Dr Hughes addressing the gathering virtually.

Celebrating a fruitful partnership that spurred a millet movement in India

Dr Hughes addressing the gathering virtually.

Dr Hughes addressing the gathering virtually.

If millets are regaining their lost place in Indian menus, considered as top contenders for biofuel production and validated as nutritious fodder for cattle, the partnership with the ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research since ICRISAT’s inception in 1972 has played a significant role. The many milestones that the institutes had achieved together were shared at the 6th Foundation Day celebrations.

Introducing the chief guest of the event, Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director of ICAR-IIMR, commended the partnership between the institutes in contributing to food and nutritional security, poverty alleviation and conservation of environment in the semi-arid tropics.

Dr Tonapi said that products and technologies that emerged from the partnership significantly enhanced sorghum productivity from 467 kg/ha in 1970 to 1051 kg/ha in 2020, while stover productivity increased from 7 t/ha to 11 t/ha indicating the dual advantage of the crop. Acknowledging the role of Dr Ashok Kumar, Principal Scientist and Product Placement Lead –Asia, in taking the partnership to the next level, Dr Tonapi said that the collaboration facilitated modernizing the breeding programs, testing networks, building capacities and sharing knowledge globally. To mark the event, a joint publication Sorghum in the 21st Century: Food – Fodder – Feed – Fuel for a Rapidly Changing World was released.

Presenting the Foundation Day address, Dr Jacqueline Hughes commended the effort of both organizations in taking the partnership to the next level for enhancing food and nutritional security and for empowering women and youth in providing innovative solutions for benefitting farmers. Physical proximity, material exchange and intellectual engagement since the beginning helped both the institutions in making significant progress in improved products development and their delivery, she said. Deploying best of germplasm and sharing phenomic and genomic tools and services were mutually benefitting. Sharing genebank materials wherein 55% of the material shared by ICRISAT went to Indian NARS was mentioned.

Dr Hughes said that both organizations are keen to modernize their breeding programs for enhancing genetic gains and varietal replacement rate. Towards this, both organizations have jointly developed product profiles, optimized breeding pipelines and are sharing locations for early generation testing of products, deploying data driven decisions for product advancement and recycling.  Identification of homogeneous environments and sharing the materials across continents led to the release of sorghum varieties Macia, Isiap Dorado and CSV 13 in a number of countries and the most promising hybrid and national check CSH24 MF in forage sorghum. She credited the institutes for releasing and taking biofortified pearl millet ‘Dhanshakti’ to the farmers.

Dr Hughes mentioned the ICRISAT-IIMR collaboration in biofuel research and commercialization with industry partners that led to significant breakthroughs such as providing an evidence base for policy makers to include sweet sorghum as an alternative feedstock for biofuel production in the National Policy of Biofuels – 2018, by the Government of India.  More recently, the dry biomass of sweet sorghum yielded 50% higher biogas compared to an equal quantity of paddy straw under anaerobic digestion as demonstrated by Ahuja Industries Ltd, Hyderabad, whose work was highlighted by Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, in his latest ‘Mann-Ki-Baat’ program (31 January 2021).

The Nutri-hubs, Center of Excellence and Smart Food initiatives by both organizations received special mention. In India and across the globe, millets are finding place in consumers’ diets and attracting entrepreneurs. Both the organizations are gearing up for the proposed UN International Year of Millets in 2023.

The ICAR-IIMR Foundation Day was celebrated virtually on 9 February.

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