SATrends Issue 59
October 2005
  • VLS, an eye-opener
  • Finger millet: research revival in East Africa
  • Participating in R&D of NRM
  • 1. VLS, an eye-opener

    ICRISAT's Village Level Studies (VLS) were resumed in 2002 in six villages of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Maharashtra. Some important findings from the surveys are:

    Getting feedback from a few villagers.
    1. Over a 25-year period, families have become more nuclear than joint. The average size of family has fallen from 8.37 to 5.10.
    2. Literacy levels have improved substantially, and are more dramatic in case of females than in males.
    3. Agriculture was the predominant occupation for most of the cultivator households in 1975-78. But now less than 50 per cent of the households in AP villages and two-thirds of the households in Maharashtra villages consider it as their main occupation.
    4. The average size of ownership holding in the VLS sample has fallen from 5.17 ha in 1975-78 to 2.35 ha in 2001-04. Similarly, the average size of operational holding in the VLS sample has fallen from 5.90 ha in 1975-78 to 2.38 ha in 2001-04.
    5. The number of cattle and buffaloes owned by an average household has decreased, but the number of small ruminants reared in some of the villages has increased. Livestock numbers decreased due to increased use of tractors and substitution of quantity with quality in case of dairy animals.
    6. A sample household in VLS villages owned assets valued at Rs 2,67,973 ($1= Rs 45). The asset value in Andhra Pradesh was only Rs 1,63,488 as against the average asset value of Rs 3,87,209 in Maharashtran villages. Households were short of financial assets and were net borrowers.
    7. The share of food crops decreased in the cropping patterns over the years. Sorghum and other coarse grains lost areas significantly during the kharif season. But rabi sorghum still holds its fort in the absence of alternatives.
    8. Farmers were found to be recovering all the costs only in about 29 per cent plots. In 37 per cent plots, they were not recovering even the variable costs, while in the other 34 per cent plots, they were recovering the variable costs, but not the fixed costs.
    9. Annual net crop income was negative in case of Dokur, Aurepalle and Shirapur villages. In case of Kalman and Kinkheda, the annual net crop income was smaller than that recorded in 2001-02. The annual net crop income was substantial only in Kanzara village and it was good enough to match the base year (1975-76 to 1977-78) crop income after adjusting for inflation.

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    2. Finger millet: research revival in East Africa

    Which of the following is correct? Finger millet (a) contains 3-5 times more iron and calcium than any other cereal, (b) can be safely stored for decades under normal farm household conditions, (c) fetches double the price of maize or sorghum in East Africa, (d) has shown excellent potential in field trials in Europe, as a forage crop. The answer? All of the above.

    Unfortunately, this wonder crop ranks very low in government priorities in East Africa, where finger millet originated. Research and extension budgets are negligible. Markets and market information are lacking. Farmers cannot find buyers for their grain, while processors cannot find enough grain to run their milling plants efficiently. Finger millet remains a smallholder crop, planted on a small portion of the household’s fields, for family consumption.

    All this could soon change, thanks to a recent workshop organized by ICRISAT, with DFID support. This was the first ever workshop in Africa devoted solely to finger millet. It brought together the full range of players – national research and extension services from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, regional networks, private milling companies, universities, farmers, NGOs, international research centers, and development investors.

    Mary Mgonja (left) and Mary Tamale, head of
    Uganda’s largest millet processing company.
    Mary Mgonja and Mary Tamale

    The workshop looked at constraints and opportunities from different perspectives; and developed a comprehensive R&D framework for finger millet in East Africa.

    One big problem is grain quality – the grain sold to processors is contaminated with stones and soil, partly because millet is threshed by hand, on dirt floors. Another problem is blast disease, a fungal infection that can strike different parts of the plant at different stages. Blast-resistant varieties are available, thanks to research by ICRISAT, the University of Warwick, and others. But seed production and dissemination must be strengthened.

    The prospects are pretty bright, according to Dr E Mukisira, Deputy Director (Research) of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). There are several reasons for his optimism: the increased emphasis on finger millet under KARI’s new strategy; similar efforts in Tanzania and Uganda (whose President talks about its nutritional value during international tours); and the availability of new tools such as genomics and marker-assisted breeding. “This is the beginning of a new era for finger millet,” said Dr Mukisira.

    The workshop helped identify priority areas and partners. Most important, it has put finger millet on the policy map, creating the conditions necessary for governments, NGOs and the private sector to invest in promotion of the crop more widely throughout East Africa.

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    3. Participating in R&D of NRM

    The days of generating and transferring technology to passive end-users is over. A paradigm shift is emerging, where a participatory approach is used for natural resource management (NRM), agriculture and rural livelihoods.

    The underlying goal of participatory research and development (PR&D) is to seek wider and meaningful participation of user groups in the process of investigating and seeking improvements in local situations, needs and opportunities.

    Participatory approaches are envisioned to help agricultural R&D:

    1. Respond to problems, needs and opportunities identified by users
    2. Identify and evaluate technology options that build on local knowledge and resources
    3. Ensure that technical innovations are appropriate for local socio-economic, cultural and political contexts; and
    4. Promote wider sharing and use of agricultural innovation
    TK Sreedevi involving villagers in
    decision making.
    TK Sreedevi involving villagers

    In contrast to the linear process of technology generation-transfer-utilization in conventional approaches, PR&D encompasses a broader set of phases and activities including :

    • Assessment and diagnosis: situation analysis, needs and opportunities assessment, problem diagnosis, documentation and characterization
    • Experimenting with technology options: joint agenda setting for experimentation, technology development and evaluation, integration of technology components and piloting
    • Sustaining local innovation: institutionalizing social and political mechanisms, facilitating multi-perspective negotiation and conflict management, community mobilization and action, local capacity development, strengthening local partnerships
    • Dissemination and scaling-up: Development of learning and extension mechanisms, information support to macro-policy development, promoting networking and horizontal linkages.
    • Managing PR&D: Project development, resource mobilization, data management, monitoring and evaluation PR&D capacity development

    PR&D is generally distinguished by key elements such as sensitivity to users’ perspective, linkage between scientific and local knowledge, inter-disciplinary mode multi-agency collaboration, problem-and impact-driven research and development objectives, and livelihood systems framework.

    Through a project on “Strengthening Capacity for PR&D Project for South Asia” organized by CIP-UPWARD and funded by IDRC, the principles and learnings are applied at ICRISAT through a PR&D project on “ Farmers’ Participatory Evaluation of Pongamia Seed Cake as a Plant Nutrient Source in Integrated Nutrient Management”.

    A problem normally encountered in research is technology adoption and relevance. When PR&D is applied, researchers are only the change agents, science and stakeholders take center stage, and all conflicts and issues of dissemination, adoption and up scaling disappear. Through this project, we are assessing the value of Pongamia oil seed cake as a source of organic plant nutrients. Women’s Self-Help Groups and farmers are our partners in this initiative. This PR&D project is linked with our ongoing USAID Project on “Developing Community-based Water-Energy Services and Markets: A Pilot Project”

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