Issue No: 1799
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ICRISAT Governing Board Meeting Special

ICRISAT Governing Board Members, April 2019. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

ICRISAT Governing Board Members, April 2019. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

ICRISAT Governing Board Meeting: Reaffirming research objectives for the year

At the recently concluded ICRISAT Governing Board Meeting (9–12 April 2019) the spotlight was on the need to build the right narratives, grow and nurture partnerships and achieve research goals to fulfil our mission to smallholder farmers in the drylands.

At the Program Committee Meeting of the Governing Board, Board members endorsed the progress made by ICRISAT in delivery of science and innovation in agriculture. They shared some valuable insights on the future course of action for the institution.

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Dr Wendy Umberger, Chair, Program Committee, emphasized the importance of linking the work done under different projects to the overall strategy of ICRISAT for the forthcoming years.

Dr Paco Sereme, Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board, stated that it was now time to better position the significant scientific work done by ICRISAT over the decades.

Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, listed ‘10 Actions’ from the perspective of the CGIAR 2019-2021 Business Plan, to achieve outcomes ranging from fruitful implementation of CGIAR’s research portfolio to better gender diversity in the workforce and more effective funding. He talked about several special initiatives related to sustainable landscapes, public health, food availability, and employment and growth for youth, among others.

Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, presented the highlights of ICRISAT’s biennial Global Planning Meeting and key actions, along with feedback received. He updated the Board on the progress of the Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals CRP. Emphasizing the collaboration between CGIAR centers, he highlighted the successful launch of the AVISA (Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa) project to modernize crop improvement programs.

Talking about ICRISAT’s substantial success in promoting digital agriculture, Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) Director-General and Board Vice-Chair, asserted that specific targets and timelines were important in science, and especially in digital strategies. He also talked about the need to closely associate with NARS partners.

Dr Rachel Chikwamba asked for a better focus on ICRISAT’s narrative with respect to its goals.

The overarching note throughout the meeting was that ICRISAT is poised to play a significant and proactive role in CGIAR’s new initiatives to make an impact on sustainable development across the globe, especially in the drylands.

Strategic initiatives investment update: science and innovation as pillars

Building the institute’s competitive edge and core competencies, while at the same time identifying research gaps in agriculture, are key to moving in the right direction. This was demonstrated during a session providing updates on five Governing Board-approved investments for strategic research. Instances of how ICRISAT has been strategically alert and has tapped into opportunities were presented.

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Briefing the Board on Hybrid pigeonpea purity testing kits, Dr Rachit K Saxena, Senior Scientist, Applied Genomics, dwelt on the risk of hybrid breeding in pigeonpea due to unnoticed mixtures and out-crossing, and the criticality of maintaining the highest level of genetic purity of parental lines and hybrids in order to harness the benefits of high heterosis. He underlined the advantages of molecular marker-based testing, and informed that markers were now available to differentiate between A and B lines and for identifying fertility restorer lines. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which have 100% efficiency in detecting heterozygotes are available for purity testing for 25 hybrid combinations. Unique signature sequences are being developed for parental lines. It is proposed to establish a platform for hybrids/parents seed production based on markers, which can be used by the public and private sectors in their breeding programs.

Dr Michael Hauser, Theme Leader – Markets, Institutions, Nutrition and Diversity (MIND), made a presentation on Drylands in transition: update on the socio-economics research strategy, elaborating on the latest recruitments, the stalling of the MIND Plus network, and the setting up of comprehensive country donor lists for Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and India. He discussed evidence and tools for governing transitions to sustainable agri-food systems involving foresight on farming and food, agri-food system innovation, transition and scaling pathways, facilitation and collective behaviour and impact assessment and learning. He felt that the only way to secure large program funding is through a coordinated approach to fundraising. Pilots have started in Bulawayo, Lilongwe and Nairobi on urban dietary behavior change and nutrition-sensitive value chains, and intensive engagement is on with UNICEF, WFP, UN-Habitat, EU delegations, DFID, IDRC on future program funding. Conversations are on with EU, bilateral donors, BMGF and IFAD on Crop-livestock integration for conflict transformation in agro-pastoral East/West-Africa. He also reported on the progress towards self-funded socio-economics programs.

The setting up of the Smart Food Executive Council, with APAARI (Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions) , CORAF, FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa) and FANRPAN (Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network) as members, was the highlight of the update on the Smart Food Initiative by Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General – External Relations. In WCA, the promotion of the initiative has involved Niger’s First lady becoming a Smart Food Ambassador, master classes on pearl millet dishes, panel discussions and food displays at fairs, and promotions through ambassador chefs and Indigenous shows in Africa. In the global arena, promotions have been in the form of an alignment of Smart Food with Sehgal Foundation and representation at the International Congress Hidden Hunger held in Germany. In India, a Smart Food Industrial Caterers Symposium and the presence at the Organics & Millets Fair, and Smart Food Culinary Symposium have enhanced visibility. In the pipeline are publications with key information to back Smart Food as well as the promotion of Smart Food and ICRISAT’s mandate crops. The priorities for 2019 will include fundraising (especially for the Endowment Fund), promotional efforts, and Africa and Asia chapters of Smart Food.

Providing updates on the Systems Biology Research Initiative, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains, described in detail its three modules. The module on gut microbiome  (2 projects) is focusing on improving human nutrition, exploring iron deficiency anemia in adolescent girls, severe acute malnutrition in children under 5 and Type 2 Diabetes in adults. The soil microbiome module (1 project) for crop productivity and environmental sustainability is being done in chickpea and pigeonpea and seed microbiome in chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut. The third module on integrative biology (2 projects) centers around dissecting drought tolerance in chickpea and exploring a two-line hybrid breeding system in pigeonpea. In addition, three proposals have been submitted and two proposals are in the pipeline for extramural funding in the three modules.

In her presentation on Molecular tools – Corteva Agriscience, Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, Theme leader – Cell, Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering, reported on a year’s engagement with Corteva Agriscience (Dupont Pioneer Pvt Ltd) that led to collaborations in genome editing for dryland crops/traits in order to maximize the value of CRISPR technology for the smallholder agriculture. ICRISAT and Corteva Agriscience entered into a Master Alliance Agreement in April 2018. The partnership will lower barriers to entry in the CRISPR space and will potentially enable a disruptive reduction in cost for development of both farmer- and consumer-centric traits/products in our crops. It will help in delivering improved sorghum and millets for increased Striga resistance; enhancing quality traits (i.e. rancidity in milled pearl millet) and improved genetic gains (through scalable hybrid systems). The proposed genome editing pipelines in these crops will progressively merge to deliver effective solutions in the value chain to reflect our holistic approach on each crop X trait.

These objectives are being achieved by utilizing de novo site-directed variations to expand the genetic base of the respective crops. Genome editing innovations are being exploited to speed up the introduction of genotypes with valuable new traits.

Dr Prabhu Pingali elaborates on the significance of the DLD tool for socioeconomic research in India. Photos: P Srujan, ICRISAT

Dr Prabhu Pingali elaborates on the significance of the DLD tool for socioeconomic research in India. Photos: P Srujan, ICRISAT

Launched: Five decades of district-level data across India

The ICRISAT Governing Board launched the District-level Database (DLD) tool for India – a ‘one-stop shop for rich meso-level data for 19 states across India’.

The DLD is a database of district-level data that has been maintained from the year 1966. Updated to the latest available year, 2016, DLD aims to be a link between country-level macro data and household-level micro data. It identifies relevant districts/regions that would help target technology dissemination, pro-poor programs and development initiatives.

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This is part of a project on ‘Updating the meso-level database for India and developing an interactive tool for public access and use’, jointly supported by Tata Cornell Institute on Nutrition and Agriculture (TCI) and ICRISAT. The database is being released in the form of a web-based interactive tool with a dashboard and spatial maps to allow quick access and extraction of relevant information.

The database, updated under ICRISAT’s Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA) project, includes key core variables related to crop and livestock sectors, such as irrigation, inputs, weather, infrastructure, demography, operational holdings, etc. Its scope is being expanded by inclusion of data on soft infrastructure related to health, education, credit, GDP, environment (AET, PET, temperature, soil moisture etc.) and nutrition for available years.

The web-based interactive tool will allow quick access and extraction of relevant information. Different stakeholders such as researchers, development planners and donors will have the flexibility to extract and visualize data to be useful for decision-making and research.

States in this database include Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Feature stories

(L) Ms Agatha with her processed sorghum products. Photo: B Jayashree, ICRISAT (R) Dr Mary Mgonja, sorghum entrepreneur. Photo: Avisa Project

(L) Ms Agatha with her processed sorghum products. Photo: B Jayashree, ICRISAT (R) Dr Mary Mgonja, sorghum entrepreneur. Photo: Avisa Project

The stories of ‘sorghum’ Agatha and ‘seed’ Mary

Why linking with the private sector is important for the AVISA project

Passion can be a very tasty ingredient. It is with a large dose of this passion that Ms Agatha, an unusual food processor in Tanzania, aims to create demand for a new series of products. She is among the few processors in the country working with sorghum – an ancient and nutritious cereal suitable for dryland agriculture in the region.

Most consumption of sorghum is by farm families at the household level, though the possibility of varied products is exciting. Ms Agatha is a businesswoman who recognizes the early adopter advantage with new sorghum products. As we walk through the three small rooms in the industrial area, where her processing and packaging unit is located, it is evident that it is quality and personal touch that are the advantages of her business.

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“I roast the cereals myself,” says Ms Agatha, pointing to the large pans for the purpose. “Then my helpers and I use pouches, labels and the outer wrapping of the boxes to send to various outlets.” Given that processed sorghum has limited shelf-life, she takes a delivery-on-demand approach, keeping several boxes of wrapping ready to quickly pack and dispatch.

Known for tolerance to drought conditions, sorghum can be grown with minimal inputs and has the additional advantage of being a nutritious crop. Depending on variety and growing conditions, it has high protein (12.0mg/100g), iron (5.7mg/100g) and dietary fiber (8.3mg/100g). Despite its nutritive value, utilization and demand for sorghum is constrained by limited support and value chain development. This includes a narrow range of food and value-added products for household consumption and mass markets. A series of initiatives along the value chain, to boost sorghum cultivation, are showing results but need continued attention. These include providing quality seed of improved high-yielding varieties through private seed companies and Quality Declared Seed (QDS) system, besides farmer capacity building in good agronomic practices. Other initiatives have focused on generating demand among consumers with new recipes and chefs and nutrition-enhancing behavior promotion in rural communities.

Key delegates including Hon. Japeth Hasunga, Agriculture Minister, Tanzania; Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, at the launch of the AVISA project. Photo: B Jayashree, ICRISAT

Key delegates including Hon. Japeth Hasunga, Agriculture Minister, Tanzania; Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, at the launch of the AVISA project. Photo: B Jayashree, ICRISAT

Already, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and IFAD-funded Smart Food and SOMNI projects have placed major focus on driving consumer demand working with processors to develop modern convenience products. They partnered with influencers like Ms Agatha to make this change.

Now the AVISA project launched in February 2019, funded by the Gates Foundation, will complement ongoing and earlier efforts providing varieties with market traits.

Scaling up, however, is not going to be easy. Sorghum processing requires special machinery that is not available in Tanzania. Imports are difficult to manage and expensive for small scale units. “The government is very supportive and I have orders waiting. I can also get farmers to be more interested in sorghum and personally promote the crop making it easier to get raw materials. The only thing required, is capital to fund the machinery,” says Ms Agatha.

She participated in the launch meeting of the AVISA project attended by scientists, national agriculture research systems and private company representatives. The project aims to fill a gap in breeding and research for specific cereals and legumes through market-driven varieties for five crops including sorghum in seven African countries.

Says Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “One of AVISA’s primary goals is to ensure greater connection with private sector – seed companies and processors – to build the value chain. It will address the entire range of requirements, including availability of technology.”

The need for new varieties and quality seed are being taken forward by scientists. “HOPE I and II and SOMNI project initiatives have seen a steady growth in acceptance and adoption of new sorghum varieties and use of quality seed in Tanzania. However, increased sorghum production will be determined by grain demand. Ms Agatha and other players on the demand side will define production trends and they need support,” says Dr Eric Manyasa, Senior Scientist, ICRISAT.

Addressing seed industry gaps is also important. At the helm of an eight-year-old seed company, Dr Mary Mgonja, like Ms Agatha, is an independent businesswoman. Sorghum is equally her passion. However, for her too, supportive efforts are crucial. AVISA will work closely with seed producers to provide researched and tested improved varieties to benefit farmers, emphasizes Dr Chris Ojiewo, Seed Systems Theme Leader, ICRISAT.

“Private sector is small in Tanzania. We also need to see how we market it to the farmers,” says Dr Mgonja. Her company is among the very few private seed companies dealing with sorghum so she believes financial support is needed. “I am convinced. I am on board, but we also need to make a noise about sorghum, to generate demand,” the former scientist-turned businesswoman says.

While some projects offer promotions for seed multiplication, AVISA aims to be a sustainable model, generating demand for improved seeds from the companies. “It includes several years of research and work being handed out to seed companies,” says Dr Jan Debaene, Global Head, Breeding, ICRISAT. “This material is really worth a tremendous investment, reducing the time these varieties require to be available to the public”.

As for ‘making a noise’, initiatives such as the ‘Smart Food’ led by an African and Asian consortium (ICRISAT, FARA, CORAF, FANRPAN and APAARI), are already working with sorghum to create market demand. Reality TV cooking shows and improved recipes, besides roping in private players, have given sorghum greater visibility and a brand connect in the region.

To scale up, AVISA will aggressively address production and promotion of improved sorghum varieties to make it viable for farmers. It will also look for a way to bridge gaps, drive improved yields and better incomes through enhanced seeds and build the value chain – all towards the goal of a healthier and more prosperous Africa. Early adopters and enthusiasts such as Ms Agatha and Mary are ambassadors for sorghum. To build on that momentum, many movements are required. This is why AVISA has built in participation of the National Agricultural Research System across countries, for scale and sustainability.

As more than 200 participants pored over plans at the launch meeting, a hailstorm raged, nearly drowning out the speakers’ voices. People in the room just spoke louder to be heard. Everyone there knows this initiative is going to take a lot of effort. A hailstorm is of no great consequence. Work continues and has to continue uninterrupted.

Project: Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed delivery of legumes and cereals in Africa (AVISA)

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Partners: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); ICRISAT and National Agricultural Research Systems

Media release

Dr. Rajeev Varshney with some members of the sequencing and analysis team at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT (

Dr. Rajeev Varshney with some members of the sequencing and analysis team at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT (

Global team cracks genetic code to develop high-yielding, climate resilient chickpea

Research also maps the center of origin and migration route of chickpea

In a major breakthrough, scientists from 21 research institutes globally, have successfully completed sequencing of 429 chickpea lines from 45 countries to identify genes for tolerance to drought and heat.

The efforts equipped the team with key insights into the crop’s genetic diversity, domestication and agronomic traits. The study also mapped the origins of chickpea and its ascent in Asia and Africa.

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The team led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in close collaboration with the BGI-Shenzhen, China, involved 39 scientists from leading research institutes (listed below) world over. This is the largest-ever exercise of whole-genome resequencing of chickpea.

What this means to the agricultural community is potential development of newer varieties of chickpea with higher yields, which are disease-and-pest-resistant, and better able to withstand the vagaries of weather.

The results of the three-year-long efforts have now been published in Nature Genetics online with the title, ‘Resequencing of 429 chickpea accessions from 45 countries provides insights into genome diversity, domestication and agronomic traits’.

More than 90% of chickpea cultivation area is in South Asia. Drought and increasing temperatures are said to cause more than 70% yield loss in chickpea globally. Chickpea being a cool season crop is likely to suffer further reduction in productivity due to rising temperatures.

“The genome-wide association studies identified several candidate genes for 13 agronomic traits. For example, we could identify genes (e.g. REN1, β-1, 3-glucanase, REF6) which can help the crop tolerate temperatures up to 38oC and provide higher productivity,” says Dr Rajeev Varshney, the project leader and Research Program Director, Genetic Gains, ICRISAT.

Dr Xu Xun, CEO and President, BGI Research, China, co-leader of the project said, “BGI is very excited to work with CGIAR institutes like ICRISAT in high-end science research which could enable development of drought and heat-tolerant chickpea varieties for India and Africa. BGI has been enjoying a collaboration with ICRISAT for the past decade and we look forward to work together on many exciting projects in the years to come”.

The study established a foundation for large-scale characterization of germplasm, population genetics and crop breeding. It also helped understand domestication and post-domestication divergence of chickpea.

“This new found knowledge will enable breeders to enhance the use of diverse germplasm and candidate genes in developing improved (Climate-change ready) varieties that will contribute significantly to the increased productivity and sustainability of agricultural development in developing countries,” said Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT.

Highlighting the importance of this study, Ms Marie Haga, Executive Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust based in Germany, said, “This is exciting work by ICRISAT and partners to unlock the genetic diversity of chickpea. This deeper understanding of the crop could enable scientists to breed new varieties that are both highly productive and resilient to climate change, benefitting farming communities in many developing countries”.

The study was done in close collaboration with partners from the National Agricultural Research Systems. India, for instance as the biggest consumer of pulses in the world, faces increasing production gap. This new research could take India closer towards attaining self-sufficiency in pulse production.

Dr. Rajeev Varshney, the project leader, inspecting a flowcell used for sequencing at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT (

Dr. Rajeev Varshney, the project leader, inspecting a flowcell used for sequencing at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT (

“This is a significant contribution to global agricultural research and these unique, scientific solutions will help mitigate issues the world is facing right now. Science is key to ongoing efforts within ICAR and ICRISAT and also the way forward for agriculture in the country,” said Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education & Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The study also confirms that chickpea came to India from Fertile Crescent/ Mediterranean via Afghanistan and may have been introduced back to the primary centers of origin after 200 years. The new study speculates about possible introduction of chickpea to the New World directly from Central Asia or East Africa rather than the Mediterranean.

“Our study indicates Ethiopia as secondary center of diversity and also maps a migration route from Mediterranean/ Fertile Crescent to Central Asia, and in parallel from Central Asia to East Africa (Ethiopia) and South Asia (India),” Dr Varshney added.

List of participating institutions

  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, India
  • BGI-Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China.
  • ICAR—Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi, India.
  • French National Research Institute for Development (IRD-France), University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France.
  • The University of Western Australia (UWA), Crawley, Western Australia, Australia.
  • Osmania University, Hyderabad, India.
  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur, India.
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Debre Ziet, Ethiopia.
  • Egerton University, Njoro, Kenya.
  • University of Agricultural Sciences—Bangalore, Bangalore, India.
  • iCarbonX, Shenzhen, China.
  • Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea.
  • University of California—Davis, Davis, CA, USA.
  • International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico, Mexico.
  • University of Missouri, National Center for Soybean Biotechnology, Columbia, SC, USA.
  • South Australian Research and Development Institute, Adelaide, Australia.
  • University of Adelaide, Glen Osmond, Australia.
  • University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA.
  • China National Gene Bank (CNGB), Shenzhen, China.
  • State Key Laboratory of Agricultural Genomics, Shenzhen, China.

Crop improvement news

Young farmers with pearl millet ICMH 177111 (left) compared to hybrid ICMH 147007 (right) in Maradi, Niger.

Young farmers with pearl millet ICMH 177111 (left) compared to hybrid ICMH 147007 (right) in Maradi, Niger.

Seed companies in West Africa eye pearl millet hybrid with 70% higher yield potential

A newly developed pearl millet hybrid, with 70% yield-gain potential and high disease resistance, has caught the attention of private seed companies in Niger.

A delegation of seed manufacturers visiting ICRISAT’s research station in Sadoré on 15 February was keen to adopt the hybrid, ICMH 177111, after learning about its performance. The hybrid was tested at more than 15 experimental sites from 2016-18. It has high resistance to downy mildew and produces grain yields between 2.5 and 2.8 tons per hectare. On over 2500 farmers’ fields across Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana, it outperformed control varieties (e.g. ICMH 147007).

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“Hybrid pearl millet is good for farmers, youth and seed companies. It can create good seed business, job creation for youth and high yields for farmers,” said Mr Issoufou Maizama, President, Niger Private Seed Companies Association (APPSN). Two companies, AINOMA and Halal, have already expressed interest to produce and commercialize ICMH 177111 in the rainy season of 2019.

Members of the APPSN delegation also learned that the seed parent (ICMA/B 177002 from Niger) and restorer parent (ICMR 0888 from Senegal and Nigeria) flower at the same time. Hence, there is no need of staggered flowering for commercial hybrid seed production. The ratio 6:2 of female to male in seed production gives a relatively high yield of hybrid seed, offering opportunities for commercialization and profit making in West Africa.

The delegation was headed by Mrs Salamatou Hassane, Head, Seed Control, Office of Director of Seed Control, and Mr Thomas François, Head of Seed Certification, Office of the Director of Seed Certification.

ICMH 177111 was developed as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP GLDC) investment in pearl millet improvement for West Africa. It is a joint effort with the national agricultural research systems (NARS) partners from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN) and the Institut Sénégalais de la Recherche Agricole (ISRA), with additional funding from the Harvest Plus Generation Challenge program (part of CRP A4NH) and BMZ funding for hybrid pearl millet improvement in Niger and Senegal.

Mr Issoufou Maizama, President, APPSN, explaining the importance of hybrid pearl millet in Niger during the visit. Photos: PI Gangashetty, ICRISAT

Mr Issoufou Maizama, President, APPSN, explaining the importance of hybrid pearl millet in Niger during the visit. Photos: PI Gangashetty, ICRISAT

To know more about ICRISAT’s work in Niger, click here.

Project:  Breeding pearl millet for improved human nutrition in West Africa.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC), Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH)

Funder: Harvest Plus, Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC)

Partners: INRAN, Niger; ISRA, Senegal; Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, Nigeria; Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Ghana; AINOMA Seed Farm, Niger; and Halal Seed company, Niger.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger

Impact on the ground

Key delegates including Hon. Japeth Hasunga, Agriculture Minister, Tanzania; Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, at the launch of the AVISA project. Photo: ICRISAT

Key delegates including Hon. Japeth Hasunga, Agriculture Minister, Tanzania; Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, at the launch of the AVISA project. Photo: ICRISAT

Giving youth roots and wings for a better agricultural future in Kenya

Programs provide income-generation opportunities for young Kenyan farmers

From equipping young women and men with agronomy skills to helping them set up businesses along agricultural value chains, development programs are focusing bringing youth back to farming in Kenya.  Starting in 2017, ICRISAT-Kenya, along with Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program has been helping Kenyan youth groups set up new and rewarding ventures in agriculture.

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“Young people are easy to train because most of them have gone to school. They are also open to taking up new ideas easily,” says Dr Paul Kimurto, from Egerton University that implemented the project in Elgeyo Marakwet.

In 2017, ten young farmers from Siaya County came together to form a youth group called Ayora Young Farmers Group. After graduating with a diploma in agriculture and unable to secure formal employment, Mr Gabriel Odhiambo, Secretary of the youth group, decided to pursue farming. Most of the group members are also graduates of different agricultural courses while others are still studying agriculture. The group was set up with a focus on crop and livestock production.

“Our involvement with the project started after a field day organized in Ulamba village, and we interacted with officers from ICRISAT who introduced us to finger millet and sorghum. Most of us were already farmers. Therefore, when the idea of seed production was presented to us, we did not hesitate,” says Mr Odhiambo. “We were introduced to two new varieties of sorghum during a Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) at the field day. We opted for IESV24029 SH which has a large head, is high-yielding and is not easily damaged by birds. It also cannot be blown down by wind. The variety also stood out to us as we can plant it twice a year,” he says.

The group members were lucky to be given four acres of land by their parents. They have planted the selected variety of sorghum on the entire piece of land.

“We had initially been approached by Kenya Breweries, but the variety we planted was not what they needed. This has motivated us to include that variety in our next season,” Mr Odhiambo adds.

Top Link Youth Group is another group that has benefited from the AVCD Program. The group provides threshing, spraying and extension services to farmers in West Gem in Siaya County. The group was conceptualized in 2017 after realizing that the ratio of extension officers to farmers in the region was very low.

“We saw an opportunity when the Fall Armyworm infestation struck our county. Farmers needed officers to assist them to combat the pest, but there were very few officers; they couldn’t serve the whole community,” says Ms Immaculate Atieno, Chairperson of the group. “Farmers needed spraying services and guidance on how to control the pest.”

Top Link Youth Group also provides farmers with threshing and shelling services during harvest time. “The use of manual methods of threshing not only lead to loss of yield, but is also time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly,” Ms Immaculate tells us. “After our interaction with the AVCD project staff from ICRISAT and the Ministry of Agriculture, we realized that there was opportunity in offering shelling and threshing services to farmers in our community. The project offered us a sheller and thresher for trial where farmers would only pay a small fee for the cost of the operator and fuel for the machine,” she adds.

The group now hires the threshers at KES 500 a day from the Agricultural Training and Development Centre, after which they charge between KES 150-200 to thresh a bag of sorghum. The money made by the group from shelling caters for transport, operators’ fee, and fuel. The rest of the money is set aside for the group members to share.

“We encourage the farmers to aggregate their produce together to reduce the cost of threshing. The machines are very efficient as they can thresh 20 bags a day. We managed to make about KES 60,000 during the past harvest season. The money was divided among the members and the rest was set aside as savings.”

The group also makes extra income by offering extension services to farmers at a fee. For the spraying services, the group charges KES 1,500-2,000 per acre depending on the pesticide being used.

These two youth groups are a clear indicator that there are several opportunities for young people in agriculture. Government and development partners should therefore seek to tap into the potential of the youth to contribute to agricultural transformation.

For more information on ICRISAT’s work related to livelihoods, see here

Project: Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development

Funder: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Partners: ICRISAT; Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals 

File photo: ICRISAT

File photo: ICRISAT

An Innovative messaging tool helps South India’s groundnut farmers post impressive yields

An advisory tool, scalable for any number of farmers, has shown immense potential in facilitating crucial agricultural decisions. A pilot project of the tool, with over 400 farmers across four villages during 2017 and 2018 in Andhra Pradesh, India, demonstrated increases in groundnut yields on average of 16% and up to 50%.

The Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool (ISAT), developed by a collaboration of Microsoft, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), and ICRISAT, provides concise farm advisories to farmers on their phones. These messages are generated following analysis of local and global historical climate data, current and forecasted weather conditions, crop systems and soil-related information. The tool employs a decision-tree approach to generate SMSes, which are then relayed to farmers registered for the service. By influencing planting decisions, the tool helped farmers increase yield.

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”While an SMS containing climate information is not new, ISAT’s approach to combine climate analytics, forecasts and the local ‘soil, crop and management realities’ using a scalable methodology for millions of farmers, is an innovation,” said Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, Innovation Systems for the Drylands (ISD), ICRISAT.

In 2017, ICRISAT began to pilot ISAT with farmers in four locations of Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh state. Before the pilot’s launch, farmers revealed that variations in rainfall pattern between June and October is the biggest climate challenge they face.  In addition to the direct effect of low or excess rain, rainfall variations also make decision making uncertain, they further said. During the pilot, pre-season and in-season planning advisories were provided on Fridays to help farmers make more informed decisions in planning and managing their farms.

Pre-season support uses long-term climate trends and information about seasonal climate forecast, including potential ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) events, to support crop selection and land allocation. For in-season crop management, the tool provides advice for land preparation, time of planting, plant population density, cropping systems and harvesting. The advisories are relayed in in English and the local language Telugu in Andhra Pradesh.

Evaluation of ISAT’s pilot exercise in Anantapur revealed that groundnut yields increased significantly at three out of four locations, averaging 16% across the locations. In one location, 56.2% increase was observed. Evidence suggests that the benefits resulted from improved planting decisions. About 58% of the farmers said the messages are reliable as they were precise more than 75% of the time and helped improve farm management through timely operations with reduced risk. Most farmers surveyed also said they would like to continue receiving messages since the tool was of significant value to them.

“ICRISAT is now planning to take this to scale by working with developmental projects such as Andhra Pradesh Drought Mitigation Project (APDMP) and by integrating with initiatives by private sector emerging tech companies,” said Dr Katuri P C Rao, Honorary Fellow, ICRISAT. Dr Rao also pointed out that the partnering tech companies are setting up discussion forums to raise awareness of ISAT among farmers and demonstrate ways to efficiently use its messages that are based on probabilistic forecast information.

Project: Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool

Funder: Sehgal Foundation

CGIAR Research Program: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Partners: Microsoft; Indian Meteorological Department (IMD); Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU); ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
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A Nutrition Officer facilitating a nutrition education class in Makueni. Photo: ICRISAT

A Nutrition Officer facilitating a nutrition education class in Makueni. Photo: ICRISAT

Breaking barriers for climate-smart crop adoption in Kenya

Paving the way for development of a reliable seed distribution model, a nationwide program has helped transform livelihoods of over 450 farm households

The central problem facing climate-smart crops such as sorghum, millets and pigeonpea is how to accelerate the adoption of improved varieties – getting more farmers to grow the improved varieties.

Evidence suggests that the area planted with these crops averages at 40% in Eastern Africa. Moreover, only 26% of this area is planted with varieties released in the last 10-15 years. Thus, the adoption of improved varieties of these crops has not met expectations. One reason for low adoption is the challenge of scaling up quality seed. To meet this challenge, in 2015 the ICRISAT-Kenya team, through the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program, designed and started implementing a strategy to address three drivers of adoption.

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To create demand for improved seed, ICRISAT partnered with county departments of agriculture and health to create awareness about the importance of dryland cereals and legumes. This was in a bid to convince farmers to grow more not only for markets but also for their own consumption. As soon as farmers realized the value of these crops, they became eager to grow them. The project team also took them through various seed varieties available. The farmers then selected the best varieties suited to their needs, e.g. most productive, most nutritious and best tasting varieties.

Affordability and Accessibility

A farmer buying seed from the community seed bank.

A farmer buying seed from the community seed bank.

For farmers to grow these crops in large quantities, the selected variety of seed has to be affordable and accessible. One of the strategies used to make sure that the seed was affordable and accessible was the use of the informal seed system channels. This is whereby lead farmers are identified and trained to be producers of high-quality seeds that can then be shared with other farmers.

“We have partnered with County Departments of agriculture to mobilize suitable farmers with whom we can work with to multiply quality seed,” explains Dr Moses Siambi, ICRISAT Regional Director – Eastern and Southern Africa. “The farmers are given foundation seeds and trained on proper agronomic practices so that they can produce quality seeds, which can then be made available to other farmers in the communities.”

Ms Phyllis Nduva is a 65-year-old farmer from Mwaani Village, in Makueni County, Kenya. She is one of the beneficiaries of the AVCD program. She first learned about the program through a field day organized by ICRISAT in 2016. The program has been conducting participatory training sessions either at research stations or on selected farmers’ fields, to promote new varieties and encourage farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops. “Through the support and close monitoring of our progress by the ICRISAT staff, I have been very successful at producing seed. I sell the seed to other farmers in my community,” she notes.

The AVCD project provided farmers with clean foundation seed and trained the farmers on how to produce subsequent foundation or certified seed while ensuring purity and quality.

“We provide the farmers with clean foundation seed and encouraged them to plant in isolation away from other varieties of the same crop. We also provide constant training services through site visits on how to maintain purity of the seed variety, from planting time up to the harvesting time. We monitor to make sure that varieties are threshed separately,” Mr Geoffrey Mutai explains. Mr Mutai is a Research Technician at ICRISAT and is responsible for overseeing the AVCD project activities in Eastern Kenya region.


More than 450 farmers in the target counties received improved seed of the various drought-tolerant crops and took up seed production as business ventures. As a result, more farmers like Phyllis have managed to improve their quality of life, become more food secure and made some extra income to provide for other household needs. For instance, since Phyllis started her seed production venture, she has been able to qualify for loans to help her expand her business. “I am now my own boss,” says Ms Nduva adding that she is now able to sustain her family mainly through farm income.

Ms Nduva’s seed multiplication business has created employment for three permanent workers and several casual workers. She has made significant profits since she started. “I have made profits of at least KES 300,000 from this business. This has made me afford college fees for my last-born child who is in the university.” She grows sorghum and millet not only as a business, but she is also passionate about using and promoting them as nutritious foods.

“I prepare dishes like Pilau and Chapati using sorghum,” she says. “When people tell me that I do not age, I tell them it is as a result of eating traditional foods like millet, pigeonpea and green gram.”

Providing seeds through community seed banks

To make seed more available and accessible to the communities, the AVCD project has established 24 seed banks in the target counties. Community seed banks are forms of storage which farmers use to conserve and maintain access to quality seed. They are governed and managed by the farming community members. Seed banks offer farmers high quality and more choices at affordable prices. They also offer a platform for farmers to sell seeds, hence facilitating farmers’ access to markets.

“We started by training farmers on seed production and management to ensure seeds stocked in the community seed bank are of superior quality,” says Mr Mutai. “These community banks help to ensure availability of high-quality seed of improved varieties in communities. The seeds available at the seed banks are sold at affordable prices,” he adds, insisting that having better access to quality seed helps farmers produce more for household consumption and surplus for sale.

According to 45-year-old Ms Elizabeth Muthiani from Makueni, community seed banks play a significant role in communities. Elizabeth runs Kimundi Stores, a community seed bank in Wote, Makueni. She notes that farmers in her community are now more organized since the community seed bank was set up.

“The farmers are now able to multiply, save and exchange seed to ensure they always have quality seeds,” says Ms Muthiani. “It also gives us a platform to sell our grains collectively thus helping us to get better prices. Selling individually is not easy.”

Private sector collaboration

Since 2015, ICRISAT in partnership with Egerton University, has enlisted the support of five seed companies to multiply and distribute high-quality seeds of drought-tolerant crops. One such company is Faida Seed Ltd, based in Nakuru town. “We mainly supply farmers in Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho and Uasin Gishu Counties,” says Mr George Njihia, Operations Manager, Faida Seed.

ICRISAT, through Egerton University, supplies the company with groundnut foundation seed for multiplication. “We prefer seeds from Egerton and ICRISAT as they have higher germination rates. Faida Seed strictly abides by the KEPHIS standards for seed purity which is 97.5%. Our seeds are always above 98%.”

Ensuring availability of quality seed is a strategy of the AVCD program. This strategy has played a critical role in enhancing adoption of new varieties thereby increasing productivity, and enhancing food and nutrition security and incomes.

“We plan strategically to ensure that quality seed gets to every farmer through agrovets as well as aggregation centers before the planting season begins,” adds Mr Njihia.

Since 2016, Faida Seed has distributed over 35 tons of groundnut seed to over 2,000 farmers. In 2017 alone, the company made approximately KES 1,000,000 in profits from production and distribution of drought-tolerant crops. This has helped the company expand its business, offering employment to over ten employees on a permanent contract and 30 more on casual basis. Access to better seeds has helped farmers increase their yield, and as a result, improve their livelihoods.

Project:  Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development

Funder: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Partners: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and International Potato Center (CIP)

Farmers in a chickpea field affected by dry rot root disease in Madhya Pradesh, along with Devashish Chobe, PhD scholar, ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

Farmers in a chickpea field affected by dry rot root disease in Madhya Pradesh, along with Devashish Chobe, PhD scholar, ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

Real-time surveillance decrypts dry root rot spread in Central India

Assessing the impact of climate variability on plant diseases and insect pests is the first step towards developing strategies for climate-resilient agriculture.

In its efforts to map the spatial and temporal distribution of diseases and insect pests under a changing climate scenario, the Center of Excellence on Climate Change Research for Plant Protection (CoE-CCRPP) at ICRISAT conducted a real-time field survey on dry root rot disease prevalence in Madhya Pradesh state, India.

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Prolonged drought-like conditions and increasing temperatures have increased the disease’s severity on chickpea crops in recent years.

Jagram Dahiya, a farmer from Damoh district in northeastern Madhya Pradesh, is disconsolate as he watches much of his crop being destroyed by the fungal disease.  “I did not imagine the damage this disease could cause when I first noticed it four years ago in my field. Every year I see that I am losing more of my crop to this disease,” he states. He puts his losses at an approximate 75% this season.

Jagram is not alone. “We secured data from farmers in 124 villages across the 23 districts of the state and identified that dry root rot is worsening crop production. The upsurge of this disease was evident in Damoh, Sagar, Narsinghpur, Vidisha and Khandwa districts,” says Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader, Integrated Crop Management (ICM), ICRISAT.

Set up by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) at ICRISAT, the CoE-CCRPP is developing a forewarning model on insect pests and diseases to alert policy makers and farmers. Along with real-time structured surveillance for insect pests and diseases using GPS tagging, the Center’s focus is primarily on predictions on future climate scenarios for 2030 and 2050.

The real-time survey indicated that disease was found irrespective of soil types, cropping systems and cultivars used; dry root rot disease incidence ranged from 5% to 35% or more in badly infected soils.

On an average, 10 farmers’ fields of chickpea in select districts were visited and the dry root rot disease incidence was recorded from randomly selected patches of 1 m2 area within the farmer’s field by using the formula: disease incidence % = (total number of infected plants/ total number of plants in 1m2) X 100.

“We are talking about huge tracts of land all over the region that are essentially of single crop species with one major disease,” says Dr Sharma.

In India, chickpea is primarily grown as a Rabi (post-rainy) crop on residual soil moisture. It ensures nutritional security besides being a rich source of protein. It is also key to sustainable agriculture as the crop improves physical, chemical and biological properties of soil with nitrogen fixation.

Madhya Pradesh, which contributes nearly 40% of total chickpea production in India, has received 8% below normal monsoon rain in 2018. Branded as a hotbed for dryland agriculture and known for its unforgiving summer sun, the state with its current agriculture scene is throwing up new challenges for even drought-hardened agriculturists.

The key sowing period for the crop starts from mid-October till mid-November. Harvesting begins after 110-125 days of sowing.

Farmers Tejaram Patel and Manoj Patak of Narsinghpur district have helplessly witnessed the adverse weather patterns, and along with it, the intensification of dry root rot. “We practice most of the good agricultural practices suggested to us. We maintain optimum soil moisture and implement integrated disease management strategies. Yet, all of this is only helping us limit the damage, not eradicate it. We are desperately in need of better varieties to combat this disease and reverse the loss trends,” they say.

At ICRISAT, disease resistance screening protocols have been standardized and more than 5000 germplasm and breeding lines are being screened for dry root rot. Identified sources of resistance would be used in breeding program.

The CoE-CCRPP also studies host–insect pest/pathogen interactions in relation with simulated climate variables to develop adaptation strategies and minimize crop losses. The Center is developing weather-based plant protection advisory tools for the timely management of diseases and insect pests and builds capacity of stakeholders on suitable plant protection and adaptation strategies for climate-resilient agriculture.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on plant pest and diseases, click here.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on chickpea, click here.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals 

Dr Ayoni Ogunbayo, Country Project Manager, Mali, presents a shelling machine to Mrs Mariam Coulibaly.

Dr Ayoni Ogunbayo, Country Project Manager, Mali, presents a shelling machine to Mrs Mariam Coulibaly.

Groundnut shelling machines for increased productivity in Mali

Increasing productivity and incomes of smallholder groundnut farmers is the goal of the project, Increasing Groundnut Productivity of Smallholder Farmers in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. One of the ways to achieve this is to cut post-harvest costs associated with groundnut shelling. With this in view, 25 motorized shelling machines were distributed to groundnut farmers at Samanko, Mali on 22 March 2019. The machines are also expected to reduce drudgery and high labor costs associated with shelling.

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A view of the machines offered to partners. Photos: Dieudonné Diama, ICRISAT

A view of the machines offered to partners. Photos: Dieudonné Diama, ICRISAT

“Manual shelling of groundnut leads to sore thumbs, and we experience losses of 100–150 kg/ha seed,” says Mrs Mariam Coulibaly, President, Association of Women’s Groundnut Seed Production in Wacoro, Mali. “The availability of the machine has prompted us to increase groundnut production from 120 hectares to 200 hectares,” she stated.

Dr Aboubacar Touré, Sorghum Breeder, ICRISAT, acting on behalf of Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Research Program Director, West and Central Africa, ICRISAT, informed the partners that the machine was meant for entire community involved in groundnut seed production.

Project: Increasing Groundnut Productivity of Smallholder Farmers in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria.
Funders: USAID under Feed the Future (FfF)
Partners: Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Groupe de Recherches d’Action et d’Assistance pour le Développement Communautaire (GRAADECOM), Cooperation Europénne pour Development Rural (EUCORD), Centre d’Appui à l’Autopromotion pour le Développement (CAAD), Conseils et Appui pour l’Education à la Base (CAEB), BØRNEfonden, Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes (AOPP), World Vision, Association pour le Développement des Activités de Production et de Formation (ADAF/Gallè), Association Malienne pour la Sécurité et la Souveraineté Alimentaires (AMASSA), Association Malienne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD), Sahel 21, Plan International, Faso Kaba.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals 

Networks in action

(L-R) Dr Pradyumna Raj Pandey, Senior Program Specialist, SAC, Bangladesh; Dr Peter Carberry, Director-General, ICRISAT; Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director–Asia; and Dr N P Singh, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research, at the SAARC Regional Consultation Meeting. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

(L-R) Dr Pradyumna Raj Pandey, Senior Program Specialist, SAC, Bangladesh; Dr Peter Carberry, Director-General, ICRISAT; Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director–Asia; and Dr N P Singh, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research, at the SAARC Regional Consultation Meeting. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

SAARC push for ‘Seeds without Borders’ to boost pulses value chains

Representatives of SAARC member nations called for better utilization of the ‘Seeds without Borders’ initiative to strengthen pulses value chains in the region for food and nutrition security.

The Seeds without Borders initiative, a five-year-old multiparty agreement between Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, was expanded to include Bhutan last year and now covers five of the eight SAARC member nations. The initiative facilitates inter-regional transfer of plant material. To support pulses value chains in SAARC, a work plan is essential to utilize the agreement, echoed representatives from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh at a Regional Consultation meeting organized at ICRISAT during 17–19 April.

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“Given problems of the region, mainly increasing population and natural disasters, it is binding on SAARC to promote cooperation. SAARC is also committed to promoting research and reliable technology for enhancing productivity in agriculture,” Dr Pradyumna Raj Pandey, Senior Program Specialist (Crop) from SAARC’s Agriculture Centre (SAC) in Bangladesh, said.

Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, said that value chains should focus on crops for both human and livestock consumption. Referring to India’s increased pulses production in recent years and the yield gaps in the region, Dr Carberry reaffirmed ICRISAT’s commitment to work with SAARC and regional partners.

SAC and ICRISAT signed an agreement in August 2016 for collaborations in research and developmental activities aimed at reducing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics of South Asia.

India, world’s largest producer and consumer of pulses, recorded a 72% increase in production during the last decade, pointed out Dr N P Singh, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research. Against 14 million tons in 2009-10, India produced 25.3 million tons in 2017-18, which is less than the existing demand of 28 million tons. India accounts for over 94% of SAARC’s pulses production.

Dr Singh and Dr S K Chaturvedi, Dean, Agriculture, Rani Lakshmi Bai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, asserted that India was nearly self-sufficient in pulses following policy measures, including imposing tariffs on imports. Dr P Parthasarathy Rao, Agricultural Economist, ICRISAT, opined that imports continued after tariffs were levied. He also said prices of Indian pulses were higher in the global market, making export from India difficult for traders. The Indian government recently introduced 7% subsidy for pulses exports.

Talking about pulses value chain development in South Asia, Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director–Asia, ICRISAT, said that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh continued to import pulses in large quantities. There was abundant scope to significantly improve value chains in these SAARC nations and the region itself, he added.

The Regional Consultation Meeting was organized with support from the CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on grain legumes, click here:

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger 17-partnerships-goals 

The CNG Sorghum and Millet team at Nairobi, Kenya, on 26 March 2019. Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

The CNG Sorghum and Millet team at Nairobi, Kenya, on 26 March 2019. Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

Forging a network to revitalize sorghum and millets in Eastern and Southern Africa

A group of agricultural scientists and other value chain actors, such as processors and seed business houses working with sorghum and millets, came together to create a platform – a Crop Network Group (CNG) – to stimulate crop product design, development, testing and delivery in Eastern and Southern Africa.

At the meeting, jointly convened by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and ICRISAT, breeders from ICRISAT and NARS partners reported the progress in improving market traits as well as production traits of sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet. Dr Jane Ininda, Associate Program Director, AGRA, and Dr Janila Pasupuleti, Flagship Leader, CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals led by ICRISAT, shared the common vision of all the partners.

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A panel discussion on public-private partnerships revealed potential in deploying sorghum and millet hybrids in Africa. The panel comprised members of public and private seed companies. ICRISAT’s Hybrid Parent Research Consortium (HPRC) was seen as an excellent source for the private seed sector to access parental lines for hybrid development, especially for climate resilience and biofortification.

Dr Twanda Mashonganyika from the Excellence in Breeding Platform discussed the concept of crop Product Profiles (PPs) and introduced a tool that could be used to develop PPs. Several NARS partners found the futuristic PP concept useful as it helped persuade donors and private partners to invest.

Dr Moses Siambi, Research Program Director–Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, said, “Public-private partnerships are critical to deliver improved genetics to the farmers’ fields along with improved agronomy. Crop networks can play an essential role in this delivery.”

Dr Boaz Waswa from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) presented the PABRA (Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance) model of crop improvement. Key features of this model include shared breeding responsibilities – centralized breeding at CIAT, Cali, coupled with adaptation testing in target countries – resulting in accelerated variety development, release and availability, and building partnership with private seed sector and processors.

The CNG Steering Committee – with members from AGRA, ICRISAT, ADVANTA, Syngenta Foundation (SFSA), NARS, HPRC, and CRP-GLDC – will be responsible for raising resources for the network. An Implementation Team – represented by AGRA, ICRISAT, NARS coordinators from each country, AVISA, SFSA, food processors and seed companies – implement the activities of organizing and coordinating testing, exchange of improved germplasm, capacity building and Community of Practices (CoPs). CoP is important for communications that holds the key for the success of such networks. The CNG will be seeking support from the ASARECA (Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa) for a range of its activities.

Sorghum field at Kiboko Farm, Kenya. Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

Sorghum field at Kiboko Farm, Kenya. Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

“Networks are important for the transformation of African agriculture,” said Prof Barnabas Mitaru, University of Nairobi, giving a short history of erstwhile networks of a similar nature. The Eastern Africa Regional Sorghum and Millet Network (EARSAM) was a forum for exchange of research information and improved germplasm, and capacity building of NARS; it implemented collaborative research projects during 1982–92. Later, during 2003–07, the Eastern and Central Africa Regional Sorghum and Millet Network (ECARSM) focused on market orientation and dealt with constraints in the production and consumption chains. However, EARSAM and ECARSM ceased to function owing to funding limitations.

“The CNG can help the emerging sorghum brewing value chain by enabling use of hybrids and by streamlining seed supply,” said Mr Gerald Gacheru, Head of Agribusiness, East-African Breweries Ltd (EABL). He was keen on research collaboration for improved cultivars and agronomy, particularly deploying hybrids to enhance productivity in farmers’ fields.

The Crop Network Group meeting was held under the auspices of CRP-GLDC during 26–28 March 2019 at Nairobi, Kenya.

For more information on ICRISAT’s work in Eastern and Southern Africa, click here.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger 17-partnerships-goals 

A group of women who are leading a push back to traditional grains dance in Marimanti ward of Kenya’s Tharaka Nithi county. Photo: Eleanor Manyasa, ICRISAT

A group of women who are leading a push back to traditional grains dance in Marimanti ward of Kenya’s Tharaka Nithi county. Photo: Eleanor Manyasa, ICRISAT

The ‘smart food’ women of Kenya sing a nutritious tune

How do you switch back to more nutritious and climate smart food? Making it fun can help

Mary Kathini pulls me into a hug and, with a high-five, sits me down in the shade amid makeshift seats of rocks and tree stumps. Under the harsh equatorial sun of Ntunjia village, this is a warm welcome that brings cheerful hopes and much conversation.

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As you soak in the chatter and the enthusiasm, the women – into whose circle I am grateful to be included – point to Mary to answer most of the questions. “She’s our leader” they say – but they make sure their views are also heard every now and then.

About a year ago, this group of women in Marimanti ward of Kenya’s Tharaka Nithi County began to change things for themselves and the rest of their community. It started with an awareness program by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to help them learn more about nutritious – and climate change resistant – foods through training programs and sharing of recipes.

The women also caught the catchy tagline ‘good for you, the planet and the farmer’ – a reference to ‘Smart Food’ including their traditional grains that have more recently been replaced by other crops.

The awareness campaign has included cookery sessions to help share traditional grain recipes, and a ‘photo voice’ effort to help women document what they are eating and analyze the nutrition of each meal.

As farmers, they learned how changes in their agricultural practices away from sorghum and millet were not necessarily good. Those include ugali, a starchy mash usually from maize flour, and the more recent but increasingly popular chapatis (a round, flattened form of wheat bread).

The women analyzed what they were consuming within the family and learned of the nutrition in traditional foods. There had been a time when sorghum and pearl millet were regularly eaten, though people had moved away from these foods.

The market too has dictated what is consumed in the household. Millet are bought and sold at one-fourth the price of crops like maize or wheat. As farmers and producers, it meant less profit to cultivate sorghum or millet.

With limited opportunity to aggregate and sell collectively, growing millet is less lucrative. The higher priced rice and wheat were being bought from the market since they seemed more ‘attractive’ as foods that everyone was eating.

This too is something these women are now trying to change.

“We started by creating the change among ourselves first,” says Mary. “That is the way it should be. When we learned about nutrition in sorghum and millet and how they are better for us and for our children, we made an effort to change what we were producing as farmers, cooking or even buying and selling in the market.”

The process was not easy, however. “We know how to make it interesting for people,” laughs Purity Karimi. “And we use music and songs to tell them about the importance of nutrition. Since we had already set an example with our own habits, they did take us seriously.”

Asked what songs worked, the women jumped up spontaneously to demonstrate, breaking into a zesty tune.

“Your old food is good” they sang in the Tharaka language, “Eat nutritious food that is better for you.”

To the treat of music was added an impromptu dance of cheerful fellowship. As the sounds of laughter and claps rang out through the little road, passers-by stopped to get a taste of this ‘edutainment’.

The group of 25 women has started the process to formally register their group with the name ‘Mwireri’ that loosely translates to ‘Better Nutrition’. As ICRISAT Communications Officer Eleanor Manyasa hands out aprons as part of the ‘Smart Food’ campaign, the women don them with excitement and new ideas.

Says Mary, “We want to market our own millet as a group, so we can actually get better income. No one else is doing that now.” Even as this idea is still unfolding they begin to chatter excitedly about another new idea to set up a ‘Smart Food’ stall in their village – dishing out the new recipes they have learned.

About the author:

Jayashree Balasubramanian
Lead – Communications and Library
Strategic Marketing & Communication


Dr Pooran Gaur with his wife, Mrs Om Gaur. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

Dr Pooran Gaur with his wife, Mrs Om Gaur. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

Doreen Margaret Mashler Award for Dr Pooran Gaur

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director - Asia, has been awarded ICRISAT’s highest scientific award – The Doreen Margaret Mashler Award for 2018. The Institute’s Governing Board awarded Dr Gaur for his decades-long contribution to chickpea improvement, outstanding scientific achievements and leadership.

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“Dr Gaur has led the chickpea breeding program of ICRISAT for the past 17 years. During this period, 60 chickpea varieties have been released in eight countries from ICRISAT-bred material. He has also been engaged in enhancing adoption of improved varieties. This award is in recognition of his work on innovations in chickpea breeding for high impacts in farmers’ fields,” Dr Kiran
K Sharma, ICRISAT’s Deputy Director General-Research, said during the award presentation held at the recently concluded Program Committee meeting of the Board.

Dr Gaur’s work on extra-large seeded Kabuli (ELSK) chickpea, through a Government of India (GOI) project, kicked off production of ELSK at a time when India was importing such varieties. The project helped the country go beyond self-sufficiency; India subsequently began exporting extra-large seeded chickpea. More importantly, these efforts helped establish a strong breeding pipeline, ensuring further improvement of ELSK.

Through another GOI project, Dr Gaur worked on three machine-harvestable varieties that were released in recent years. These varieties cut farm costs and decrease labor requirement, making chickpea farming attractive. Sources of herbicide tolerance in chickpea were also identified during the project.

The need for heat-tolerant varieties was addressed by
Dr Gaur’s team between 2009 and 2014 through a project with Indian partners. To determine the source of heat tolerance in existing varieties, the team developed an effective screening technique that continues to help breeders further improve the crop. The heat-tolerant varieties resulting from Dr Gaur’s work are now widely adopted across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In the world’s largest chickpea producer, India, ICRISAT’s collaborations in chickpea improvement led by Dr Gaur helped boost the country’s pulses output in the past few years. That 53 % of indent breeder seed used in India during 2018-19 was of ICAR-ICRISAT collaboration stands testimony to the outreach efforts undertaken by Dr Gaur. Similar gains were made in Myanmar, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Dr Gaur’s excellent coordination with various NARS partners was instrumental in achieving these milestones.

Prakash Gangashetty (L) with pearl millet hybrid ICMH 17711. Photo: ICRISAT

Prakash Gangashetty (L) with pearl millet hybrid ICMH 17711. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT’s Young Scientist award for 2018: Prakash Gangashetty

Dr Prakash Gangashetty, Lead Scientist, Pearl Millet Breeding, Western and Central Africa, was announced as the recipient of ICRISAT’s Young Scientist award for 2018. The award recognizes his efforts to improve pearl millet breeding in West and Central Africa (WCA).

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Dr Gangashetty has been working to develop improved varieties suitable for each of WCA’s agro-climatic zones, mainly the Sahel and Sudan, where smallholder farming is constantly challenged by disease, drought and pests. Additionally, the breeding program also aims at improving stover quality for use of pearl millet as livestock feed.

Dr Gangashetty’s efforts contributed to the release of bio-fortified, high-yielding and early-maturing pearl millet variety ‘Chakti’ in 2018.

Dr Gangashetty joined ICRISAT-Niger in April 2014 as a post-doctoral fellow in the pearl millet breeding program. In October 2016, he was appointed Scientist, Pearl Millet Breeding for WCA. His research in ICRISAT has contributing to food and nutritional security in sub-Saharan Africa.

ICRISAT-WCA released five new pearl millet varieties in 2018 and tested hybrids that have attracted the private sector to millet cultivation. One of the hybrid varieties, ICMH 17711, can produce over 2.5 tons/hectare, about significantly higher than existing varieties. Dr Gangashetty’s team has also taken up research work to identify host plant resistance to striga, millet head miner and downy mildew, besides research for development of varieties with early and terminal drought tolerance.

Through his role, Dr Gangashetty has helped modernize ICRISAT and NARs breeding programs by introducing the latest in farm and research technologies, such as improved seed storage facilities, threshers and spectrometers for element analysis. He has also helped build capacity across partner institutions by training students and supporting scholars as well as post-doctoral fellows. You can access a presentation of  Dr Gangashetty’s work here.

New projects

Title: Development and promotion of high yielding, climate resilient chickpea cultivars suited to local growing conditions of the target districts of Odisha

Funder: National Food Security Mission Cell, Directorate of Agriculture & Food Production, Odisha

Period: 1 Apr 2019 – 31 Mar 2021

Principal Investigator: Dr Pooran Gaur

Research Program: Asia

Title: Developing a methodology for prioritizing soil health investments in Ethiopia

Funder: GIZ Ethiopia

Period: 1 Feb – 31 Dec 2019

Principal Investigator: Dr Tilahun Amede

Research Program: Eastern and Southern Africa

Title: Implementation of Agri Monitored Re-Engineering and Transformation (ARMT) project in one block of Rajnandgaon under RKVY (RAFTAAR)

Donor: Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Chhattisgarh

Period: 2018-19

Principal Investigator: Ram Kiran Dhulipala

Research Program: Innovation Systems for the Drylands

New Publications

Development of an optimum diet for mass rearing of the rice moth, Corcyra cephalonic  (lepidoptera: pyralidae), and production of the parasitoid, Habrobracon hebetor (hymenoptera: braconidae), for the control of pearl millet head miner

Authors: Amadou L, Baoua I, Ba MN and Muniappan R

Published: 2019, Journal of Insect Science, 19 (2). pp. 1-5. ISSN 1536-2442

Understanding the relations between farmers’ seed demand and research methods: The challenge to do better

Authors: Almekinders CJM, Beumer K, Hauser M, Misiko M, Gatto M, Nkurumwa AO and Erenstein O

Published: 2019, Outlook on Agriculture. pp. 1-6. ISSN 0030-7270

Applications of virus induced gene silencing (vigs) in plant functional genomics studies

Authors: Bekele D, Tesfaye K and Fikre A

Published: 2019, Journal of Plant Biochemistry & Physiology, 7 (1). pp. 1-7. ISSN 2329-9029

Sorghum cultivation and improvement in West and Central Africa

Authors: Weltzien E, Rattunde HFW, van Mourik TA and Ajeigbe HA

Published: 2018, In: Achieving sustainable cultivation of sorghum Volume 2: Sorghum utilization around the world. Burleigh Dodds Series in Agricultural Science (32). Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited, pp. 1-24. ISBN 978-1786761248

Correlation and path coefficient analysis in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.)

Authors:  Anuradha B, Saidaiah P, Sudini H, Geetha A and Ravinder Reddy K

Published: 2018, Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7 (5). pp. 2748-2751. ISSN 2278-4136

Purification and characterization of Bowman-Birk and Kunitz iso-inhibitors from the seeds of Rhynchosia sublobata (Schumach.) Meikle, a wild relative of pigeonpea

Authors:  Mohanraj SS, Gujjarlapudi M, Lokya V, Mallikarjuna N, Dutta-Gupta A and Padmasree K

Published: 2019, Phytochemistry, 159. pp. 159-171. ISSN 00319422

Pectin induced transcriptome of a Rhizoctonia solani strain causing sheath blight disease in rice reveals insights on key genes and RNAi machinery for development of pathogen derived resistance

Authors:  Rao TB, Chopperla R, Methre R, Punniakotti E, Venkatesh V, Sailaja B, Reddy MR, Yugander A, Laha GS, Madhav MS, Sundaram RM, Ladhalakshmi D, Balachandran SM and Mangrauthia SK

Published: 2019, Plant Molecular Biology, pp. 1-13. ISSN 0167-4412

Epistatic interactions of major effect drought QTLs with genetic background loci determine grain yield of rice under drought stress

Authors: Yadav S, Sandhu N, Majumder RR, Dixit S, Kumar S, Singh SP, Mandal NP, Das SP, Yadaw RB, Singh VK, Sinha P, Varshney RK and Kumar A

Published: 2019, Scientific Reports, 9 (1) (2616). pp. 1-13. ISSN 2045-2322

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