SATrends Issue 31                                                                                                                   June 2003


1. A Friend Indeed!

ICRISAT and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) have mutually benefited from various collaborations over the years. This partnership has worked in terms of both logistics and impact. Nowhere is this more evident than in East Africa where the two organizations work together in five countries– Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – on a variety of projects.
Tanzania farmer savouring the fruits of his labour with an ICRISAT Variety of Chickpea, September 2002

In Tanzania, the CRS/ICRISAT partnership is the foundation of a broader collaboration that includes local NGOs, the national research program, the Ministry of Agriculture’s extension service, and farmer groups. The two organizations have formed a partnership to improve the production of chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnuts. The partners also cooperate on finding ways to better sustain seed supply and to develop marketing linkages for smallholder farmers. CRS got the ball rolling by identifying an opportunity to increase farmer income through producing and marketing legumes, and approached ICRISAT for support.

The alliance provides technology and seeds of promising varieties directly to smallholders and links them to high potential markets. The goal is nothing less than alleviating poverty on a wide scale. The collaboration includes assessing promising varieties on farmers’ fields, sustaining seed supply and developing the market for these crops.

At the core of the institutional relationship is the professional and personal relationship between Said Silim of ICRISAT and Francis Massawe of CRS. The partnership has been built through each institution's investment in time and funds to complete complementary tasks. While CRS provides the direct link to small farmers, ICRISAT provides the relevant technology and germplasm.

Bishop of Shinyanga, Tanzania, collaborating with CRS admires promising ICRISAT pigeonpea in a seed increase field.

Another famous collaboration in East Africa involves seed fairs. CRS started by using a different approach to distributing seed in post-emergency situations. It organized seed fairs where farmers are given not free seeds, but vouchers that can be exchanged for seeds. The flexibility of the system, where each recipient is free to choose what crop and variety to ‘buy’, appealed to the farmers. CRS launched its first seed fairs in Uganda. The program expanded rapidly – Burundi, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Sudan. ICRISAT has recently introduced the concept to Mozambique as well, with technical support from CRS. The fairs have been extremely popular with farmers as well as seed sellers.

ICRISAT and CRS have most often come together in situations of emergency relief – whether it’s drought in Kenya or war-ridden farmers in Sudan. The partners are also working together in India and East Timor, but that’s another story. Now, that’s partnership!

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2. Sentinels against Agricultural Terrorism
The deliberate introduction of new insect pests, disease organisms, and weed seeds in a target country is one of the long-term strategies of biological warfare. With increasing global vulnerability to agricultural bioterrorism, the role of plant quarantine departments at the national and international levels becomes the first line of defense in biosecurity, which is critical to food security. The Plant Quarantine Unit at ICRISAT-Patancheru facilitates exchange (export and import) of seed material of its mandate crops (sorghum, pearl millet, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea and minor millets) under the guidance of the plant quarantine regulations of the Government of India, and with the support and supervision of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The NBPGR regional station at Hyderabad monitors the phytosanitary standards and certifies ICRISAT’s germplasm for export.

Since its inception in 1974, the unit has exported 1.18 million seed samples to 170 countries and imported 160,000 seed samples from 95 countries – all this without introducing a single exotic pest, disease or weed.

Manually separating the good from the bad in ICRISAT’s Plant Quarantine laboratory.

Exported germplasm from ICRISAT has contributed significantly to crop diversity in several countries. Within Asia alone, about 170 varieties derived from ICRISAT-supplied lines have been released for commercial cultivation.

Exchange of plant material plays a major role in enhancing crop biodiversity, leading to improved food security of a nation. Exchange of seeds with appropriate safeguards based on sound biological principles can provide greater biosecurity. Many plant pathogens, including fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes, are seedborne and easily transmitted through time and space. The pathogens gain entry to the seed at various stages of crop growth, from flowering to grain maturity in the field, and also during the processes of threshing, cleaning and drying. The pathogens may be carried with the seed internally (as mycelium) or externally (as a vegetative structure, fruiting structure, asexual spores, nematodes, larvae, etc.).

To ensure that seed-borne infection does not add to the existing inoculums, or start a new race in an endemic area, all infected seed samples (except those with significant pathogens) are salvaged and released for utilization. We salvage infected seed samples by mechanical separation and seed dressing with proper chemical pesticides/fungicides. Detentions are thereby minimized to the extent possible – so far less than 3%.

Over the years the unit has detected 69 insect pests and pathogens of quarantine importance in imported seed material, and 53 in export material. These samples were destroyed by incineration.

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3. Biotechnology Interventions for Pigeonpea Enhancement

Pigeonpea is possibly the most important grain legume grown by smallholder farmers in 37 countries in Africa. It is a multi-purpose crop used for food, fodder, and other household needs. It is beneficial to the soil, and has the ability to produce a grain yield under poor soil and low moisture conditions.

Traditionally, pigeonpea is regarded as a subsistence crop, but the recent rise in the price of pigeonpea, due to higher demand and an export market, has stimulated renewed interest in commercial production. This has spurred the development of short-duration (110-150 days) cultivars with the potential to expand the crop into nontraditional areas and cropping systems.

However, the high yield potential of short-duration pigeonpea and its wider adaptation is constrained by abiotic and biotic stresses. The most important of these are insect pests (pod borers, pod suckers and pod flies), fusarium wilt, and a sensitivity to temperature and photoperiod. Over the past decades, efforts to tackle some of these problems using conventional techniques have met with little success. Biotechnology now provides the following tools for addressing some these constraints.

  • Transformation. Efficient tissue culture and transformation protocols for pigeonpea have been developed at ICRISAT-Patancheru using Agrobacterium tumefaciens and biolistics.
  • Molecular markers. Ten microsatellite markers are available for pigeonpea. A Kenyan PhD student is currently at the University of Bonn developing additional simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers, although the extent of this work is limited by the availability of funds. SSRs can be supplemented by another kind of marker called amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLPs) for mapping.
Scientist setting up a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in the Biotechnology laboratory

The major target areas in southern and eastern Africa (SEA) are Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

The way forward would be to invest in the following key strategies:
  • Test the adaptation of existing transgenic pigeonpea germplasm in Africa, as well as the effectiveness of the btCry1Ab (crystal gene) and Soybean Trypsin Inhibitor (SBTI) genes under East African conditions. Transfer btCry1Ab and SBTI genes from Indian-adapted pigeonpea into African adapted germplasm using molecular markers.
  • Develop capacity within SEA for genetic transformation of pigeonpea into African-adapted germplasm based on new constructs. This could be done in conjunction with recently initiated transformation work at ICRISAT on Indian-adapted germplasm.
  • Develop biosafety guidelines and data on biosafety of transgenic pigeonpeas (for both food and environmental implications).
  • Map for pod borer resistance in inter-specific populations, and test existing back-cross populations in SEA.
  • Map fusarium wilt resistance in existing mapping populations and initiate additional mapping populations with concurrent back-crossing onto SEA-adapted germplasm.
  • Assess the likely adoption and constraints to hybrid pigeonpea production in East Africa. Identify potential parents through diversity assessments and map the fertility restorer gene for efficient transfer into parental lines.

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4. Harvesting Drops as well as Crops

Water harvesting means capturing rain where it falls or from runoff – runoff from rooftops, catchments, even flood waters. Another method is through watershed management

How much water can be harvested? The total amount of water received in the form of rainfall over an area is called rainwater endowment. Of this, the amount that can be effectively harvested is called the harvesting potential. Thus, rainfall x collection efficiency = water harvesting potential.

The collection efficiency is based on various factors – evaporation, spillage, runoff coefficient, first flush wastage, and so on.

Consider an area of 1 hectare with annual rainfall of 1000 mm. The volume of rainfall would be 10,000 m2 x 1m = 10,000 m3. Converting to liters, we get 10,000 m3 x 1000 liters or 10 million liters.

The total area of the ICRISAT-Patancheru campus is 1400 ha. The site is a sub basin with two main watersheds. One comprises the northern quarter of the farm (complete and self-contained) and the other, in the south, is part of a much larger watershed. The average annual rainfall for the area is 800 mm. The land use plan, irrigation and drainage system was developed to conserve soil and water by making the best use of the rainwater and to avoid soil erosion. The total rainwater endowment is 11,200 million liters. Rainwater harvesting at ICRISAT farm makes best use of water in several ways.

  • 1570 million liters are collected into 12 water bodies (lakes/tanks), the biggest being Sunset Lake with a spread of over 64 ha and a capacity of 1100 million liters.
  • The over-all land use system helps conserve rainwater over a large area that helps to recharge the groundwater.
  • Groundwater aquifers yield up to 0.4 million liters per hour through a number of bore wells.

Glasshouse with sloping roof and gutters on the side where rainwater is collected in the underground tanks seen in the foreground.

Rainwater from rooftops (3500 m2) and from greenhouse roofs (3000 m 2) is collected into three underground tanks with an overall capacity of 2.3 million liters. In reality, we conserve 5 million liters, because all the rain does not fall at one time, and we regularly draw water from the tanks for de-ionization and use in laboratories, saving about $1000 a month on de-ionization costs alone. The cost savings for all the water conserved is beyond calculation.

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