SATrends Issue 59
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.
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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.
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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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:
TK Sreedevi involving villagers in
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 :
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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