SATrends Issue 23 
October 2002



1. King Baudouin Award – Yet Again!

ICRISAT has won the King Baudouin Award yet again! That makes it three times in four attempts, something that no other CG Center has achieved. This time we did it in true partnership style – the award was shared by ICRISAT and ICARDA. The announcement was made earlier this week by CGIAR Director Francisco Reifschneider; the award will be conferred at a special ceremony in Manila on 30 October, during the CGIAR’s Annual General Meeting. The joint submission by the two Centers was titled Changing lives in marginal environments: a winning partnership in chickpea research.

Chickpea.jpg (8981 bytes) The King Baudouin Award, given every 2 years, is the CGIAR’s highest accolade for science. We’ve won it for pearl millet in 1996, for pigeonpea in 1998, and now chickpea. Research teams from ICARDA and ICRISAT have worked with a range of partners to develop a stream of improved varieties, promote chickpea cultivation in traditional and new areas, and help smallholder farmers improve land quality and their incomes.

Says Dr William Dar, ICRISAT’s Director General, “This is good recognition for the quality of our work. But equally, it is a challenge – we must continue to be outstanding, to maintain the high quality of our science, and build even stronger partnerships. We must continue to generate technologies that will contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty. I have full confidence in Team ICRISAT. No matter how formidable the challenge, I am sure we will rise to the occasion.”

Congratulatory messages are pouring in from Members and Ex-members of ICRISAT’s Governing Board, Ex-Staff members, and other well-wishers.

YL Nene former DDG of ICRISAT, and himself a Pulse Pathologist says “This is a long awaited and well deserved recognition for the chickpea workers of the past and present, scientists and others. I share the happiness with all concerned.”

Dr Jagdish Kumar, ICRISAT’s Chickpea Breeder who led much of the research, says “It is indeed a tribute to the team effort at the Institute that a crop of marginal lands is competing with cash crops. The best is yet to come! The food value of chickpea leaves, green seeds and products is largely unknown to the developed world. It is the best food for diabetics and has anti-aging factors. ICRISAT input into basic chickpea research will make much more impact in the future.”

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2.Nibble a Needlefull

Ill-health is a fact of life. According to WHO, 50000 people die from infectious diseases every day, half the world’s population is at risk from various endemic diseases, and millions of people are developing diseases as a direct result of preventable infections by bacteria and viruses.  Economic development in many countries is being crippled by the burden of these diseases, which takes its toll in lost income from the food trade and tourism.  

Vaccination is the most effective means of controlling many infectious diseases. A number of effective vaccines are available in the developed world, but in the developing world health budgets are too small, immunization programs are non-existent, unreliable, or too costly.  Currently available vaccines cannot be used for large segments of the population because of the cost, lack of staff and infrastructure, and because the vaccines are simply not available in the required quantities.

The production costs of conventionally produced vaccines are very high due to low output. There is an urgent need not only for new vaccines, but also for cheaper versions of existing vaccines.  The solution? Lower production costs, eliminate associated costs (eg refrigeration), or develop oral vaccines that do not require a needle and syringe.

Alternative vaccine production systems based on transgenic plants have shown great potential for the safe, cost-effective production of recombinant vaccines. Proof of concept and successful clinical trials have been demonstrated in several laboratories in the USA for diarrhea vaccines. Producing therapeutic proteins in plants has many economic and qualitative benefits. The cultivation, harvesting, storage, and processing of transgenic crops would use existing infrastructure and require relatively little capital investment. It is estimated that the cost of producing a recombinant protein in plants could be 10- to 50-fold lower than producing the same protein by bacterial fermentation.chickpea drawing.jpg (10042 bytes)

Groundnut drawing.jpg (10235 bytes)A proposed ICRISAT research project aims to use groundnut and chickpea as delivery vehicles. Why these particular crops? Both are widely grown by small-scale farmers in developing countries, ICRISAT has developed excellent transformation protocols, and, most important, the seeds can be eaten raw or after briefly soaking in water. Both crops can be grown using normal agronomic practices, harvested and stored at normal temperatures. The technology can be deployed through NGOs, schools and rural health services, thus cutting down the cost of vaccine production, storage, and administration.

ICRISAT’s partnerships with advanced research institutes in the USA and national agricultural research institutes in developing countries will greatly facilitate the production of edible vaccines for poor people in the developing world.

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3.The "Earthworms" of the Sahel

The normal reaction to the word “termite” is one of revulsion, sending shudders down the back of any property owner.

Actually termites are very important fauna of the Semi-Arid Tropic (SAT) soils. In the SAT termites can be divided into mound building ones, and soil nesting termites. Among the mound building termites one can distinguish (according to eating habits) between the fungus termites (Macrotermes), the decomposers (Cubitermes), and the foragers (Trinervitermes).

The fungus termites (usually red in color) that build mounds up to 6 meter high, are the “bad guys” because they can attack crops and green material, and cause serious damage. The soil-nesting termites (the white ones) are the “good guys”.  They consume every scrap of dead and dry organic matter, digest and excrete it, and thus drastically improve the physical properties of the soil.

Termites.jpg (10133 bytes)The excretion is rich in soluble plant nutrients. Termites recycle dead plant matter the same way earthworms do in humid regions. They are therefore "the earthworms of the SAT".

In the SAT of Africa and elsewhere one can fine huge stretches of totally degraded soils. These soils are crusted and are practically impermeable to water. Mulch over this soil will result in increased termite activity. The termites dig a network of channels in the crust and make the crust permeable to rainwater. (Left, termite galleries in the soil).

Farmers in central Burkina Faso know their termites. Before planting their crops they spread mulch over the crusted soils, encouraging termite activity. Some farmers have gone a step further and invented a technology they call zai. The zais are large holes cut into the crusted lateritic layers into which they introduce dry plant material a few months before sowing their crops. The termites turn it into readily available plant nutrients, at the same time digging channels in the crust that increase rainwater infiltration.

Scientists at the ICRISAT Sahelian Center are now investigating the effect of Australian Acacia mulch on soil fertility and permeability. Led by Dr Dougbedji Fatondji, the team includes Drs Keiichi Hayashi, Prof Dov Pasternak and M. Abdoulaye M. Saley. Two Acacia species, A. colei and A. torulosa were found to be particularly suitable for Sahelian conditions. They produce a large biomass and can be pruned annually to produce mulch that is not eaten by animals. The group intends to use these Acacias to reclaim the lateritic soils of the Sahel.

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4. Grow Pearl Millet, Fulfill Your Dreams<

After years of struggle and poor harvests, Malam Adamu is finally discovering the good life. Adamu, a smallholder farmer in northern Nigeria, has just moved into a brand new house, built with profits from the sale of ICRISAT’s pearl millet variety SOSAT-C88. Appropriately, he has named it SOSAT House. Adamu used to share a house with his brothers, and dreamt of a day when he would have his own house and be able to bring up his children the way he wanted. "ICRISAT has helped me to fulfill my dream,” says Malam Adamu. (Right, "Sosat" smiles).sosat.jpg (9513 bytes)

In anticipation of another bumper harvest this year, he plans to purchase a dairy cow and set up his wife in business, producing and selling a semi-liquid drink called Fura-denunnu. Fura is made from pearl millet while nunnu is fresh cow’s milk. Farmers, particularly women, in the Gummel region of Jigawa state, where Malam Adamu lives, say that fura made from SOSAT is more attractive in color, and tastes better than fura made from local millet. It also fetches higher prices. Adamu’s wife mixes SOSAT with groundnut cake to prepare infant food for their children, who look healthier than the other children in the village. Malam Adamu makes an average of 300,000 Naira ($3000) per year, considerably more than before. He proudly says he can now feed his family well, send his children to good schools, and take care of his aged mother who lives with him.

Adamu has become an unofficial extension agent, freely sharing his knowledge about the new variety, and providing seed to his neighbors. He has obviously been effective – other farmers want to follow his example, and seed demand (and prices) have increased, not only for SOSAT but also for other improved sorghum and pearl millet varieties developed by ICRISAT and its NARS partners.

According to Dr Joshua of the Premier Seed Company, Nigeria, sales of SOSAT quintupled from Naira 2 million in 2000 to 10.5 million in 2001. Similarly, sales of sorghum variety ICSV 400 rose from Naira 400,000 to 4.5 million in 2001, because the variety is used for production of non-alcoholic beverages as well as livestock feed. He agrees with Adamu that ICRISAT is improving the livelihoods and incomes of smallholder farmers whose lives hinge on these staple crops. Says Dr Joshua, "ICRISAT-Nigeria is a small team with big impact."

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5.Highlights of Previous Issues:

September 2002: "Donkey Work" for Peanuts • Wealth from Weeds • Andhra Pradesh Farmers go High-Tech

August 2002: Breaking New Ground with Groundnuts •   A Custard Apple a Day... • Gerrymandering the Gene Pool Part 4 • Mineral and Manure: A Winning Combination

July 2002: Gerrymandering the Gene Pool Part 3 • Peanut Paternity Suit? • The Winds of Change in West Africa • Insect Problems? Try a Little Wax and Hair

June 2002: Gerrymandering the Gene Pool Part 2 • Tribal Treasure Troves • The Return of the Native • Poverty and the Perch

May 2002: Gerrymandering the Gene Pool • Snap, Crackle, and Pop • Checking Africa's Pulse • High Tech for an Old Problem

April 2002: Disaster Relief with a Difference • From Crop to Tabletop • Golden Millet, Naturally! • The "Green" to "Blue" Water Continuum

March 2002: On the Wild Side • A Handful of Seed • Here's to Fungus - hic!

February 2002: 36 Percent -- and Rising • Of Stalk and Livestock • Stalking the Enemy • Sorghum Scoop from Mali

January 2002: Back to the Drawing Board • Weed Better, Weed Faster • With Minds of their Own! • Closing Ranks against the Pod Borer

December 2001: It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a Super scientist! •   Viva Sorgo! • Small is Big! • Abortion Leads to Rebirth

November 2001: Sorghum Products: Poised to Take Off • Cash from Cattle Food • Empowerment Through Technology • Outwitting an Unfair Bug

October 2001: Backing a Winner • More than a Thousand Words • Sowing a New Future for Eritrea • A Casting Coup: Farmers' Day 2001

September: 2001 Don’t Get Left on the Shelf • Nigeria Targets ‘Groundnut Leprosy’ • Two Heads Are Better than One • Desperately Seeking Seeds

August 2001: Finding Chinks in the Armour •   Brazilian Farmers get a Boost from the Sahel • Sahelian Partners Smash the Ivory Tower • What You See is What You Get - Simulation Modeling for Successful Farming

July 2001: Balaji Makes IT Waves • A Hot Date in the Sahel • It All Adds Up • More from Less • That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

June 2001: Space-Age Partnership in West Africa • Bad Taste is Good • Out of Africa • Seed Priming: Rhapsody in Simplicity

May 2001: Dodging Drought in Kenya • Vietnam and ICRISAT Save Watersheds • Farmers Enrich Malawi's Soils • Groundnut Mystery Disease Identified

April 2001:Women Farmers Guide Scientists in Namibia •   Ashta Puts it Faith in IPM • Sahelian Farmers Place Their Bets • China and Pigeonpea: Love at Second Sight

March 2001: Agriculture: an Ally Against Global Warming? • Breaking the Spell of Witchweed • Groundnut Taking Root in Central Asia and the Caucasus • Zimbabwean Smallholders Drive the Research Agenda

February 2001: Somalia: Seeds Deliver Hope Amidst Chaos • The CGIAR Fights Desertification in Africa • Creating the World's First Molecular Marker Map of Chickpea • Aflatoxin and Cancer: Cracking a Hard Nut in Developing Countries

January 2001: Things Grow Better with CokeŽ: Micro-fertilizer System Sparks 50-100 Percent Millet Yield Increases in the Sahel • Groundnut (Peanut) Production Accelerates in Vietnam •   Pigeonpea Broadens Farmer's Options in Sudan •   Private Sector Invests in Public Plant Breeding Research at ICRISAT.

December 2000: International Symposium on SAT Futures • Centers Team Up to Help East Timor • Spatial Variability in Watersheds • World's First Cytoplasmic Male-Sterile Hybrid Pigeonpea • Groundnut (Peanut) Variety Boosts Malawian Agriculture • National Researchers Persevere in El Salvador • ICRISAT Celebrates India-ICRISAT Day • ICRISAT and World Vision International Work Together in Southern Africa.