SATrends Issue 72 November 2006
  • Fruitful beginnings
  • A sally into Sudan
  • Where have all the pebbles gone?

  • 1. Fruitful beginnings

    A long time champion of poor farmers in the semi-arid or dry tropics (SAT) of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), ICRISAT recognizes the need to include high value commodities and products in its research for development agenda. This is consistent with the CGIAR’s new research priority (3A) on reducing rural poverty through agriculture diversification and emerging opportunities for high value commodities and products.

    ICRISAT’s comparative advantage in this arena lies in being “on the spot” in the semi-arid countries of SSA and Asia. This is where the poor live, and fortuitously, this is where a diverse range of fruit and vegetables can be cultivated, improved, and marketed.

    Sahelian apple
    Ziziphus mauritiana or Pomme du Sahel is loaded with vitamin C.

    Over the last three decades ICRISAT and partners have been refining techniques to rejuvenate degraded soils, improve water use efficiency, and develop drought and heat tolerant crops. This expertise is vastly applicable to horticulture, and is in harmony with the objectives of the Harvest Plus Challenge Program.

    High value crops not only provide for higher incomes; they can become instruments for delivering better nutrition. Keeping this in view, and following its Governing Board decision in 2002, ICRISAT started an intensive program in Niger on fruit trees for the SAT. By August 2006 ICRISAT-Niger had become the custodian of 131 accessions of fruit trees, the largest available worldwide collection of fruit tree germplasm adapted to adverse climatic conditions of the dry tropics.

    Degraded lands abound in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Rehabilitating them with drought-tolerant hardy trees, which can also be commercially profitable, is possible. Extra-hardy annuals such as leafy vegetables, and medicinal and forage plants are planted between the trees to provide quick income.

    Pongamia seedlings
    Tribals sell Pongamia seedlings to earn extra income.

    In cooperation with local juice factories and other private sector entrepreneurs, ICRISAT is also starting a program for the domestication of various fruit trees for high quality juice production.

    ICRISAT is also trying to fill the gap in the bio-diesel industry that faces insufficient supply of raw material by promoting the cultivation of Pongamia and Jatropha trees. The vast wasteland areas in India can be made available to local communities for cultivation of these hardy bio-diesel crops.

    Benefits to farmers can be sustained only if there is sufficient research and information transfer on good agricultural practices. ICRISAT is partnering with other CGIAR centers and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center to address this CGIAR priority, which will provide dryland farmers with opportunities to earn additional income, increase their enterprise stability, and produce bio-fortified and nutrition packed diets through fruits and vegetables.

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    Since the establishment of the Biosciences east and central Africa (BecA) platform and network (see October 2006 issue of SATrends), ICRISAT has been playing a pivotal role to help build it up as regional center of excellence through initiation of projects and training of NARS scientists using the platform.

    To help build biotechnology capacity and support for BecA in the region, ICRISAT's Dr Dan Kiambi and BecA Network Director, Prof Bruno Kubata, recently organized a joint mission to Sudan to hold consultations with policy makers. During their mission, they held a meeting with Prof El Tayeb Idris Eisa, Secretary General and Technical Minister, in the Ministry of Science and Technology. From their discussions, it was evident that the policy environment for research in science and technology is quite good.

    D Kiambi flanked by Minister on his left and Abdalla Mohammed
    D Kiambi flanked by Minister on his left and Abdalla Mohammed on his right.

    The Government of Sudan is committed to investing in science and technology research; they are putting in place the necessary supporting policies and an annual financial allocation of US$ 5m for various research activities across different sectors of the economy. Even more impressive is the allocation of US$ 500m for the establishment of a 500 ha Science and Technology City along the White Nile at a site about 20 km from the capital city, Khartoum. The city will host research and development activities across different economic sectors. These will include high tech laboratories for agricultural and medical research, material sciences and electronics, experimental field stations and supporting financial facilities such as banks. The government is mobilizing the 1500 strong PhD expertise available in the country to achieve these noble objectives. In addition, a technical institute with a current enrolment of 1300 postgraduate students has been established to ensure a sustained availability of the required technical expertise. The students will be engaged in applied research linked to needs identified by the various research sectors.

    Prof Kubata briefed Prof Eisa on BecA and its Business Plan, while Dr Kiambi briefed him on ICRISAT's biotechnology research activities in Sudan through the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). During the consultations, Prof Eisa pledged government support to BecA through signing of an MOU that will clearly stipulate the rights and responsibilities, including an annual financial contribution to support the platform. The government will also support the establishment of biotechnology facilities at the NARI, ICRISAT's main collaborator and partner in Sudan. ICRISAT will provide the necessary scientific expertise to help establish the facilities.

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    3. Where have all the pebbles gone?

    Soil erosion reduces yields and incomes, and poses a threat to household food security, so ICRISAT and partners have been actively developing appropriate soil and water conservation technologies for smallholders in the semi-arid tropics. But farmers do not always adopt these technologies. Therefore a study was conducted in southwest Mali to gain more insights into factors which determine farmers' uptake of 8 anti-erosive measures: dikes, half-moons, live hedges, stone bunds, stone lines, vegetative bunds, wood barriers and zaď.

    Stone Burkina
    Stone is the favorite building block for bunds.

    Stone lines, followed by stone bunds are the most frequently adopted techniques in the study area with respectively 22% and 11% of farmers adopting them on one of their fields. These are followed in adoption by vegetative bands, hedges and wood barriers. Adoption of dikes and half-moons is quite low.

    Participatory tools were used to supplement statistical analysis of structured questionnaires. This approach led to interesting insights into adoption constraints as perceived by the local experts - the farmers. For example in some villages so many stone lines and bunds have already been constructed that it is almost impossible to find available stones today! Carts are then required to collect stones at a greater distance from the fields. Poorer farmers who generally lack carts are 'forced' to use wood to reduce runoff, but wood barriers can only last one season. Grasses planted in grass strips combat erosion, but can also infest the fields and increase weeding demands. Moreover, grass strips and wood barriers invite snakes. Seeds for the grass strips were freely distributed in some villages in the past, which has led to unwillingness among many farmers to pay for the seed today.

    On the positive side, Jatropha curcas (used in live hedges), apart from being useful in making soap and oil, can also be used as a breath freshener! All this collected local knowledge indicates that farmers have considerably experimented with the different anti-erosive measures.

    dunes fixation
    Grass bunds stop erosion on sand dunes.

    Factors determining uptake of soil and water conservation technologies included land pressure, awareness, training, the presence of innovative leaders in the community and land tenure and involvement in growing cash crops (groundnut and cotton). Government and donors' programs targeting access to credit, strengthening and empowering farmers' organizations and securing land are likely to improve uptake of soil and water conservation technologies.

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