SATrends Issue 43                                                                                                                  June 2004

  • Turning ICRISAT around
  • Un laboratoire de pointe au milieu du Sahel
  • Bridging the relief-development gap
  • 1. Turning ICRISAT around
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    Dr William D Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), has been given a new five-year term of office starting 1 January 2005.

    At the Team ICRISAT launch in February 2002

    That Dr Dar has been asked to lead the institute for another term comes as no big surprise. Staff and stakeholders of the Institute learned early on that the growing success of ICRISAT hinged on relevant research programs and decisive measures initiated by Dar.  By the time he took office in January 2000, ICRISAT, the prestigious international institute of the 1970s and 80s had unfortunately been forced into a financial slump, staff morale was at its lowest, and the research objectives had become unfocussed. Four years later, ICRISAT has turned over a completely new leaf and is once more the leading center of scientific excellence for agricultural research in the dry tropics of the world, thanks to the leadership of Director General Dar.

    Highlights of ICRISAT's metamorphosis include:

    • A re-focused research agenda on a need-driven and participatory basis, and exploiting the most modern tools of biotechnology, marker assisted breeding, integrated pest and disease management, natural resource management, and information and communication technology.
    • Staff morale greatly boosted by the “Team ICRISAT” movement launched in early 2002. 
    • Since 2000 ICRISAT has received no less that 46 awards, reflecting the excellence and relevance of research executed by its scientists. This, besides the 9 awards that have been personally awarded to Dr Dar by renowned institutions and universities.
    • An excellent relationship with the host country, India.
    • Partnerships with the NARS and regional/sub-regional organizations, have been strengthened and are leading to more impacts in the farming communities of the SAT.
    • ICRISAT is attracting more and more partners from the private sector – partnerships that are mutually beneficial to the parties involved, and to the community in general.
    • ICRISAT passed a rigorous External Program and Management Reviews in 2003 with flying colors.
    • After years of tension regarding a financial crunch, ICRISAT came through the last financial year with half a million dollars surplus budget.
    • Donors are once again putting their trust (and their money) in ICRISAT, confidently recognizing that ICRISAT is sincerely performing Science with a Human Face, a mantra started by Dar in 2000 to infuse a sense of purpose, mission, and responsibility towards the poor of the semi-arid tropics whom ICRISAT serves.

    For more information contact ICRISAT@cgiar.org

    2. Un laboratoire de pointe au milieu du Sahel
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    The analytical services soils and plants laboratories of ICRISAT-Niamey received the latest equipment making it equivalent to those of the advanced countries. This fulfills the mandate of International Centers: To host state-of-the-art skills and machinery in the heart of developing areas.  

    Peut-être que s'enfoncer 45 km dans le Sahel, surtout au Niger, où la transition urbanisation-désert est très abrupte ferait que, inconsciemment, les visiteurs ne s'attendent plus à découvrir grand chose, comme s'ils avaient mis au clou dans leurs pays développés leurs critères de qualité pour ne plus qu'espérer travailler au Sahel qu'avec des outils rudimentaires. Oui, peut-être est-ce à cause de cela que tous ceux qui visitent pour la première fois le laboratoire de services analytiques de l'ICRISAT-Niamey se retrouvent estomaqués et cherchent immédiatement à appeler leurs collègues comme s'ils avaient soudainement découvert de l'or. 

    Ilyassou Oumarou a intégré, il y a 18 ans, ces laboratoires de services analytiques. Il est le superviseur aujourd'hui de cet ensemble analysant échantillons de sol, eau, plante, fumier, fourrage, etc. Il a régulièrement acquis de nouvelles compétences afin de toujours fournir des services de qualités. Et il forme constamment et soigneusement son équipe. Il a sans cesse travaillé à élargir les capacités des laboratoires et notamment, cette année l'ICRISAT les a dotés d'un auto-analyseur digital à flux continu adaptable à toutes les méthodes colorimétriques d'analyse. Cet analyseur ultra-moderne est dédié ici à l'analyse simultanée de l'azote et du phosphore. A été également reçu un analyseur de fibres afin de coller à l'orientation pluridisciplinaire des nouveaux projets intégrant l'activité animale.

    Ilyassou, responsable des laboratoires, et Kanako, doctorante à l'ICRISAT Niamey lisent les résultats de l'auto-analyseur digital à flux continu.

    La renommée de ce laboratoire représente bel et bien un joyau dont Ilyassou  se sert avec beaucoup de sagesse. Il entretient avec cela un cercle vertueux : Son laboratoire attire de nouveaux partenaires, et avec eux nouveaux matériels et compétences rendant toujours plus attractifs et utiles ses laboratoires. Cette année, un deuxième ensemble d'équipements a été reçu, offert cette fois par JIRCAS, centre international japonais de recherches scientifiques, qui a installé son antenne pour l'Afrique de l'Ouest et du Centre à l'ICRISAT – Niamey. JIRCAS a investi plus de 120 000 dollars en matériels. Ont alors été ajoutés plus de 10 appareils différents dont le moins coûteux représente déjà 5 000 dollars. Un des plus intéressants en serait peut-être le spectrophotomètre d'absorption atomique. Et Ilyassou va même encore pouvoir améliorer ses compétences car JIRCAS lui a offert une bourse de formation d'un mois au Japon.

    Ces deux vagues d'investissements amènent le service analytique de l'ICRISAT-Niamey au niveau des meilleurs laboratoires du même domaine remplissant ainsi le devoir des centres internationaux d'amener au cœur des zones en difficulté le meilleur niveau d'excellence scientifique.

    Pour plus d'information contacter s.koala@cgiar.org

    3. Bridging the relief-development gap
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    In a recently released study funded by USAID, the Future Harvest Foundation and CARE International have shown that through efficient agricultural management, international agricultural research centers and relief organizations have successfully bridged the gap between development and relief. 

    The study – Weathering natural disasters: Refocusing relief and development through improved agricultural and environmental practices – reports that sustainable agriculture and natural resource management are inextricably linked, and form essential components of the disaster-reduction agenda in the developing world.

    For example, in Somalia, it was a seed production and marketing system that gave disaster resistance to the community. In 1998, CARE initiated a community based sorghum seed production project with farmers. ICRISAT supplied the foundation seed of six sorghum varieties. Farmers, supported by local NGOs and CARE, multiplied these seeds. 

    A seed market in Africa.

    Three of the sorghum varieties performed exceptionally well, and a total of 400 tons of “certified” seed was produced. A network of seed traders, predominantly women, was identified for the marketing. They responded enthusiastically and within two weeks 4,800 one-kilogram packs were sold in one market alone. The seeds strengthened the farmers' hands in the war-ravaged country.

    In July 1998 Bangladesh suffered its worst flood, where two-thirds of the area was under water. Dire predictions of famine never came to pass, illustrating the powerful role that agricultural research can play in mitigating natural disasters.

    Prior to the severe floods of 1974, Bangladeshi farmers used floodwater to grow deepwater rice, but their low yields contributed to extreme poverty. In the 1974 floods, more than 2.5 million hectares of deepwater rice was destroyed, and the land remained inundated with water beyond the planting season. 

    What emerged, with support from international agricultural institutes, was the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. Its scientists were trained at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a Future Harvest Center based in The Philippines.

    The new institute developed cutting-edge technologies that actually benefited from abundant underground water. Scientists adapted high-yielding varieties of IRRI-developed rice for Bangladesh conditions, and at the same time significantly reduced the area under deepwater cultivation.

    When raging floods hit in 1998, Bangladesh's reliance on deepwater rice was so reduced, that the dry-season crops quickly made up the loss of two million tons of rice. A follow-up analysis of Bangladesh's remarkable turnaround concluded that an $18 million annual investment in rice research, irrigation, and agricultural extension produced savings amounting to $229 million per year over a 20-year period.

    For more information contact w.dar@cgiar.org