’s research-for-development strategy. Here is a good example from Limpopo province, South Africa. The partners: ICRISAT; Progress Milling, a large private-sector grain milling and trading firm; SASOL Nitro, a fertilizer manufacturer; the Limpopo Province Department of Agriculture, and a farmer development organization known as LIMPAST. The objective: help smallholder farmers increase yields of maize, their staple food, through better nutrient management.

    Most soils in Limpopo are inherently low in nitrogen and/or phosphorus, and further depleted by continuous maize cropping. Yields will not increase unless farmers apply fertilizer to replace lost nutrients. However, fertilizer use remains very low because of cost, availability and high risk due to uncertain rainfall. The new partnership is helping to address each constraint.

    • Smaller, cheaper packs. The standard 50-kg bag of fertilizer costs US$ 20 or more. This partnership offers 10 and 20kg bags, for approximately $4 and $8 – allowing farmers to buy whatever they can afford, and gradually scale up fertilizer use.
    • Easy availability. Few village retailers stock fertilizer – farmers had to buy from the nearest town, paying extra for transport. The new small packs were sold at selected Progress Milling depots conveniently located throughout the province.

    • Woman applying small dose of fertilizer.
    • Micro-dosing. The official recommended rate for fertilizer is 2 to 4 bags per hectare. Most farmers find this rate too high, too risky in a dry climate, or completely unaffordable. ICRISAT has been promoting a proven alternative known as micro-dosing for drier regions and poorer farmers. Much lower-than-recommended doses can give substantial benefits. For example, a single bag of top-dress N fertilizer per hectare will increase maize yield by 50%, provided the crop is weeded properly.

    No single institution could have addressed all these issues, but a partnership brings together players with complementary roles. Progress Mills, for example, with its established network of depots and trained staff, managed the logistics. SASOL did the packaging – investing its own resources to prepare small packs for the first time in South Africa. The national research and extension services and LIMPAST (funded by the Maize Trust from commercial farmers) worked with ICRISAT to test the micro-dosing technology with smallholder farmers.

    ICRISAT-mediated partnerships have helped promote fertilizer use in Malawi and Zimbabwe, enabling 200,000 families to significantly improve incomes and food security. The South African experiment uses the same approach – with a greater degree of private sector participation to ensure sustainability. The early results are most encouraging.

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    2. Desert Dike

    The year 2006 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD). But ICRISAT and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) go back a long way—in fact, to the very beginning.

    The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, focused worldwide attention on the menacing problem of desertification, which is land degradation in drylands resulting from both climatic and human factors. The Earth Summit urged that all nations join hands to create an international ‘convention’ (agreement) to fight the problem.

    To write the convention, the United Nations General Assembly established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Desertification (INCD). They invited the CGIAR to participate, and given ICRISAT’s focus on drylands, the CGIAR nominated ICRISAT to represent the System. ICRISAT engaged in the INCD sessions held in Geneva (13-24 September 1993), New York City (17-28 January 1994), and Paris (6-17 June 1994).

    Earth and sandstorm.

    To date, 191 nations have ratified the Convention, confirming their commitment.

    To match the world’s commitment with its own, in 1994 the CGIAR System asked ICRISAT to convene a Systemwide Ecoregional Initiative to bring to bear the Center’s international research-for-development capabilities in the battle against desertification. This initiative has since bloomed into the Desert Margins Program (DMP), an inter-center effort that is hard at work on the problem in the driest, poorest countries of Africa. Sister Centers that are currently active with ICRISAT in the DMP are ICRAF, IFPRI, ILRI, and CIAT’s TSBF group.

    ICRISAT continues to participate in the UNCCD process today, both through the DMP and the more recent Desertification, Drought, Poverty and Agriculture (DDPA) Consortium. They maintain close dialogue with the Convention’s Secretariat and its Global Mechanism. Whereas the DMP focuses its effort on sub-Saharan Africa, the DDPA, co-convened with ICARDA, has a global focus. Both the DMP and DDPA are dedicated to agricultural research-for-development to overcome dryland degradation across the developing world.

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    3. Leaping over the legume yield gap

    By 2025, India’s population is expected to grow to 1.4 billion. Food production in India must increase by about five million tons (Mt) annually for the next 25 years to ensure food and nutritional security. The rainfed areas, which cover almost 70% of the total area under agriculture, would have a greater share in meeting the future food needs of the country, especially those of food legumes. All the three ICRISAT mandate legumes (groundnut, pigeonpea and chickpea) are major sources of protein for the Indian population.

    Using simulation modeling and reviews of past experimental data, we assessed the potential rainfed yields and yield gaps of ICRISAT’s mandate crops.

    Groundnut is mostly grown in the low to medium rainfall environment. It is grown on 7.53 million ha (M ha) with a total production of 8.63 M t. Average productivity is 1.15 t ha-1, and ranges from 1.13 to 1.16 t ha-1 across the production zones.

    Production zones of groundnut, pigeonpea and chickpea in India.

    Pigeonpea is grown on 3.36 M ha with a total production of 2.31 M t. Average productivity is 0.69 t ha-1, ranging from 0.60 ha-1 in the primary zone to 0.80 t ha-1 in the tertiary zone. It is mostly grown as an intercrop with cereals and other legumes.

    Chickpea is grown on 7.28 M ha. The mean yield for the primary zone is 0.84 t ha-1, which decreases to 0.73 t ha-1 in the tertiary zone. Most of the chickpea is grown during the postrainy season on stored soil moisture with one pre-sowing irrigation, especially in northern and central India, where the rainfall during the rainy season is low to high.

    Large yield gaps exist between the farmers’ current yields and the potential yields for each crop. These yield gaps on average ranged from 1.0 to 1.63 t ha-1 for groundnut, 0.91 to 1.01 t ha-1 for pigeonpea, and 0.8 to 1.07 t ha-1 for chickpea, indicating that the yields of these legumes could be increased by 2.0 to 2.6 times. Based upon the current cultivated area under each crop, these yield gaps translate into estimated additional production of 6.6 to 10.8 M t of groundnut, 3.1 to 3.4 M t of pigeonpea, and 5.8 to 7.8 M t of chickpea in the country.

    Using supplemental irrigation from the rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging technologies possible in these areas, the production could be even higher.

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    4. The artful lodger!

    ICRISAT recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the European Patent Office (EPO) based in the Hague, Netherlands. This MoA enables ICRISAT to disseminate its research products in the EPO’s Non-Patent Literature (NPL), which is in line with ICRISAT’s strategy of making its IPRs “prior art”, approved by its Governing Board in September 2004. (Prior art is the legal term used for all previous inventions in the field of an invention for which a patent is being sought. Prior art is used by the Patent Office to decide whether the invention is sufficiently unique and non-intuitive to qualify for patent protection).

    Hanumanth Rao, front and center in white shirt, at the EPO.

    In line with its commitment to deliver international public goods to its stakeholders, ICRISAT effectively manages its intellectual property rights on research products by placing them in the public domain and making them prior art, thus preventing others from infringing on ICRISAT’s rights. While publishing is carried out through journal articles/conference papers in internationally recognized journals, there are several publications (both external and internal) that ICRISAT produces such as Technical Reports, Annual Reports, and Monographs, which would be useful additions to materials included in the EPO’s NPL database from now on. As part of their dissemination activities, the EPO will also share their NPL database with other patent offices such as the United States Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO), and those in Brazil and Canada.

    To mark this historical collaboration, a first in the entire CGIAR system, ICRISAT provided a few documents on a trial basis for initial evaluation. Additional documents will be periodically provided in the future.

    Thanks are due to Victoria Henson-Apollonio of the CGIAR Central Advisory Service (CAS) who sponsored B Hanumanth Rao of ICRISAT’s IP Office to a seminar on search and documentation working methods at the EPO in April 2005, which paved the way for this historical collaboration.

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