SATrends Issue 22 
September 2002


1. "Donkey Work" for Peanuts

The expression “donkey work” is a familiar one, and one cannot find a truer application than for that done by women farmers in the African Sahel, who slog to grow groundnuts (peanuts), a traditional women’s crop.

Groundnut haulms fatten ruminants and sometimes have a better market value than the pods. Pods are used for food or oil. The oil cake is used to prepare a special mixture for grilled meat. The shells are used as organic matter, or when mixed with straw and mud, as construction material.

 July 2002 10 copy.jpg (10208 bytes)Women farmers sow groundnut randomly with the help of a small hoe. The random distribution of the crop complicates weeding (done with the “hilaire”- a traditional weeding instrument used by men). Through the Common Fund for Commodities project, ICRISAT trained women farmers, and demonstrated that increasing the plant population, and sowing in neat rows can increase productivity.

Groundnut produces best when sown early in the Sahel, because the rainy season is short and erratic. But millet, the staple grown by men, is given priority. Also, men own the land and agricultural implements, and women have to borrow them to cultivate groundnuts on poor land exhausted by previous millet production.

ICRISAT designed a simple donkey-pulled implement to make furrows, allowing faster and denser sowing of groundnut.  This is of enormous help to the women. The design of the implement is simple and costs little (CFA 25,000 or $ 35). It consists of a three-skate sledge with two rings to attach it to the donkey. Each skate consists of an elongated pyramidal blade fixed on the skate surface. Three plastic containers attached to the skate can be filled with sand, thus increasing the weight to better penetrate the soil.

Bokki July 2002 17 copy.jpg (9063 bytes)

The woman farmers of eight villages enthusiastically wanted a few of these farey koumbo kan ga douma (the donkey machine with which one sows) for their villages. Because the cost is still quite high for an individual, the implements should be shared and used by the community on a rental basis. They proposed a cost of CFA 250-500 per day. The cost in human labor for traditional sowing, using five laborers working from dawn to twilight (12-13 hours) at CFA 500/day, was estimated by the women to be CFA 2,500/ha. Sowing with the furrow opener takes 8 hours/ha, and only 3-4 laborers are needed for the task, slashing the cost of sowing by 50%.

The implement (we invite suggestions for a name) will be evaluated next year on a larger scale and through development agencies, before being proposed on a national basis.  In the meantime the women are happily relieved from the “donkey work” they have done for years.

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2.Wealth from Weeds

Parthenium (Parthenium hysterophorus) is a dangerous, fast-growing weed that has colonized large parts of India. It is believed to have been introduced to India through imported wheat, and proved so hardy that it is now seen in fields, roadsides, gardens, and residential areas all over the country. Parthenium causes skin and respiratory allergies. It is also an alternate host and a carrier for a stem necrosis disease, which can cause massive losses to groundnut farmers. It is difficult to control, not only because it can withstand harsh conditions but also because the seeds remain viable for up to 12 years, can germinate anytime, and spread easily, carried by the wind.

Partheinium 1.jpg
 (10252 bytes)Is there a way to convert this monster weed into something useful? One way is composting, ie converting plant waste into organic fertilizer. The compost can be made from various base materials -- including Parthenium. The method worked well in theory. But would it be effective in practice? The technology was put to the test at Kothapally village in Andhra Pradesh, where ICRISAT and its partners are involved in a long-running experiment on watershed management.

Step one was to uproot the weeds. The practice of shramdan (meaning donation of labor) is an ancient Indian tradition, and the community responded superbly to ICRISAT’s call for a community effort. Over 200 men, women, and schoolchildren volunteered their labor, and uprooted over 10 tons of Parthenium. The plants were placed in a large tank (10 x 1.5 x 0.5 meters), containing earthworms to provide “aeration” and accelerate the process of decomposition. This was the main community compost pit. There were individual compost heaps as well, maintained by households who collected additional Parthenium. The end result? Lots of nutrient-rich compost that would provide the village with free fertilizer.

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 (9905 bytes)The program was a resounding success. It has reined in a weed that was threatening to overrun the village. It has yielded compost that will enrich fields and gardens without the expense of chemical fertilizer. Perhaps most important, it has shown the villagers that innovative technologies are not necessarily expensive or impractical. Farmers from neighboring villages are interested in replicating this work in their own communities, and the local administration as well. ICRISAT is now trying to build on this foundation, helping to stimulate similar community action elsewhere.

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3. Andhra Pradesh Farmers go High-Tech

The Internet has become commonplace for the educated masses around the world, but it is difficult to imagine a toiler of the soil, traces of mud still lingering beneath finger nails and feet, using computers as part of the daily routine. There are over 10 active projects in India that aim to take IT to the Indian farmer, and happily ICRISAT is involved in one.

addakal copy.jpg
 (9004 bytes)ICRISAT is leading a consortium of national research institutes, agricultural universities, and leading NGOs in the States of Andhra Pradesh (AP), Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to develop new pilot models of watersheds that combine the twin elements of resource conservation with livelihood generation. Use of contemporary information and communication technologies is an integral component of the pilot projects. The ICRISAT-pioneered model has at its core a hub in a key rural location that can serve about 15000 queries a month. The hub (initially) consists of two computers with an Internet connection, and the interface is in the local language. Individuals selected from within the community will be trained by ICRISAT to use software applications, and to design information containers. (Left, training in progress).

To quote Rob Raab, a former employee of the International Rice Research Institute, “For the uninitiated, deriving useful information from the Internet is like getting a drink from a fire hydrant". The value added to the net-derived information by well-trained individuals in the locality will result in location-specific information relevant to the local people.

The first of the rural information hubs has been set up in Moosapet village in Addakal Mandal of AP, in association with the State’s AP Rural Livelihoods Project, and the Adarsha Welfare Society (a local women’s organization). The Hon. Chief Minister of AP, Mr N Chandrababu Naidu, inaugurated the hub on 7 August. ICRISAT had trained six farmers (four women and two men), who have been managing the hub since the inauguration. The Society has its own web site (, which will provide the users with instant information on pricing, government schemes, and government policies.

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 (8978 bytes)Connectivity in the hub is provided via VSAT terminal. The Moosapet terminal (in the form of a 1m diameter "dish”) was set up by an ICRISAT team in 4 hours. The initial one-time setup cost was $ 2300, and the recurring annual bandwidth charges will be shared by all the locations on the project. The monthly cost per location is $ 80. A total of 10 locations in three States of India will share a bandwidth of 256 KBPS.  Following the setting up of a rural hub, a dish was commissioned at ICRISAT-Patancheru to monitor performance. (Right, ICRISAT's Director General Dr William Dar inspects the dish).

For the poor Indian farmer, who normally associates education with the English language, the use of computers, and that too in the local language, was something undreamed of as recently as the beginning of this year.

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4. Highlights of Previous Issues:

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.