February 2010 SATrends Issue 100

Celebrating our 100th issue - and asking ‘Why SATrends?’

This issue marks the 100th incarnation of SATrends. Launched in late 2000, the idea was to take advantage of the internet to keep our friends and partners better informed - while respecting their time by keeping articles mercifully short and to-the-point. For several years we notified readers with just a headline and single sentence of elaboration provided in a covering email; this is now changed to the list you see above. With only 2-4 carefully-selected articles per issue, our readers can quickly decide what they want to read. No endless list of links to scroll and squint through, like so many

SATrends launch
Director General Dr William Dar and Dr Mark Winslow look on as Shri Chandrababu Naidu (former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh) launches SATrends in December 2000.

The articles are written by the involved scientists themselves, so they reveal their expertise and excitement about the topic. You’ll notice quite different styles of writing in different articles, keeping it fresh. Readers are able to follow up with the scientists for more detailed information. Scientists enjoy the chance to explain their work and why it is important, and since the newsletter caters to “trends” the scientists can publish information about the research early in the process instead of waiting for the end result. One great benefit is that readers can alert scientists about possible pitfalls, suggest other trends, or inform the scientist about similar research being undertaken elsewhere.

The accumulated 300 SATrends articles over the past nine years also do double-duty as our ‘archive of innovation’. By the next issue a simple Google search for a keyword will turn up a SATrends article describing the state of work on the new topics that we’re involved in. It will be easy to find out where we are on everything from micro-dosing to models to molecular markers.

Research usually takes years to publish through traditional scientific journals. SATrends is no substitute for journals, but complements them by keeping the world informed of ‘what’s hot’ right now. SATrends delivers real-time glimpses into ICRISAT’s dynamic, never-ending quest for knowledge - knowledge that helps the poor and the hungry across the drylands of the developing world.

SATrends also conveys other interesting information such as success stories, outcomes of important meetings or the impacts of training. The UN has declared the year 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity; this issue carries articles revolving around some of ICRISAT’s non-traditional research and the diversity of our work.

For more information contact R.Navarro@cgiar.org or L.Flynn@cgiar.org or M.Winslow@cgiar.org.

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ICRISAT in the biodiversity arena
ICRISAT’s contributions to the preservation and protection of biodiversity

“There are only 1411 tigers left in India”, screams an appeal from the ‘Save our Tigers’ initiative; pearl millet was almost wiped out by downy mildew disease in the 1970s; and drought is killing off vast tracts of farming lands year after year.

The word “biodiversity”, coined as recently as 1985, means the diversity of plant and animal life in a certain area. There are connotations about inter-dependence of the diversity. If one is removed, what are the repercussions on the remaining entities? The topic also raises questions about the forces that contribute to the loss of biodiversity, especially the careless use of insecticides, deforestation and the ceaseless march of urbanization.

ICRISAT’s approach to the preservation of biodiversity is multi-pronged and ranges from conservation of genetic resources, diversifying the uses of its mandate crops, and developing farmer-friendly pest management strategies to employment of modern tools, such as GIS that track the progress of erosion and degradation.

WD Dar at Svalbard seed vault
ICRISAT Director General WD Dar at Svalbard seed vault.

The ICRISAT genebank holds more than 119,000 accessions of its five mandate crops and six small millets from 144 countries. 90% of these are conserved under long term storage. ICRISAT also contributes to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault of Norway.

No more are crops such as pearl millet, sorghum and groundnut used for human consumption alone. The stover (stems and leaves) of these crops make excellent fodder for livestock, and sorghum grains are now also used as poultry feed and in the brewing industry. Sweet sorghum provides grain for food, juice from its stems to make bioethanol (used in biofuels), and the residue from the crushed stems and leaves for animal fodder. ICRISAT also promotes the cultivation of biodiesel and medicinal/aromatic crops in its watershed programs, thus increasing the biodiversity of impoverished lands.

High value fruits
High value fruits bring multiple benefits to the smallholder farmer

In West Africa, ICRISAT along with AVRDC (The World Vegetable Center) alleviates poverty and malnutrition through production of vegetables on small irrigated plots called the African Market Gardens, and the production of high value fruits not only generates assured incomes but provides the farmers with a diverse diet.

ICRISAT entomologists have researched eco-friendly methods of protecting crops from insect pests, chiefly Helicoverpa armigera, and have developed eco-friendly bio-pesticides using neem and gliricidea.

ICRISAT thus demonstrates the preservation and promotion of biodiversity focusing on sustainable rural livelihoods that capitalize on the integration of agroforestry, livestock improvement (with the International Livestock Research Institute), horticulture, silviculture and bio-energy.

For more information contact W.Dar@cgiar.org or C.Gowda@cgiar.org or H.Upadhyaya@cgiar.org.

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Patience and the plus-factors pay off
Micro-dosing investments in West Africa reap benefits

“Long-term research investment pays off!” – If you want proof that this is not a mere truism but a fact, you might want to look at the new micro-dosing program in West Africa. A US$8.9 million program funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and implemented by ICRISAT and national partners, will enable thousands of farm households to tackle challenges such as depleted soils, harsh climate, and lack of financial resources.

The right amount of fertilizer at the right time spells
micro-dosing success.

Yes, there have been micro-dosing projects before. And for those informed about agricultural research there is no need to explain the principle of using fertilizers directly with the seed, in small amounts and at the right time. In the scientific community it is often referred to as the “pathway to Africa’s Green Revolution”, for some it is a mere miracle. But there is no such magic. It’s about drawing the right conclusion and combining the right elements.

Micro-dosing doesn’t stand alone. In the new program small-scale agro-dealers are given access to micro credits to procure small packets of fertilizers and improved seeds, which they can sell to farmers. Farmers, the seed producers, are supported in their effort to form their own cooperatives on the village level in order to get loans from microfinance institutes. With this extra-money they can store their yield and still invest in farm improvement or purchase high value seeds. They sell their yield when prices in the market are high, pay back their loans and even make considerable profit. Or in other words: They are linked to markets. Framed by micro-credits and warrantage micro-dosing proves to be an effective tool to deal with farmers’ challenges in times of climate change. The program’s objective is to increase farmers’ grain yields in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger by 50% and their income by 30%. 300,000 farmers are to benefit in the three countries. The focus is on millet, sorghum, cowpea and maize production.

In addition, the program structure itself follows an innovative approach. Instead of channelling the fund through one organisation, which then partners with other institutions, the money goes directly to the three countries. The NARS take full responsibility for the implementation, collaborating closely with research institutions, national and international organisations and the private sector. ICRISAT is coordinating and backstopping the program.

The entire project builds on results from several years of research done by ICRISAT and NARS on the use of reduced amounts of fertilizer on crops such as millet, sorghum, and cowpea - food staples grown by many low-income farmers in West Africa. Indeed, long-term research pays off!

For more information contact M.Gandah@cgiar.org.

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Success of innovation platforms in southern Africa
Appropriate partnerships bring about change in southern Africa

Given the recent economic crisis, the expectation is that there isn’t much money changing hands in rural Zimbabwe. However, data from Gwanda district in Zimbabwe shows that this is definitely not the case. The first and only goat auction sales pen established with ICRISAT’s support generated US$ 53,000 during 2009.

Nhwali auction in Gwanda
Goats being auctioned at the Nhwali auction in Gwanda, Zimbabwe

These figures clearly indicate the potential of livestock to contribute to household incomes in rural Zimbabwe. The production and marketing of goats is a viable business opportunity and can generate a reasonable income for the smallholder farmer in southern Africa – given the right circumstances, or in many cases the right partnerships.

In Gwanda, the creation of a sales pen and the formalization of goat sales through regular auctions generated such circumstances. This facilitating environment fostered successful relationships between buyers and sellers and instilled confidence in markets.

In the case of Namibia, public-private partnerships generated the right conditions for boosting livestock production and marketing. AGRA, a national agricultural input supply cooperative, recently established an outlet in Hoachanas near the sales pen. Farmers are benefiting from the proximity to inputs and information. This will ultimately increase the productivity of their herds and result in higher incomes.

The key to these successes has been partnerships. The Livestock and Livelihoods project has been testing the use of innovation platforms as a tool to facilitate dialogue between the main players in the value chain to identify bottlenecks and opportunities in production, marketing, and the policy environment. One of the outcomes of engaging in this process is the creation of appropriate partnerships for change.

The innovation platform approach has shown that there are two critical elements for building successful partnerships:

  • Initial facilitation: Successful partnerships are not formed on their own. Someone, usually from the public sector, must take the onus upon themselves to establish the initial dialogue for partnership. They create the buy-in of potential partners, promote ownership of the process, and establish a basis for negotiations. Facilitators should also address the costs
    of creating partnerships.

  • Flexible and open collaboration: Flexibility in the structure of collaboration is required as are well-developed channels of communication, arbitration, monitoring and evaluation, and sound financial management.

Successful partnerships exploit the complementarities and comparative advantages of those involved. They can encourage local innovations and area-specific solutions to improve livestock production and marketing. Moreover, investments from the private sector can alleviate pressure from overburdened government support services and stimulate increased use of inputs, information flow and generate tangible benefits at the market place.

For more information contact s.homann@cgiar.org or a.vanrooyen@cgiar.org.

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Village vendor turns “Vet”
A success story of training in Mali

Molobala is a typical village in the Koutiala region of southern Mali near the Burkina Faso border. It can only be reached by taking a poorly maintained dirt road, 25 miles from Koutiala town. Molobala village consists of some 300 houses, most of which are built of mud bricks. The village itself has a handsome mosque built in the traditional style of the Sahel region. The villagers live mainly off the land, cultivating maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts and vegetables. As is common in the region, cattle play an important part in the survival strategy of the population. Bullocks and donkeys are used for transport and land preparation, and can be sold for cash when times are lean and crops cannot offer food security for the family. Almost all villagers keep goats, sheep, and poultry.

Bakary Koroma in his shop
Bakary Koroma of Molobala, Mali.

Bakary Koroma (26 years old) and his wife started a small shop selling necessities such as matches, candles, and soap a few years ago. They were asked by their fellow villagers to bring some veterinary products from Koutiala to treat common cattle conditions such as internal and external parasites. So Bakary started selling veterinary products to villagers, often one pill at a time. For small communities such as Molobala, where the nearest veterinary service is 45 kilometers away, small agro-input suppliers like Bakary provide a vital service. Part of the West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA, ICRISAT is a partner) activities is to facilitate the training of small agro-input dealers to increase their technical skills and product knowledge.

We invited 13 agro-dealers like Bakary to participate in a training session provided by a local manufacturer of veterinary products. The training covered safe use and handling of veterinary products, the major diseases and parasites, and how to administer the products. For example, Bakary learned that for effective treatment of internal parasites, three pills need to be administered to cows and not just one. After the training, Bakary received samples, posters, and a certificate.

A few weeks after the training, Bakary became recognized by the farmers as the village expert on cattle treatment. Twenty farmers have asked him to not only supply the medicines but also to administer them to the livestock. A little training goes a long way for people like Bakary Koroma. They gain confidence in their day-to-day activities; veterinary products and pesticides are handled in a safe and responsible way, reducing risks to the environment and humans; and animal health and farmers benefit from healthier livestock.

For more information contact N.Maroya@cgiar.org.

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ICRISAT-Patancheru, 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India,
Tel +91 40 30713071, Fax +91 40 30713074,
, URL:www.icrisat.org