Issue No: 1848
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Ushering in new leadership

Warm welcome to our new Director General – Dr Jacqueline Hughes

The ICRISAT Governing Board warmly welcomes Dr Jacqueline Hughes and conveys its gratitude as she assumes her role as Director General, ensuring continued leadership at the institute.  Albeit in a virtual space for the time being, her engagement and collaboration with Team ICRISAT, its partners, and stakeholders will certainly thrive. It is with her extensive experience in international agriculture and commitment to improve the lives of the smallholder farmers that we remain optimistic about delivering impactful results to our community. As we bid farewell to Dr Peter Carberry, Team ICRISAT sincerely thanks and would like to extend its appreciation of his valuable contributions to the Institute, first as Deputy Director General-Research and then as Director General, we wish him all the best! 

Dr Paco Sereme,
Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board

Noted plant health researcher to lead ICRISAT as Director General

Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, a well-known plant health expert and leader in international agricultural research, took charge as Director General at ICRISAT. Owing to travel restrictions, Dr Hughes assumed office from the Philippines during a virtual event, where she outlined priorities for the institute during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We need to help where we can in the short-term with the COVID-19 response. ICRISAT’s help will be in assuring productivity in the Semi-Arid Tropics. Risk to people, staff, communities, stakeholders, and the research on which many of our stakeholders depend, has to be minimized as the lockdown lifts,” she stressed. The virtual event was attended by ICRISAT staff and the Governing Board. Dr Hughes took charge from Dr Peter Carberry, who has returned to Australia.

After earning a doctoral degree in microbiology/virology and spending her early research years in the UK, Dr Hughes, a British national, moved to Ghana in the early 1990s to work with the Cocoa Research Institute and then at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, where she took on increasingly challenging roles in virology, germplasm and plant health management, and eventually was appointed Councilor for IITA’s highest research management body. She then joined the World Vegetable Centre in Taiwan as its Deputy Director General – Research.

Before joining ICRISAT, Dr Hughes was Deputy Director General–Research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. IRRI and ICRISAT are sister institutes in CGIAR – the world’s largest agricultural research for development body.

“Her work and that of the teams she has led has delivered significant impact across Africa and Asia, improving the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities,” said Dr Paco Sereme, Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board. “She has gained invaluable insight to the world of international agricultural research having worked about 15 years in Africa and 15 years in Asia. During this time, she has overseen a diverse number of programs encompassing numerous issues such as strategic innovation, sustainable impact and cross-cutting research support.”

At the moment, Dr Hughes is focused on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture by supporting smallholder farmers in the Semi-Arid Tropics of Africa and Asia in finding ways to safely return to their farms and ward off food crisis. She also said the year 2020 must be observed with greater resolve as the International Year of Plant Health, as declared by the UN.

When asked what drew her to agricultural research, Dr Hughes said the drive to help farmers and their families led her to it. “The science and research was always there in my family. But I also grew up in rural areas where I admired the knowledge and wisdom of traditional farmers. They couldn’t always see their way out for something better but they certainly knew how to manage their environment,” she said, adding that it is the farmers who are responsible for providing us our food and this encouraged her from a very early age to work for helping them and their children to have a better life.

Calling for making agriculture profitable, Dr Hughes opined it is the only way to attract youth. She also emphasized the need for gender equity and urged researchers to look at project proposals with a gender lens to understand how ICRISAT’s work could affect women and men, and to ensure it does not undermine either. She said equity can lead to gender equality by empowering women to step up to the same level as men.

On ensuring ICRISAT’s mandate crops, which are climate-smart and nutritious, go from the farm to the fork, Dr Hughes highlighted the importance of consumer demand.

“Agriculture is a business and new products need new proof of concept through consumers and famers as well. How do we get consumers to change? If the product is better, healthier, cheaper and tastier. That should pull the consumer towards the product. But, we need to work very closely since diets are context and culture specific, and trying to change the taste of a community or of a country is really difficult.”

Dr Hughes also underscored the role ICRISAT can play as a mentor and a trusted advisor for the Semi-Arid Tropics (SAT) in ensuring dissemination of reliable information and data on weather, water availability, markets and other essential factors through Digital Agriculture efforts.

In a message to its staff, ICRISAT’s Director General advised them to keep well and thanked the institute’s funders and partners for continued support. She said, “I want to reassure everyone that ICRISAT is continuing to work with necessary restrictions. We are looking forward to continuing with the support of funders and partners through the pandemic, and as we go through the new normal, we will deliver on our commitments to the Semi-Arid Tropics.”

Dr Peter Carberry is presented with traditional dress by local women promoting sorghum products as Smart Food in northern Nigeria. Photo: H Ajeigbe, ICRISAT

Dr Peter Carberry is presented with traditional dress by local women promoting sorghum products as Smart Food in northern Nigeria. Photo: H Ajeigbe, ICRISAT

Farewell from Dr Peter Carberry: ‘I will miss our mission, global reach, committed staff…’

'The development and construction of a simulation model of the growth of pearl millet Pennisetum americanum (L.) Leeke’ would not ring a bell for most of us reading this. Embossed in gold on a blue-covered hardbound tucked away since 1986 at ICRISAT‘s JS Kanwar Library, it reminds us that things which begin in the right earnest always have the best endings. But, for one of us for whom the title rings loud, this is just the beginning.

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This hardcover is the doctoral dissertation that Dr Peter Stanley Carberry produced, at age 28, after researching pearl millet growth at ICRISAT in India. Born on a farm in Australia and certain that he was going to be a farmer, Peter, as he likes to be called, did not think he was going to be a scientist who had to worry about farm livelihoods or nutrition security in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In my last year of an agricultural science degree at Sydney University someone dropped out of a PhD program being run in India and a lecturer invited me to fill the vacant place. It was an unexpected choice between going back to rural New South Wales or seeing the world and the decision I made set me on the path to where I am today,” Peter told CSIRO in 2013.

His entry into agricultural research may seem fortuitous, but everything else that followed was deliberate, fuelled by passion to know and to make a change. When computers were not household objects, Peter was working on computer models for crops and agriculture systems while at CSIRO. His work led to the development of the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) – a modelling framework, and APSIM modules for many farming systems that include ICRISAT’s mandate crops that continue to be used by researchers of the present day.

Dr Peter Carberry during his stint as a Research Scholar at ICRISAT.

Dr Peter Carberry during his stint as a Research Scholar at ICRISAT.

When I was a Research Scholar in 1982, I looked up to the eminent ICRISAT scientists and wondered whether I would ever reach their position. Well, apparently it can and did happen!says Peter as he reflects on his career to advise young researchers.

After almost three decades at CSIRO, Peter returned to ICRISAT in 2015 as Deputy Director General-Research and was appointed Director General in 2018. He fostered the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and articulated a white paper envisioning modernizing crop improvement at ICRISAT, which he got funded and implemented.

We will soon bid Peter farewell. One might say his career has come a full circle at ICRISAT, as if almost daring to suggest the end of a journey. But not for Peter, who has a lot of science impact in store. For starters, he is set to assume the office of General Manager of Applied Research and Development at Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). In this role, he will invest in innovation for Australia’s dryland agriculture, a mission closely aligned with the Semi-Arid Tropics. GRDC has been a funder of ICRISAT’s research over many years.

Ask Peter what he would miss about ICRISAT and he says, “Everything and everyone! ICRISAT helped form me over 38 years ago. I’ll miss our mission, global reach, committed staff, India and Africa, our beautiful HQ campus, our African offices and, most of all, the day-to-day engaging with ICRISAT staff and its many stakeholders.”

“I leave under the threat of COVID-19 but am confident in ICRISAT’s resilience and leadership under Dr Jacqueline Hughes and our management team. I wish them all success.”


Ms Zuwena Hamisi Chipangula runs the Tunduru Agro-Dealer shop in Tanzania. Photo: Ndichu J

Ms Zuwena Hamisi Chipangula runs the Tunduru Agro-Dealer shop in Tanzania. Photo: Ndichu J

A rich harvest of not just legumes but of changed destinies and better nutrition

Charting the 12 year course of the Tropical Legumes project

This compilation of real-life ‘impact’ stories from the Tropical Legumes projects over the past 12 years makes for an engaging read. You have stories of courage and hope, of women and men overcoming odds to rise above their situations, of people giving back to their communities and the role public-private organizations and research institutes play in bringing in positive and sustainable changes in farming communities and the society.

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An engaging read while in lockdown

Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash: A Renaissance within Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa
(A Springer Open publication. Download here)

The book captures the societal impact of the Tropical Legumes project that successfully worked towards developing an efficient seed delivery system for grain legume crops in the semi-arid tropics of Africa and Asia. The stories in this edition focus on a couple of key areas and crops ­– groundnut and common beans in Tanzania and Uganda, groundnut and cowpea in Nigeria and groundnut in Ghana.

Experiences of stakeholders along the value chain make for an interesting read. “National agricultural research institutes, knowledge brokering organizations, NGOs, public seed companies, private seed companies, agro-dealers, individual seed entrepreneurs, farm implement makers, farmer cooperatives, farmer groups, individual farmers, women farmers, middlemen, processors, traders, and consumers were all involved  in this experience. This book provides learning opportunities for development workers, technical staff, and project managers. It will also inspire development workers and project managers to share their own experiences for others to learn from,” says the blurb.

Enjoy the straightforward narration, ignore the spellers and get straight to the heart of the stories. Read the excerpts to get a feel of the book.


Photo: Ndichu J, ICRISATtraders

Photo: Ndichu J, ICRISATtraders

Tanzanian doctor grows groundnut on his dispensary farm

“The nutritional benefit of groundnut in the baby’s body is the protein value. Groundnut in the porridge helps with the growth of the child. Also, pregnant women need protein to avoid giving birth to underweight children.

After giving them training, about fifteen mothers went ahead and planted the seeds at their home and they came to show us the results.”

Dr Steve Julius runs a dispensary at Ilindi, Bahi district, Tanzania

Photo: Ndichu J, ICRISAT

Photo: Ndichu J, ICRISAT

Growing groundnuts is part of the school curriculum

“We teach the children how to plant groundnut in school and the groundnut becomes food for them. When we sell groundnut as a school, we direct those funds to the ‘Elimu ya Kujitegemea’ (self-reliance) department.”

Mr Ajili Mkero, a teacher at Nanyumbu Primary School, Tanzania 

Ugandan women’s group journey from farm laborers to entrepreneurs

“We started out as farm laborers where we would get hired by community members during planting and weeding season. We also planted groundnut for grain but our earnings from the work were insufficient and we needed to look for diverse ways to sustain our needs.

When we started (seed production), we were a bit skeptical on who would buy our produce. Two years into the business, we have links with seed companies and organizations – We have also benefited from workshops and demonstrations organized by the TL projects and thus expanded our networks, the opportunities we have received surpassed our expectations.”

Purlonyo Women Group (Most of the members can now afford to keep their children in school with the profit made from the groundnut sales.)

Ms Apiyo Hellen, a groundnut trader, shows off her roasted groundnut at Arapai market in Soroti, Uganda. Photo: Manyasa E, ICRISAT

Ms Apiyo Hellen, a groundnut trader, shows off her roasted groundnut at Arapai market in Soroti, Uganda. Photo: Manyasa E, ICRISAT

Growing businesses, growing people

“When we started, we had no office to call our own, today we have established a permanent office, a showroom, a shop, an agricultural laboratory, and a conference room.

Our biggest success with Tropical Legumes projects is the introduction of the company to scientists and to extension workers. They have exposed us to many other players with several best practices in the seed industry. The benefits are many and beyond mere finances. We have been enhanced as a company,”
Late Awalu Balarabe (left in the photo), Managing Director, Maina Seeds Company, Nigeria.

Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

For more on the TL III project read:

Photo: L Wright, Smart Food, ICRISAT

Photo: L Wright, Smart Food, ICRISAT

New protein study reveals power of millet-legume blends for enhancing human health

Two billion people around the world are suffering from protein and micronutrient deficiencies. The results of a new study by ICRISAT may be able to significantly reduce those deficiencies, through a combination of millets and legumes that creates a highly digestible, complete protein that is packed with nutrients.

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Original post on

Legumes are one of the most popular sources of protein, but they are missing one essential amino acid – methionine. Millet, a nutrient – packed crop, however, has that missing amino acid. Combined, the two create a powerful nutri-basket. With high levels of complete protein, high protein digestibility, and high levels of micronutrients, small and large food companies alike may use this combination to develop products that can significantly reduce malnutrition, the study reports.

Protein has been studied for a long time but typically on dairy products and soybean or other crops independently. This is the first study looking at combinations of millets and legumes which have shown valuable results in creating complete and quality proteins as well as a good range of micronutrients.

Dr S Anitha
Nutritionist, International Crops Research Institute for
the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

This study shows the need and opportunity to incorporate protein and essential amino acids in future breeding pipelines in the respective crops. Protein and micronutrient deficiencies are increasing threats to public health. Therefore, donors should invest breeding programs to develop cultivars with nutrition beside good yield potential.

Dr M Govindaraj
Senior Scientist, Crop Improvement, International Crops
Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

“No one food is going to satisfy all of our needs,” Executive Director of Smart Food Initiative at ICRISAT, Joanna Kane-Potaka, tells Food Tank. “We need to look deeper than just the amount of protein we are eating but [also at] the quality of the protein…very few consumers [will] know this and companies selling products rarely give this information.”

The study was conducted as part of the Smart Food initiative and led by Dr S Anitha, nutritionist ICRISAT. Researchers tested multiple combinations of different millet and legume varieties, finding maximum benefits at the three to one, millet to legume ratio. Development of plant-based protein is relevant worldwide: in India, home to a large number of vegetarians, in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries, where plant-based protein is often all that is affordable, and in the Global North, where plant-based protein is gaining popularity among vegetarians and vegans.

ICRISAT hopes this discovery will garner support across the value chain to make millet a staple.

Labeling millet as a staple will help increase its respect and recognized importance in the mainstream market, says Kane-Potaka. Currently, few consumers are aware about millets. Its flexibility and high nutritional value has caught the eye of some scientists and processors, who hail it as the next quinoa. But if qualified as a staple it has the potential to reach the masses, rather than exist in a niche high-end market like quinoa, Kane-Potaka tells Food Tank.

In addition to nutritional value, the crops provide other benefits to the land and the farmer. When used in alternative cropping, legumes can increase yields of other crops, enriching the soil by naturally adding nitrogen. Drought resistant and heat tolerant, millets are climate smart, making them reliable crops for farmers. “They really are a Smart Food – good for you, the planet, and the farmer,” says Kane-Potaka.

Originally published on Food Tank.

Farmer Timothée Goita has built a house in Yorosso town to facilitate accommodation for his daughter Safiatou, who studies there. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Farmer Timothée Goita has built a house in Yorosso town to facilitate accommodation for his daughter Safiatou, who studies there. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Access to improved varieties and warrantage services helps Malian farmers save for children’s schooling

Double yields from improved varieties, access to storage facilities and timely credit through the warrantage system has kept sorghum farmers in Mali from selling their harvest at throwaway prices during a glut, helping them earn 50% more income. Farmers are now able to think beyond sustenance and for most of them who had been school dropouts, the education of their children is a priority. Impacts like these, coupled with case studies, were shared with a high-level USAID project delegation that visited Mali recently.

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Following the success of the warrantage system approach a few years ago in the AGRAfunded microdosing project, the USAID-funded Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems (ARDT_SMS) project replicated it with great success. Out of the 34 Innovation Platforms that were initiated (29 in Sikasso and 5 in Mopti), three were introduced to the warrantage system by the project, benefiting hundreds of farmers like Timothée Goita and Seydou Dao.

Financial turnaround in a farmer’s life

Timothée, an active member of one of the innovation platforms in Sikasso, adopted a new high-yielding and drought-tolerant improved sorghum variety, Tiandougou coura, developed by Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) in collaboration with ICRISAT. “During the drought years, I barely harvested 600 kg/ha of the local variety. The improved variety, which I got from the head of the agricultural sector of my region as part of the ARDT-SMS project, gave me a yield up to 1,500 kg/ha,” he says. After harvest, a microfinance arrangement through the warrantage system helped him to sell his produce at a good price and at a convenient time.

“The main advantage of the warrantage system is that it allows us to sell our harvest for better prices. Thanks to the initiative, I bought an ox to plow the field and also built a new house with a sheet metal roof in the town of Yorosso, a few kilometers away from my village. My children will soon be moving there to pursue their studies and they will not have to worry about finding accommodation,” explains Timothée, who lives in Kafona village, Sikasso region.

Recalling how it was earlier, before the project interventions, Timothée says, “I had to either work as a laborer in neighboring fields or migrate to the city. Even then, I was able to meet only half of my family’s annual food needs.”

“Now I produce enough food to feed my family for the whole year. I can afford more than three meals daily for my children. My family eats millet- and sorghum-based foods alternating with maize, cowpea and other products to bring in more diversity in our daily diet. I sell part of my surplus to buy different foods and I can pay for the school fees of my children on time,” says Timothée.

Reversing migration and investing in education

In Sikasso, Mali, the annual cost of primary education in a village public school is often the equivalent of the cost of 300 kg of cereals and FCFA 15,000 (US$ 25) for renting a house, prohibitively expensive for most farming households. Sometimes, a household can support a few of their children’s school fees while asking the others to quit.

Farmer Seydou Dao, who had to quit school, does not want his children to face a similar situation. “In 2019, I paid my children’s school fees (about FCFA 80,000 (US$ 133.3)) from the sale of Jakumbe (CSM63E) improved sorghum variety from IER-ICRISAT collaboration,” says Seydou. Many farmers in the community have similar success stories to share.

Seydou narrates how he bought his younger brother a new motorcycle for FCFA 600,000 (US$ 962) using part of the income he got from selling produce of hybrid sorghum, Sewa, (IER-ICRISAT) and grown on 2 hectares of his land. When his mother fell ill, the motorcycle helped them to get her quickly to the hospital. Seydou also bought a new bicycle for one of his children whose school is 4 km away.

Mr Seydou Dao from Kafona village in Sikasso region, bought a new motorcycle for his younger brother. Photo: S Toure, ICRISAT

Mr Seydou Dao from Kafona village in Sikasso region, bought a new motorcycle for his younger brother. Photo: S Toure, ICRISAT

He helps farmers create marketing plans

Innovation platform coordinator, Mr Seydou Traore, oversees about 11 warrantage stores. Farmers are trained to create their own marketing plan, including how to obtain a loan from a microfinance institution, using the stored produce to serve as a guarantee. Many farmers use the credit to take up income-generating activities and use part of it to meet their household daily needs during the off-season. They no longer sell their produce immediately after harvest; they can now wait for the opportune time to get the best price for it, especially when selling collectively.

In 2019, the members in Traore’s innovation platform were able to negotiate the price of sorghum for FCFA 120/kg (US$ 0.2/kg) and that of millet for FCFA 115 (US$ 0.2) against a previous price of FCFA 85/kg (US$ 0.14) and FCFA 75/kg (US$ 0.12) respectively. Cowpea sold for FCFA 275 (US$ 0.5) against FCFA 200 (US$ 0.33) previously.

Innovation Platforms in the region have played a significant role in bringing farmers together and teaching them to use their collective strength to increase their negotiating power in the market.

For more on our work in Mali click here

Project: Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems (ARDT_SMS)

Partners: Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes (AOPP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles Nord- Est, Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles, Sud, European Cooperative for Rural Development (EUCORD), Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), SPROXIL, myAgro, and MALIMARK.

Funder: USAID Feed the Future.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 3-quality-education 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals 

A training on thresher operation and maintenance in Central Alego Ward in Siaya, Kenya.

A training on thresher operation and maintenance in Central Alego Ward in Siaya, Kenya.

Rising market pull for dryland crops prompts move for setting up efficient seed delivery systems

Increasing market demand for dryland crops in Kenya and Tanzania owing to IFAD-funded project interventions across the agriculture value chain for three years has led to last mile delivery plans of setting up efficient seed systems in the region. So far, over 14,268 project farmers in 369 farmer groups in the two countries received 10,963kg of seed. They produced 17,621 tons of all project crops (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, cowpea, green gram, groundnut and pigeonpea) valued at ~KES 42,745,918 (US$ 427,459). ­Memoranda of Understanding withMinistries of Agriculture in eight Counties in Kenya are underway and 15 farmer groups signed agreements with various off-takers to grow sorghum.

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How a market pull was created

Extensive farmer participatory varietal trials in Kenya and Tanzania and the involvement of private companies in testing the commercial viability of sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet cultivarscontributed to creating a sustainable market pull for the crops resulting in increased farmer incomes. Key outcomes from the trials included the release of a high-yielding, resilient, market-preferred finger millet variety in Tanzania and the entry of eight each of finger millet and sorghum into National Performance Trials in both the countries (see box).

Trainings on productivity enhancementincluded seed selection, land preparation, soil management, seed rate, spacing and intercropping, weed, pest and disease management, thinning and gapping, harvesting and post-harvest handling. About 68 field days were organized and conducted across the two countries attracting 4,269 beneficiaries who participated in the selection of preferred varieties and hybrids of the project crops.

Variety release and lines in National performance trials

  • Finger millet variety KNE 689 was released in 2019. It is high yielding (2.5-4.5 t/ha), with big heads and moderate resistant to lodging. Takes 100 days to maturity. Resistant to stem borer and blast and tolerant to drought.
  • Preliminary and advanced variety and hybrid yield trials of sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet were tested on-station and Participatory Variety Selection trials (PVS) tested on-farm during the 2018-19 short rains and the 2019 long rains in Kenya and Tanzania.

The crop improvement focus in addition to market-preferred traits was as follows:
Sorghum: Higher grain yields, early and medium maturity, Striga and stem borer resistance
Finger millet: Short duration, high-yielding, Striga and blast resistance
Pearl mIllet: Culinary use, high yield and early maturity

Partnership with government (County) departments facilitated value addition trainings for creating micro-enterprises targeting youth and women for both nutrition and improved incomes. Close to 1,435 beneficiaries were trained in partnership with County departments of agribusiness and home economics.

*Impactof the project in three years

Increased sorghum and millet cultivation ­– Delayed and unreliable rain distribution resulted in total crop failure in Homa Bay and Busia counties in western Kenya and in drying up of the crops in about 30% of the sites in eastern Kenya during the short rains of 2018 (October-December 2018). This made most farmers to include sorghum and millets in their next cropping season during the long rains of 2019 (March-May) which resulted in bumper harvests of sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet.

  • Business support services
    • ­373 farmers were linked to credit and finance services
    • ­94 farmers benefited from crop insurance services.

This was done in partnership with the ward agricultural extension officers.

  • Micro-enterprises in partnership with the Counties

Avenues identified for farmers included diversifying sorghum grain for the production of poultry and fish feed and training youth to earn incomes by operating threshers that cut down on farm drudgery. Women groups were trained to prepare different sorghum and millet foods to help boost household consumption and sell their products to rural outlets like schools, hospitals and during local market days. A local bakery that utilized the sorghum and millet produce partnered in the value-addition training programs.

Commercializing sorghum feed

The market for high quality, alternative poultry feeds is high in Kenya with 24 of the 47 counties prioritizing poultry value chains in their County Integrated Development Plans. A farmer group from Ogando village in Homa Bay County, involved in the project’s sorghum production, is working with the project team to develop and commercialize feed production using sorghum and other locally available raw materials. The project team is working on an agreement to assist the group commence the production and expand their products to include poultry and fish feed. Poultry feed formulations developed during IFAD funded grant initiatives in Makueni County between 2010 and 2016 will be used to support commercialization in Homa Bay. Testing and certification services will be done in tandem with the commercialization efforts.

County Home Economics and Agribusiness officers attend the training on hygiene, product formulation, nutrition and enterprise development in Kiboko, Kenya.

County Home Economics and Agribusiness officers attend the training on hygiene, product formulation, nutrition and enterprise development in Kiboko, Kenya.

Training youth to earn incomes by operating threshers Eleven portable threshers were purchased and 48 youths were trained on operation, repair and maintenance of these threshers to offer threshing services to beneficiaries at a fee. Demonstrations were held for 618 beneficiaries during harvest and post-harvest handling training. The mechanization component and the quick income attracted youths in sorghum and millet farming while farmers engaged their services to reduce drudgery, save on time and cut their threshing cost by almost half. Manual threshing costs KES 8,889 (US$ 89) while machine threshing costs KES 4,444 (US$ 44).

Women’s groups trained on production of sorghum and millet foods

Trainings targeting 11 county officers in the home economics and agribusiness departments addressed issues of hygiene, packaging, product formulation, enterprise development and nutrition. The training was conducted in partnership with Amari Bakery Ltd, which uses sorghum and millets in its products and offer related training services. Follow-up trainings were conducted at the group level during the reporting period. The project plans to hold refresher trainings on hygiene, certification and nutrition issues in the coming months.

The way forward

The project is in its final year of implementation and the future emphasis is on the development of sustainable seed systems to enhance access to the improved technologies developed and tested through the project and to adopt the aggregator model in Kibaigwa area of Dodoma, Tanzania to facilitate linkage between end-users and producers as well as input suppliers.

The above achievements and plans were discussed at a review and planning meeting held at the commencement of the fourth and final year of the project activities.

*Figures taken from a survey conducted by the project

For more on our work in Kenya and Tanzania visit

Project: Strengthening Sorghum and Millet Value Chains for Food, Nutritional and Income Security in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands of Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania (SOMNI)

Donor: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Partners: Suba-Agro Trading & Engineering Co. Ltd, Tanzania; Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania; Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization; Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (previously Department of Research and Development), Tanzania; AfricaHarvest and ICRISAT

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals 

Producers and farmers of the Sabunyuma cooperative in the Kayes region with ICRISAT and IER staff. Farmer Daba Kane (circled in white in the picture). Photo: Magassa M, ICRISAT

Producers and farmers of the Sabunyuma cooperative in the Kayes region with ICRISAT and IER staff. Farmer Daba Kane (circled in white in the picture). Photo: Magassa M, ICRISAT

Certified seed fetches twice the market rate: Farmers hitch onto seed production

Growing certified improved seed of millets and legumes is a profitable business enterprise for farmer cooperatives in Mali. Improved seed summon twice the market rate and the turnover is so high that existing storage facilities can accommodate only a quarter of the production. Increased farmer incomes from seed production and as well as increased yields on farms from using quality seed has benefited the community at large leading to greater food security, reduced migration and increased women entrepreneurship.

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The production of cereals is critical for food security in Mali. Cereals account for around 80% of the cultivated area according to a recent study. Among legumes, groundnut and cowpea are important crops grown for home consumption and markets. Availability of quality seed of improved varieties had been a major constraint in the region. To overcome the problem, farmer organizations in Mali are investing in seed production of crops like sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea and equipping their members to become certified seed producers. Initiatives like these that started during the HOPE II1 project are continuing through AVISA2.  Continued project interventions and training programs for a substantial period has resulted in significant gains for farmers.

Seed production enterprise leads to food sufficiency, curbs migration

Ms Massaran Camara in her seed multiplication plot at Siby. Photo: Magassa M, ICRISAT

Ms Massaran Camara in her seed multiplication plot at Siby. Photo: Magassa M, ICRISAT

Farmer Daba Kane from Falakan village, Kayes region, is a role model for seed producers in the region, especially for those growing improved varieties of groundnut. He is a member of the Sabunyuma cooperative, a partner of the national groundnut program of Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali’s agricultural research institute, and has an impressive story to tell.

“I have been through times when the harvest from local varieties was so low that I could no longer feed my family. During the off-season, children in our communities would migrate to towns like Bamako, Segou and Sikasso to look for other source of revenues. Thanks to technical support and the trainings to our cooperative members, I was able to become a seed grower, earning more income and growing more food for my own consumption,” says Mr Kane.

Since 2016, Mr Kane has embarked on the production of seed of improved varieties. In 2018, he produced and sold 500 kg of seed of the variety Fleur 11. He earned CFA500,000 (~US$ 900), making a profit of CFA 30,000 (~US$ 54). Mr Kane is one of the few people in his village to build a concrete house and own a motorcycle.

Sowing seeds of prosperity through demos and mini-packs of improved seed

In Segou region, a farmer organization – Union Nieta de Bla, stands out in the production of seed, especially of improved varieties of sorghum and millet. The union comprises of 137 cooperatives and has around 30 seed producers.

As part of the AVISA project, the Union focused on selling mini-packs of improved seeds and conducting demonstrationson plots, “For the 2019 crop season, 1,600 farmers benefited from mini-packs of improved seed and 23 demonstration plots (14-sorghum and 9-millet),”says Mr Gaoussou Coulibaly, president of the Union. Seed production was on an average 21 tons for sorghum hybrid and 2.5 tons for OPV varieties per year.

Through project efforts, more than 2,500 producers were trained on good agricultural practices from 2003 to 2018. In the area, 1 kg of sorghum hybrid seed is sold between 750 – 1,000 CFA (US$ 1.4 – 1.8) compared to 350 CFA (US$0.6) for Open Pollinated Variety seed.

“Farmers in Bla accept the price difference because the hybrids are more productive. This is why we are training new members to become seed producers especially for hybrids. That way they can produce enough for their own consumption and sell the seed to meet other expenses,” says Mr Coulibaly.

A technician quits his job to grow sorghum and cowpea seed 

In the rural commune of Cinzana, Mr Djamory Koné, a member of the Minankofa Seed Group (GSM) which has 55 members, is another successful seed producer. A former technician at IER, he left his job in 1993 to take up sorghum and cowpea seed production. His preferred varieties are Acar 1 for cowpea and CSM 63 for sorghum.­­­­­­

“When I started, not many farmers were seed producers. Today we find them in all villages of the Cinzana commune. Seed production is the future, and it has changed my life,” says Mr Koné. The cowpea seed fetches a good price in Cinzana. “In 2018, I harvested 1.8 tons of seed for Acar 1 on 2ha and I sold 1kg at 650 CFA (US$1.2). For sorghum, I harvested 3.5 tons seed from 3ha and sold it at CFA 300 (US$ 0.5) per kg,” says Mr Koné.

Mr Marcel Dao, President of GSM, explains that prices vary throughout the year, “Cowpea is between CFA 650 -1,000 (US$1.2 – 1.8) and sorghum between CFA 300-500 (US$ 0.5-0.9),” he says. The group has an annual production capacity of 25 tons for cowpea and 12 tons for sorghum.

Women take up seed production

At Siby village, 50 km from Bamako, the farmers’ organization Cooperative des Producteurs de Semences Maraicheres du Mali (COPROSEM) has 87 seed producers, 20 of them are women. For the 2018-2019 crop season, 25 producers, including 7 women, produced groundnut, sorghum, millet and cowpea seed, explains Mr Coulibaly, President of COPROSEM. Among the women producers Ms Massaran Camara, started producing groundnut seed (Fleur 11) on 0.25 ha in 2019. She sold the harvested 200 kg of seed and for the first time contributed to household expenses. “I bought clothes for my child and gave my husband some money,” says the young seed producer.

Across Mali, farmers’ cooperatives are investing more in seed production and there is a rise in the availability of certified seed. Vast quantities of seed can be made available in neighboring and faraway farmers, however shortage of storage facilities are a challenge.

With increased seed production, enhancing storage facilities is a priority. “In the community where COPROSEM works, the numbers of registered seeds producers is increasing. We have difficulties in storing our annual production of around 40 tons for all crops. The available storage house has a maximum capacity of only 10 tons,”says Mr Coulibaly. A clear sign that the seed production has exceeded the expectations of the community members.

For more on our work in Mali see:

Project: Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE II) for Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners:  Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Usmanu Danfodiyo University of Sokoto (UDUS), Nigeria; Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Ethiopia; Department of Research and Development (DRD), Tanzania; National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda.

1Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement

2Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 

Strengthening the groundnut seed system through rural seed business entrepreneurs. Photo: Jaya Rao, ICRISAT

Strengthening the groundnut seed system through rural seed business entrepreneurs. Photo: Jaya Rao, ICRISAT

India groundnut farmers’ seed business debut yields big profits

A group of Indian farmers who made their entrepreneurial debut last year increased their income by as much as US$ 982 (₹ 75,000) per hectare with good quality seed of high-yielding groundnut varieties and improved technology. Handholding by ICRISAT in pre-production to after-sales under its Seed Business Venture initiative helped the farmers realize high yields and incomes in just one crop season.

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“The yield has been much better with the GJG 32 variety as it is resistant to leaf spot disease. Crop stayed green till harvest and could be used as fodder to fetch additional income,” said Chandrashekar Reddy, a farmer from Nagarkurnool in Telangana state, who was a part of the rainy season (kharif) cohort last year.

Mr Reddy’s farm has been inspiring his neighbors who have lost harvests to leaf spot and collar rot. The 4,250 kg per hectare yield that GJG 32 can provide is nearly twice what farmers were getting from the older varieties commonly used in the area.

The Seed Business Venture (SBV) initiative, under an OPEC Fund for International Development supported project, is aimed at addressing the gaps in demand and supply of quality seed by strengthening the groundnut seed system through rural seed business entrepreneurs.

High seed rates, low seed multiplication ratio and quick loss of seed viability are some of the major challenges to the groundnut seed systems affecting the adoption of newer varieties. Given these challenges, formal seed systems alone may not cater to the needs of farmers for groundnut seeds. One of the approaches to overcome these constraints is to develop and promote decentralized seed models managed by farmer-entrepreneurs in the rural community.

In collaboration with Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) and Groundnut breeding team of ICRISAT’s Asia Research Program, ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) started SBV’s pilot initiative in kharif 2019 with 10 farmers of Nagarkurnool and Jogulamba Gadwal in Telangana and promoted them as seed entrepreneurs through training.

The SBV training covers best crop production practices, provides nucleus seed of groundnut variety GJG 32 (ICGV 03043), a high-oil, high yielding and farmer preferred variety,  on-field assistance at critical stages of crop growth, harvesting assistance, procurement and buying back the produce by paying more than market price (` 50 per kg vs. ` 45 per kg for last kharif crop), facilitating seed processing and selling the processed high quality seed at reasonable cost to farmers.

“I am happy that we are trained in best practices of crop production and will be guided on the field throughout the crop cycle,” said farmer Ms Prameela.

About eight tons of seed from the kharif harvest has been used for cultivation of 40 hectares during post-rainy season (rabi) crop, which is set to be harvested soon. SBV’s post-rainy season workshop and training was held at Regional Agricultural Research Station, Palem, Telangana, in November. Several farmers participated in the workshop of which 10 were selected in the second cohort.

Project: Enhancing groundnut productivity and profitability for smallholder farmers in Asia through varietal technologies

Donor: OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), CGIAR Research Program- GLDC

Partners: Prof. Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Hyderabad; Regional Agricultural Research Station, Palem, Telangana, India; Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri Agricultural Research Station, Kasbe Digraj, Maharashtra, India; Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Ministry of Agricultural, Livestock and Irrigation, Yezin, Naypyitaw, Myanmar; National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), Nongviengkham Village, Xaythany District, Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR; Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences (VAAS), Vinh Quynh, Thanh Tri, Hanoi, Vietnam; Regional Agricultural Research Station, Jamalpur, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Dhaka, Bangladesh; Field Crop Research & Development Institute, Mahailuppallama, Sri Lanka; and ICRISAT

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Drylands Cereals (GLDC)


Haveli with harvested rainwater (R) Wheat is grown in the drained haveli, post-monsoon. Photos: Dr Ramesh Singh, ICAR-CAFRI

Haveli with harvested rainwater (R) Wheat is grown in the drained haveli, post-monsoon. Photos: Dr Ramesh Singh, ICAR-CAFRI

Revive havelis, India’s ancient rain harvesting farms, to save big on money and resources

Have you ever heard of a dual-purpose farm that is a reservoir in the monsoon and a fertile farm in the next season? If you did, it might have been about the ancient Indian haveli system – a 200-300-year-old rainwater harvesting system that once greened the Bundelkhand region, one of the most drought-prone areas in India. Compared to check dams, havelis come with numerous benefits. Renovating a haveli is 10 times cheaper, the water storage capacity is on an average 20 times more and the productivity of crops grown on the silt-rich soil of the drained reservoir during the postrainy (rabi) season is higher. These observations are from a study on the haveli in one of our Corporate Social Responsibility watershed projects in Parasai village, Jhansi.

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The haveli utilized 8 ha under submergence out of 400 ha (i.e. 2%) over which the village is spread. Thousands of such havelis are lying defunct in the region and their renovation can lead to better water conservation and improved crop productivity in a cost-effective way.

How it works: The havelis built centuries ago were designed in topographical sequence such that the runoff generated is harvested in a cascading manner from upstream to downstream (Prakash et al., 1998; Shah et al., 2003). The haveli acted as a reservoir during monsoon and as cultivable land post-monsoon. Provision was made to drain out impounded water during September /October to help farmers start preparing their land for rabi cultivation.

Productivity of the haveli fields is relatively higher as it holds more residual moisture, humus and nutrients as it also harvests silt and organic matter from the upstream fields. It also acts as a carbon sink (Sahu et al., 2015).

Cost benefits: The unit cost of rainwater harvesting through the haveli system is much cheaper than other measures such as check dams or farm ponds. The cost of haveli renovation in Parasai village was INR 800,000 (~US$ 13,000) with a storage capacity of 73,000 m3. Whereas average investment made for a check dam was INR 350,000 (~US$ 5,800) for a storage capacity of 3000 m3. The unit cost of creating storage capacity by renovating haveli and check dam is INR 11 /m3 and INR 117 /m3, respectively.

Creating awareness: It is important to note that check dams are built across village streams belonging to public/government land. Since havelis are generally located on land owned by farmers/community, their rejuvenation/repair will need community agreement. The community is aware about defunct havelis, their history and potential benefits. Incentivizing the communities to arrive at a consensus, sensitizing policy makers, identifying suitable technical expertise and capacity building are necessary to scale up haveli renovation/repair on a large scale.

The zone of influence of havelis from groundwater recharge can be much larger compared to check dams making them a preferred option of rainwater harvesting. There is a strong need to articulate the cost and benefit aspects of haveli structures in a simple and effective way in order to help policy makers make a right choice when it comes to large-scale investments in drought-proofing measures.

Climate-smart digital agriculture – Agri-buzz blog

This blog by the Data-Driven Agronomy Community of Practice highlights CGIAR’s digital extension work.

This blog by the Data-Driven Agronomy Community of Practice highlights CGIAR’s digital extension work.

Beating drought one text at a time

Scientists, meteorologists, start-ups and Microsoft India are coming together to crunch weather data to help farmers beat climate risks and boost yield and profit.

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Late nights on the family farm are engraved in Anthony Whitbread’s memory.

“I grew up near my grandparent’s farm in a low-rainfall region of Southern Australia. I remember going to their house in the evenings, and having to be very quiet, because they were listening to weather information on the radio,” said Whitbread.

Turning a profit through farming in such conditions is no small feat. Information about what the weather might do is absolutely critical to make the right decisions.

Today, as research director at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Crops (ICRISAT) in India, Whitbread and his team are on a mission to extend that kind of information to millions of smallholder farmers.

“My uncle in particular would get quite irate when the rains would come during harvest,” he said. “To yield any kind of profit farming, getting the right climate information at the right time to make lower risk and profitable decisions is really key.

“The farmers we’re working with have advisories from extension agencies but they are not always connected with weather and climate information. We’re trying to change that,” he added.

What to grow and when, through digital extension

The research team started work in the semi-arid farm lands of Andhra Pradesh, where groundnut is the biggest crop, and agriculture relies on rain. Farmers in this state near Ananthapur, lose their harvest, on average, a third of the time.

No surprise, then, that 80 percent of farmers ranked climate variability as their number one constraint to making a profit. The risks of farming look set to become worse, with climate projections for the region indicating higher average temperatures and more frequent extreme events.

“There are a lot of ICT solutions sending agricultural information,” explained Whitbread. “But most often, that information is still very broad, and does not reflect specific farm conditions.

“The best way to help farmers deal with unpredictable weather is to give them the highest resolution information possible in close to real time, so they can make decisions relevant in their own farm context.”

That information comes in the form of the Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool, or ISAT. Through a deep understanding of management decisions available to farmers at particular times of the season, and state-of-the-art climate forecasts, the tool presents options for farmers.

Complex weather information is distilled into climate-informed advisories, and presented in the form of decision trees, derived from the analysis of decades of weather science.

Getting science to farmers

“For the first time in India, we’re bringing together weather providers and scientists, to get relevant information to farmers at specific times of year. That means asking meteorologists the kinds of questions farmers would like to have answered, and then relaying that information back to the farm.”

Working with the Indian Meteorological Department, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University and Microsoft India, the iSAT tool delivers real-time data, crunched and analysed by researchers, guiding farmers from pre-season planning to in-season management.

During the 2017 monsoon, ISAT was piloted with 417 farmers across four different locations. Mid and end season surveys revealed that more than 80 percent of farmers were satisfied with the frequency, relevance, and understandability of the messages delivered.

More than half rated the messages reliable and correct most of the time, helping them manage risk on their farm. The app also gives information for other important crops too, like sorghum, maize, cotton, and pigeonpea.

“There is sound science incorporated into the decision tree,” said Whitbread. And, thanks to a network of weather stations and rain gauge readings by farmers in pilot villages, rainfall predictions are updated every seven days.  Private companies have also provided data.

“But collecting data remains a challenge,” he noted. “What we’re trying to figure out now, is what the lowest resolution of information needed is, to still help farmers make key decisions, but at scale.”

Already, 5,000 farmers in 10 districts of India have been receiving messages directly since 2016. Indirectly, the information reaches another 40,000 farmers, resulting in an estimated 20 percent increase in groundnut and chickpea yield, contributing US$225 a hectare to incomes.

Investment outlook

In the future, the plan is also to get direct feedback from farmers. At the moment, message delivery via SMS is the most realistic option. But two-way communication in the future is critical, to increase message relevance.

At the moment, ICRISAT and partners are keeping the app free for farmers.

“The strength of the CGIAR and scientific community here has been to bring together the agri-tech sector, farmers and the researchers using ICRISAT’s digital agriculture innovation platform, the ihub.”

A pilot is being tested in two districts in Eastern Kenya and will be developed for Senegal during the next wet season. The aim is eventually to drive the scaling out and further innovate through the private sector.

“The private sector have not been very excited by the knowledge intensive requirements of tailoring climate informed advisories,” said Whitbread. But with the success of ISAT, and the enthusiasm of farmers to receive these advisories, we hope to change that in future.

Originally published as a CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture blog

A peek at India’s Next Generation Agromet Advisory Services

Data with the Indian government suggests that agromet advisories have the potential to yield benefits worth over US $ 430 billion for India’s 90 million agricultural households. About a quarter of these access some form of advisories and benefit from it, though this still is well short of the total ‘risk management’ benefits that can accrue if all farm households were to access advisories. What can be done to benefit all farm households? The research community believes the response lies in next generation of advisories—improved significantly in scale, content, context and timeliness by taking advantage of advances in climate science, big data analytics, digital communication and agriculture itself.

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The need for revising or renewing advisory systems is ever persistent given the multitude of changes that affect agriculture. In response to this demand for constant improvement, India’s agromet advisory system, operational since 1976 and considered one of the longest running in the world, has undergone many changes to be what it is today. What should tomorrow’s agromet advisory system (AAS) look like?

To answer this question, climate scientists, agricultural researchers, farmer-participatory experts and other specialists  from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India Meteorological Department (IMD); CGIAR institutions – ICRISAT, CIMMYT and World Fish; University of Reading, Watershed Organization Trust, GEAG and Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES) gathered in February at a special session on the sidelines of the International Conference on Climate Services in Pune, India, to assess the existing system and ponder a likely ‘Nextgen’ AAS.

Ensuing discussions were three-pronged – data acquisition from multiple platforms, generating content for dissemination and its delivery with feedback.

Data acquisition

The group felt that there is a data cache, including observational network data and forecasts, not easily accessible and readily interpretable. In addition to suggesting making the data available to stakeholders in user-accessible and usable digital formats, the group argued the need for regular capacity building to enhance the use of such data. About forecasts, the discussion group agreed that forecasts have to be provided with different lead times—now casting, short range, medium range, extended and seasonal. Scaling-out of the Indo-Gangetic Plain fog forecast work to rest of India was also suggested. The availability of remote-sensing data and its use was emphasized.

Generating content

Besides regular in-season advisories, the group suggested that a Nextgen AAS accommodate pre-season advisories based on long-range seasonal and four-week forecasts for two groups-farmers, and state and input suppliers. The advisory for state and input suppliers can deal with crops and varietal choices depending on season forecasts and area likely to be covered at district level to determine seed, fertilizer and other input requirements.

For farmers, pre-season advisories with a lead time of at least 15 days can help understand the seasonal conditions forecast, crop options with associated risk, and land allocation suggestions for different crops considering the risk and profit potential. These could be accompanied by agronomic management tips, as well as input and investment guidelines.

The in-season advisories have to be highly location specific (block level) if they are to support decision-making for field operations. Considering the crucial role planting related decisions make to yield outcomes, the group stressed the need for best support for planting decision-making. Timing of intercultural operations to conserve soil moisture and economic use of fertilizers are two other areas that require attention, the group felt. Information on pest and diseases in existing systems can be improved with advances in real time monitoring technology, like remote sensing and IoTs which enable hyperlocal weather measurements and crop surveillance. Mobile based crop health diagnostic applications (like plantix) can help crowdsource critical data on the spread of pests and diseases. Post-harvest advisories are also essential as farmers lack storage facilities and require guidance.

Inter-seasonal dry spells, extreme weather events and other uncertainties need to be factored in the advisories. Alerts for such events and mitigation strategies should be presented.

Information delivery and feedback

In recent years, the development of digital platforms have shown ways of effective information delivery. The work done on Meghdoot and Mausam, developed by IITM, IMD and ICRISAT can be built upon. Clearly, the group favored moving away from the traditional delivery systems to smartphone apps and social media, given the spread of internet and the capabilities of these media to accommodate data, M&E and feedback. That apart, when delivered at community level through these media, farmer discussions and information sharing can follow.

The group also suggested gamified advisories for auto-generation of messages; it was felt that human intervention should be restricted to verification and validating content. For end-users who desire more information, longer versions of the advisories can be made available digitally.

More importantly, the members of the group echoed that timing of in-season advisories is crucial, taking into account the lifecycle of a crop or enterprise. Advisories should help narrow decision choices and have market implications, leading to high impact in terms costs or benefits.

To trial a Nextgen system, the group has suggested selecting five Agromet Field Units (AMFU) where the framework and the software can be piloted.

About the authors:

Dr Karuturi Rao,
Honorary Fellow at ICRISAT

Dr Anthony Whitbread,
Research Program Director – Innovation Systems for the Drylands (ISD) and Country Representative – Tanzania, ICRISAT

Dr Ramaraj Palanisamy,
Associate Scientist, ISD, ICRISAT

COVID-19: In the media

During the pandemic, nutritious food is an urgent requirement for the teeming millions. Photo: FCI

During the pandemic, nutritious food is an urgent requirement for the teeming millions. Photo: FCI

Nature India: Produce more coarse grains to meet pandemic nutrition challenge

India will provide free food grains to more than 800 million poor people during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, nutrition security is more important than food security in the coronavirus crisis, experts say.

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Amidst the world’s largest lockdown to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, India today announced easing restrictions for the agriculture sector from 20 April 2020. The lockdown exit would allow farmers to harvest standing crops that may feed a population of over 1.3 billion and support traditional exports.

Among the world’s largest producers of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables and milk, India was faced with a tough agrarian challenge as farming activity halted following the lockdown on 25 March 2020, just ahead of the harvest and sowing seasons.

Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a package for the economically backward sections promising to provide free foodgrains to 800 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Along with  their existing monthly entitlements of 5 kg of subsidised food grains, these beneficiaries will be given an additional 5 kg food grain free for three months (April to June 2020).

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has swung into action to transport at least 10 MT of food grains every month from India’s grain surplus states such as Punjab, Haryana, Madhaya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to grain deficit states such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka. Under the world’s biggest food security programme, FCI procures and supplies around 60 million tonnes (MT) of rice and wheat grains annually.

A nutritious basket

Agricultural scientists say though India has enough stocks of food grains to meet any eventuality triggered by the pandemic, it is time to enlarge the food basket to crops such as sorghum and millets to not just ensure future security but also immunity-providing nutrition.

“We should also enlarge the purchase and Public Distribution System (PDS) so that whatever we purchase from the farmers can be distributed,” says Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, father of India’s ‘Green Revolution’ responsible for exponentially increasing the wheat and rice production of the country in the early 1970s.

Swaminathan says merely providing food security will not be enough. The country needs to move swiftly to provide ‘nutritional security’ to a large mass of people. While around 800 million people are provided with ‘calories’ through NFSA, the focus should now shift to production and consumption of pulses, oil seeds, vegetables and other commodities such as fish and eggs, he told Nature India.

India should now grow more coarse and nutritious grains, like pearl millets, experts say. Photo: ICRISAT

India should now grow more coarse and nutritious grains, like pearl millets, experts say. Photo: ICRISAT

India is also among the global leaders in the production of pulses, legumes and millets, which are rich sources of nutrition. The COVID-19 pandemic now necessitates nutritious food for the masses more than ever, according to Rajeev Varshney, Research programme Director for Genetic Gains at Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). “It’s high time to include other coarse cereals as they are highly nutritious. We need to keep our people healthy and with stronger immune systems,” Varshney told Nature India.

Securing food for a mammoth population would require solving the problems of 140 million farm families, mostly small and marginal. “Give small farmers enough incentive to continue in agriculture. This is particularly important for young farmers — they should feel that agriculture is technologically interesting and also economically rewarding,” Swaminathan, who chaired the National Commission on Farmers set up in 2004 to assess the extent of India’s agrarian crisis, said.

India’s rich genetic resources, distinct agro-climatic zones and rainfall variations provide a unique landscape to optimise the use of available land. The coronavirus pandemic provides a fresh perspective and many lessons for agriculture, Varshney says.“With shrinking natural resources such as arable land and increasing vagaries of climate change, we must accelerate the development and adoption of varieties that promise higher gains in farmers’ field,” Varshney says.

Calamity-proofing agriculture

Swaminathan says India must now have an early warning system network to understand early on any likely damage to crops, either because of the weather, climate, drought, floods or pests or pandemics such as COVID-19.

The lockdown in India saw thousands of migrant laboureres engaged in agriculture, go back to their villages. “The labourers have gone home and this poses a challenges to the farmers, the procurement, storage and marketing,” Swaminathan says. He suggests that such an eventuality could be avoided by adopting some of the policies pioneered by Varsghese Kurien, responsible for India’s ‘White Revolution’ steeped in the concept of cooperatives in milk procurement. “Community harvesting, community storage, community marketing and the government ensuring that fair price is given. We should do the same thing in agriculture,” he suggests.

Many migrant farm labourers were forced to leave for their villages during the lockdown. Photo: FCI

Many migrant farm labourers were forced to leave for their villages during the lockdown. Photo: FCI

In order to tide through any COVID-19 related insecurities, India must ensure an operational food supply chain, pay smallholding farmers in advance for uninterrupted farming operations and avoid any price inflation of farm products, Varshney says.

India’s vulnerable populations should come out of the pandemic without facing an unmanageable nutritional challenge, Varshney says. “This is a good time to strengthen the country’s national nutrition programmes and ramp up support from local level NGOs and workers,” he adds.

Varshney emphasises that it is also a good time to revisit India’s agricultural research policies. “We can develop new and better varieties through genomics-assisted breeding. But there should be supportive policies to accelerate the release of new crop varieties in the national system.”

This article was originally published at

About the author:

Sandip Das

As the corona crisis coincides with the rabi harvest/preparation for kharif sowing season, its impacts on food production and movement through the value chain loom large.

As the corona crisis coincides with the rabi harvest/preparation for kharif sowing season, its impacts on food production and movement through the value chain loom large.

The Financial Express: Seeds of rural recovery: States must consider accommodating returnee migrants in small-farming

Small and marginal farmers remain the dominant food producer and major workforce in India, and the country would rely on them to contribute to the post-pandemic revival.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added a new dimension to the agriculture sector’s woes. Small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural labourers, and informal workers are the hardest hit. The ongoing national shutdown may affect farm operations if measures announced by the government aren’t implemented seriously, and corrective action taken.

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That the present crisis will have a profound impact on the economy and food security is a foregone conclusion. Welfare governments, both central and states/UTs have done well to declare agriculture as an essential service, and come out with financial packages and social security measures.

As the corona crisis coincides with the rabi harvest/preparation for kharif sowing season, its impacts on food production and movement through the value chain loom large. During the lockdown, constrained labour movement has already adversely affected farm operations in parts of north-west India. States, civil society and businesses are now gearing up to minimise impact, and hope to sail through on good seasonal bounty.

Small and marginal farmers remain the dominant food producer and major workforce in India, and the country would rely on them to contribute to the post-pandemic revival. However, so far, they remain invisible in the current discourse, due to their informality, as well as political and digital inability.

Small and marginal farmers constitute more than 85% of farm household,cultivate about half of all farmlands as per Agriculture Census, 2015-16, and produce about 60% of farm goods, critical to India’s food security. They also constitute the biggest group of India’s poor and most food insecure. But, small farming remains adaptive, making this group the most important constituent of farm debate in the Covid-19 context.

A key trigger of growth of informal workforce is rural land tenure informalities embedded in rural landlessness, and all-pervasive agricultural tenancy and sharecropping. Agriculture workers represent half of the informal workforce. It is now being discussed that a number of migrant workers who fled the big cities may never return, preferring to find work on their marginal farms or in nearby towns.

Rural India, especially the farm sector, therefore, must prepare to productively absorb these additional labour. India’s small farms may be able to productively engage them, as they are extended enhanced tenure security, which can trigger farm investments, ‘sustainable’ intensification and diversification.

Tenancy has risen over the last few decades despite post-independence land reforms banning this. Nearly 2.1 crore households in the country cultivate 1-1.1 crore hectares of land on informal lease basis as per 70th round of NSSO. Tenants remain more vulnerable to and impacted by disasters and crop loss, both under fixed term tenancy and sharecropping.

NITI Aayog came up with the model Land Leasing Act in 2016, which encourages states to legalise land tenancy, benefitting both tenants and landlords. Post-pandemic, states must consider accommodating returnee migrants in small-farming by legalising and implementing leasing reforms. In the absence of tenancy documents, benefits of schemes under the Centre’s Rs 1,70,000 crore relief package may not reach many among the needy. Land-leasing reforms and documentation can aid more inclusive delivery of public service entitlements to these vulnerable tenants, critical to trigger rural revival.

Along with flattening the corona-curve, states must also prepare to downsize the post-pandemic impact, and begin working on revival strategies—ironically, India’s informal labour, apart from being most vulnerable, holds the key to this. Informality of labour is linked to informality around land relations; post-pandemic farm growth hinges on strategic action on land leasing reforms. With options and experiences around leasing reform already available, the political will and bureaucratic expediency will demonstrate how much India cares about its small farmers, when planning food security.

About the authors

Pranab R Choudhury, Vice-President, NRMC

Arabinda K Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs – New Delhi, ICRISAT

Bullock-carts loaded with sugarcanes on their way to the Sahyadri Sugar Factory during the sugarcane crushing season, in Karad, Maharashtra. Photo: PTI

Bullock-carts loaded with sugarcanes on their way to the Sahyadri Sugar Factory during the sugarcane crushing season, in Karad, Maharashtra. Photo: PTI

Outlook India: Lockdown: Centre, States helped agricultural sector, but a lot yet to be done to ensure growth

While these measures will begin to help, the impact witnessed by farm sector and other vulnerable groups requires more intervention

The disruptions on rural livelihoods and food supplies from COVID-19 lockdown have worried all stakeholders in the Indian agriculture sector. The Indian government has announced a massive relief package of ₹ 1.7 lakh crore to cover those hit the hardest – farmers, rural workforce, women and other vulnerable groups. The package promises free cereal and pulse grains for three months through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and cash transfers to vulnerable people, mainly in rural areas.

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The government has promised an additional 15 kg food grains per person for 800 million people, thanks to about 60 million tonnes of grain buffer stock in the country. The government has also exempted the movement of agriculture commodities; farm labourers and harvesting and other machinery from the shutdown restrictions. With state governments also pitching in, the first step to averting a major hunger crisis has been taken.

While these measures will begin to help, the impact witnessed by farm sector and other vulnerable groups require more intervention. Halting of farm operations like harvesting, owing to homeward exodus of the workforce and scarce availability of transportation for ferrying the produce, besides restricted market access and the need for social distancing, have contributed to the distress. In this scenario, harvesting of rabi crops, especially in northwest India and regular harvesting of smallholders’ produce of fruit and vegetables across all states has become a big challenge.

The crisis has had contrasting impacts on producers and consumers. While vegetable and fruit producers are in a stress-selling mode, staring at downward price trends, consumers in urban areas are having to pay increased prices due to limited availability. Smallholders are also holding on to their produce as most agriculture markets or mandis are closed. There is a risk of a glut and crashing of market prices after the lockdown that can dangerously drive the farmers into more losses. The states have already been advised for decentralised procurement of grains at the doorsteps of farmers by suitably changing the APMC laws.

The Kharif (rainy season) crop that follows in June is also likely to be impacted. Though the seed industry has been allowed to function, seed processing and packaging industries are seriously constrained due to workforce unavailability.

Transportation and other logistics have to be organised well for the smooth availability of seeds and other agro-inputs at right time. There is need to connect all missing links for the functioning of food supply chains.

Dairy, a major source of cash and stability for Indian farmers, especially smallholders in dry regions, is significantly affected. About 500,000 tons of milk is produced daily and nearly 15-20 per cent of the market surplus is procured by traditional sweetmakers, who remain closed. The uptake of milk by organised sector has also reduced due to workforce shortages and transport problems in certain regions. The dairy industry and the government need to intervene immediately as milk production is not only a source of livelihood for smallholders but also a major source of nutrition. The industry’s large entities like Amul and others may come forward to procure additional milk from local vendors through their collection centres, which continue to operate. Karnataka government’s step to procure extra milk and distribute it free to poor people is also worth emulating by other states.

This unprecedented situation has an equal or higher economic impact on the more enterprising farmers growing high-value commodities like fruits, vegetables, dairy, fishery, etc. and hence they also need to be compensated. This lockdown may worsen the agrarian crisis if farmers are not ensured a minimum income for the next few months and their losses compensated through appropriate measures. Homeward exodus of migrant workers from states with intensive farming like Punjab not only affects agriculture, but also the livelihoods of migrants if the lockdown continues further. The proposed One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), which entitles beneficiaries to claim subsidised food irrespective of their place of residence, may avert such hardship in future. The situation calls for speedy implementation of ONORC and also revamping the PDS (designing evidence-based instruments combining physical delivery and food stamps). Besides innovating the PDS systems, government needs to encourage decentralised food systems with increased consumption of local traditional foods, diversifying farming/food systems, urban farming and improving the capacity of farmers to safely store food for their household consumption.

Though the government has permitted agriculture activity and export of key agricultural commodities during the lockdown, it remains subdued because of labour constraint. The migrant workforce will remain indispensable, both for industry and agriculture, in the future as well. We should learn from this crisis to create a transparent mechanism that provides a safety net to the trained migrant workforce avoiding personal miseries and losses to the economy under such concerning situations.

This challenge also calls for greater R&D efforts and innovative business models for mechanization on small farms. At present, a publicly accessible inventory of farm machines at block/sub-district level is needed. Smartphones and digital tools could be the best way of communicating with all stakeholders. Moreover, the continuity of agri-supply chains could also be promoted by supportive actions for e-Commerce and delivery companies.

Though central and state governments in India have acted quickly to help the agriculture sector navigate this unprecedented crisis, more immediate corrective steps as outlined are needed to ensure food security and to support agriculture to fuel India’s economic growth.

Originally published in Outlook.

About the authors

Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee
Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs – New Delhi,
Dr Shalander Kumar
Principal Scientist – Agriculture Economist
Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity

The colossal crisis facing us and its unimaginable impact on human lives necessitates the government to overlook the fiscal impact of these measures.

The colossal crisis facing us and its unimaginable impact on human lives necessitates the government to overlook the fiscal impact of these measures.

The Financial Express: Farm health in times of corona: Govt must ensure the agri supply-chain remains uninterrupted

What could be the possible fall out on the agriculture sector—50% of population still depends on it—is indeed a cause of concern.

The evolving situation around Covid-19 is becoming critical. Governments have already announced guidelines for citizens to keep themselves safe. Packages have also been declared to safeguard interests of various sectors. What could be the possible fall out on the agriculture sector—50% of population still depends on it—is indeed a cause of concern.

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After the announcement of nationwide lockdown for 21 days, the FM declared a relief package of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. At a time when large crowds of poor and marginalised people are struggling to sustain; and the perils of hunger, joblessness, disease, and death looming large in their faces, the announcement of the economic relief package is indeed an appropriate step and provides a ray of hope. In a bid to provide immediate and material assistance to workers in the unorganised sector, migrant workers, as well as the urban and rural poor who have been left without food and money in their hands, the FM detailed the modalities for transfer. As per the newly christened Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice per household, and 1 kg of pulses available regionally will be given free for three months to 60% population.

Majority of rural people are expected to benefit from these measures. The immediate benefit would be from the early release of first installment of Rs 2,000 directly under PM-KISAN. Moreover, the government has increased the wage rate of workers under MGNREGS, that is expected to take care of the needs of wage earners including agricultural labourers (who don’t get benefit under PM-KISAN).

While the salaried middle-class is learning to cope with this unprecedented shutdown across the country, it is creating substantial hardships for the poorer sections, who have lost only means of livelihood.

At a time when the worst-hit people are facing dejection from the scare of deprivation on a day-to-day basis, the announcement of the relief package comes as a reassurance. However, while these are benign measures, challenges in implementation abound. The most crucial challenge that rears its head in these times is the temporal lag between the time when they are needed and the actual time of delivery. This is especially true in the delivery of the most critical forms of support —food and cash (both for the urban and rural poor). Despite the rush in implementing food and cash transfers, grains from the PDS will take its time in moving from godowns and warehouses to the fair price shops from where people may be able to purchase for consumption. To avoid any possible transmission through gatherings, few state governments have already started door delivery of the PDS items. It’s indeed good news. Given the vast geographical spread of the virus in the country, a more decentralised approach for distribution of food through local food supply chains might ameliorate the dire situation.

Smooth functioning of the supply chain (with adequate safety measures for the people involved) have to be ensured by the government machinery, as the prevailing crisis situation presents well-aligned incentives for hoarding and rent seeking among the ill-intentioned providers.

Cash transfers, too, are going to be made via DBT reaching the promised sum straight into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts. However, this itself would exclude a substantial number of those who were intended to benefit from the programme, given the limited registration. It is unlikely that migrant workers would wait out the doles before undertaking more active and drastic survival measures. The colossal crisis facing us and its unimaginable impact on human lives necessitates the government to overlook the fiscal impact of these measures. But if these benefits do not reach the needy in time, the human and economic repercussions will be significant.

This is peak of the Rabi season and therefore, movements of farmers and farm workers as well as machines for harvesting and other critical operations are extremely essential. As government has already waived restrictions on inter- and intra-state movement of harvesting and related farm machineries along with procurement operations, it is expected that harvesting of Rabi crops would not face much problem. A good farm harvest after all will decide future strategy. At this unprecedented time, when both manufacturing and services might get severely hit, farm sector could salvage the situation by becoming a growth engine for Indian economy.

About the authors

Smriti Verma & Anjani Kumar are agricultural economists at the South Asia Office office, IFPRI and

Arabinda K Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs – New Delhi, ICRISAT.

MS Swaminathan, is an ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill and a Founding Father of the institute. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

MS Swaminathan, is an ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill and a Founding Father of the institute. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

BW BUSINESSWORLD: India is facing a critical situation for its agrarian future: MS Swaminathan

You have drafted the recommendations that are termed as India’s agrarian policy bible, did you ever think about the current situation?

The National Policy for Farmers is a comprehensive one, covering both favourable and unfavourable situations, such as those expected in the era of climate change. There are detailed suggestions on anticipatory research and action.

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How do you look at the current situation from the perspective of a scientist and a policy maker?

The present situation is partly due to global conditions. Nevertheless, there are ample pathways of minimizing damage. Education is particularly important in order to promote containment.

How to mitigate from the impact of pandemic on agrarian India?

Currently, the problem is one of labour, both for agriculture and post-harvest operations. A massive skill training programme will have to be undertaken and landless labour and women farmers in particular would need advanced assistance to take care of their immediate needs. Pricing and marketing, as well as storage and value addition, are important components of a revival plan.

How do you look at the migration of labour back to their hometowns?

It is unfortunate that labour had to return to their hometowns due to the loss of jobs and livelihoods. Agriculture promotes job-led economic growth and we should start preparing for the rehabilitation of those who are currently leaving agriculture due to the extraordinary circumstances.

Every situation has both good and bad impacts, can India turn this migration into positive results?

It is true that every calamity also provides an opportunity for strengthening the ecological base of agriculture. There are a number of studies coming today on how the negative impact on production can be alleviated, particularly with reference to procurement and marketing.

What kind of techno scientific interventions you suggest for such unprecedented situation?

The most important intervention we need is in the field of post-harvest technology – storage, processing, value addition and marketing are important components of intervention. While production technology has advanced, post-harvest technology as well as infrastructure are inadequate. We should pay attention to all aspects of agriculture from seed to seed.

You are the father of the nation’s Green Revolution, what are your suggestions to common people, businessmen and policy makers in current situation?

My advice is to develop greater pride and confidence in our farmers and farming, based on how they converted a ‘ship to mouth’ existence into a legal ‘right to food’. Farmers and farming were given low prestige in the past. This situation should change and we should regard every farmer as a scientist.

Originally published in Business World

About the author:

Prabodh Krishna

COVID-19: Webinar

A screenshot of Dr Padhee participating in the webinar.

A screenshot of Dr Padhee participating in the webinar.

Agri experts debate key points to bolster agriculture and horticulture in COVID-19 context

Agriculture experts, policymakers and representatives from private and public sector companies brainstormed online recently to enumerate challenges arising out of the coronavirus pandemic and to suggest actionable solutions for Indian states.

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Dr AK Padhee, Director, Country Relations and External Affairs, ICRISAT, presented his views on the main issues that farmers across India would be facing as a fallout of the outbreak, simultaneously suggesting some key steps to resolve the challenges:

  • Harvesting and procurement operations: One way to deal with challenges arising out of lack of labor (due to temporary laborers migrating back to their villages) for harvesting activities would be to leverage the NREGA funds for smallholder/marginal farmers to (at least partially) pay for labor on their fields
  • Supply chain of perishable foods: Logistic support should be provided to such producers in order make the most of a high-supply and high-demand situation, which is likely to arise once the lockdown period is ended
  • Farm labor migration: Apart from utilizing combine harvesters and other farm machinery for harvesting purposes, promoting custom hiring centers for farm equipment is a viable option to be considered. Also engaging Farmer-Producer Organizations for this purpose will be helpful
  • Welfare measures by government: We need clear plans to ensure that government welfare measures e.g. cash transfers under PM Kisan and PM Garib Kalyan Yojana reach the beneficiaries seamlessly
  • Agricultural inputs for next sowing season: Pre-positioning of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. at centralized locations in time for the kharif sowing season will help mitigate the challenge of supplying farmers with these critical inputs at the right time.

Additionally, Dr Padhee suggested that small and medium enterprises (SMEs), e-commerce and delivery enterprises and agri-startups be incentivized through appropriate government policies as feasible and practical solutions. Setting up of a round-the-clock helpline for farmers to call for any questions or grievances specific to the COVID-19 pandemic was also recommended.

Dr Padhee made a special reference to Dr B Janardhan Reddy, Principal Secretary to the Agriculture & Cooperation Department of Telangana state, who was also part of the webinar. He said that this was a good opportunity to nudge policy decisions towards nutricereals (such as millets and sorghum) and legumes – some of ICRISAT’s mandate crops – since they are nutritious and promote sustainable agriculture in the end.

The webinar ‘Supporting Agriculture and Horticulture in COVID-19: Practical Approaches and Strategies’, conducted on 22 Apr 2020 jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and the Federation of Telangana Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FTCCI). The online session saw participation from about 200 delegates.

Reported by Rajani Kumar, Sr Communications Officer, ICRISAT.

COVID-19: Agri-buzz blog

Photo: Genebank-ICRISAT

Photo: Genebank-ICRISAT

Containing COVID19 impacts on Indian Agriculture

The ongoing health crisis around COVID19 has affected all walks of life. Protecting lives of people suffering from the disease as well as frontline health responders have been the priority of nations. Governments have swung into actions since the Corona virus attack created an unprecedented situation. India declared a three-week nation-wide lockdown till mid-April in the initial phase, which has subsequently been extended till May 3  for achieving satisfactory containment of the virus spread.

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During these challenging times, how does Indian Agriculture respond to the crisis and how do government measures affect 140 million farm households across the country and thereafter impact the economy of a very important country in the developing world? We assess the immediate challenges that COVID19 has posed to the farm sector and suggest mitigation measures to ensure a sustainable food system in the post-crisis period.

Immediately after the nation-wide lockdown was announced, the Indian Finance Minister declared an INR 1.7 trillion package, mostly to protect the vulnerable sections (including farmers) from any adverse impacts of the Corona pandemic. The announcement, among a slew of benefits, contained advance release of INR 2000 to bank accounts of farmers as income support under PM-KISAN scheme. The Government also raised the wage rate for workers engaged under the NREGS, world’s largest wage guarantee scheme. Under the special scheme to take care of the vulnerable population, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (Prime Minister’s scheme for welfare of the poor), has been announced. Additional grain allotments to registered beneficiaries were also announced for the next three months. Cash and food assistance to persons engaged in the informal sector, mostly migrant laborers, have also been announced for which a separate PM-CARES (Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund has been created.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has issued state-wise guidelines for farmers to be followed during the lockdown period. The advisory mentions specific practices during harvest and threshing of various rabi (winter sown) crops as well as post-harvest, storage and marketing of the farm produce.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has also announced specific measures that address the “burden of debt servicing” due to COVID19 pandemic. Agricultural term and crop loans have been granted a moratorium of three months (till May 31) by banking institutions with 3 percent concession on the interest rate of crop loans up to INR 300,000 for borrowers with good repayment behavior.

Immediate Challenges

In spite of all these measures and in view of continuing restrictions on movements of people and vehicular traffic, concerns have been raised regarding negative implications of COVID19 pandemic on the farm economy. This is the peak of rabi season in India and crops like wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, etc. (including paddy in irrigated tracts) are at harvestable stage or almost reaching maturity. This is also the time when the farm harvests reach the mandis (market yards) for assured procurement operations by designated government agencies. Moreover, any severe disruption to the supply of perishable fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish, etc. having mobilized to meet the increasing demand from a bulging middle class as well as urban and rural consumers, may create irreparable damage to all actors in the supply chain. The migration of workers from few parts to their native places has also triggered panic buttons, as they are crucial for both harvesting operations and post-harvest handling of produce in storage and marketing centers. The Union Home Ministry, in a very significant move, has notified to exclude movement of farmers, farm laborers and harvesting and sowing-related machines from the purview of lockdown.

Making the food grains, fruits and vegetables and other essential items available to consumers, both in rural and urban areas, is the most critical challenge for Government machinery during the lockdown period. Smooth functioning of the supply chain, with adequate safety measures for the people involved, is of paramount importance. Transportation of public distribution system (PDS) items to last mile delivery agents, by both rail and road, has to be ensured by respective Government agencies. Distribution of the commodities to vulnerable population, while maintaining prescribed guidelines and protocol, particularly of social distancing, must be effectively monitored.

As the ongoing lockdown coincides with the rabi harvesting season, farmers across the country look up to the Government to ensure uninterrupted harvesting of the crops as well as smooth procurement operations. The Union Home Ministry’s circular waiving restrictions on the inter- and intra-State movements of farmers/laborers, as well as harvesting and related farm machines, is indeed a step in right direction. While ensuring availability of laborers for critical farm operations, their safety (from any COVID infection) and welfare must be prioritized by the Government systems.

The sale of dairy products; fish; poultry, etc. has also been hit during the lockdown period as the uptake by the organized industry players has been affected due to shortage of workforce and transport issues.

As weather has been very erratic over past few months in many parts, harvested produce must also be protected from such risks.

Mitigation Measures

The poor sections of society are always the hardest hit in any disaster or pandemic situation. With about 85 percent of Indian farm households being small and marginal farmers, and a significant part of the population being landless farm laborers, welfare measures to contain any damage from COVID are definitely going to help them with sincere implementation. The focus of the Government therefore has to be to protect the lives of every citizen. However, people living on agriculture and allied activities, mostly those losing their income from informal employment at this lockdown period, have to be provided with alternative avenues (cash transfers) till the economy bounces back (when this health crisis is successfully overcome).

To sustain the demand for agricultural commodities, investments in key logistics must be enhanced. Moreover, e-commerce and delivery companies and start-ups need to be encouraged with suitable policies and incentives.

The small and medium enterprises, running with raw materials from the agriculture and allied sector or otherwise, also need special attention so that the rural economy doesn’t collapse.

To obviate the immediate concerns of scarcity of farm labor, policies must facilitate easy availability of machinery through state entities, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) or custom hiring centers (CHCs) with suitable incentives. It is also suggested to explore leveraging NREGS funds to pay part of the farm labor (with farmers paying the balance wage amount) to lessen the monetary burden on the farmer, while ensuring wage employment to the landless laborers and workers.

To answer queries relating to the announced measures of Government and addressing grievances of farmers, besides providing advisories on farm operations; availability of agri-inputs, dedicated toll-free helplines/call centers (in local/vernacular languages) must be established by the Government.

Agriculture in India is a State subject, and as has been observed in past years, policies and programs vary from one State to the other. However, agricultural activities, being interconnected in neighboring regions, agri-sops or benefits must not distort the market scenario. Waiver of farm loans, evidences suggest, have not fully benefitted the majority of small and marginal farmers. Rather, it affects the future credit behavior of the borrowers and thus negatively impacts the agricultural credit culture altogether. As the kharif (rainy/wet) season is fast approaching, institutional lending of crop loans should be expanded and facilitated for smooth (and sufficient) flow of credit to borrowing farmers. Agri-inputs – seeds, fertilizers, agro-chemicals, etc. – have to be pre-positioned for easy availability. Private sector must play a significant role with necessary policy support.

Relaxation of the norms by Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) allowing farmers to sell their produce beyond the designated mandis will certainly ease the burdens of farmers. State Governments must gear up their machineries for smooth procurement operations of farmers’ marketable surpluses at MSP (minimum support price) or through other price support schemes.

Under the COVID19 pandemic, being a health crisis of unprecedented proportions, the major share of future Budget allocations obviously (and logically so) would be apportioned for the health sector. However, investments should not be crowded out of the primary sector to prevent irreversible damage to the farm economy. Manufacturing and services sectors may be severely hit in the short run till the time the economy bounces back. It will be thus very appropriate to focus attention on the agriculture sector as a growth engine and also to bring resilience in food (and nutrition) security. At this critical stage, where climate change is already adversely impacting the agriculture sector, productive investments, including on research and innovation, would be very purposeful.

Structural reforms such as land leasing, contract farming and private agricultural markets, etc. have long been advocated to bring enhanced investments into the agriculture sector and to push its growth. However, there has not been uniform implementation of these legislations by State Governments and so the full potential of the sector is unrealized. These reforms need significant political will. Concerns of a slowdown in the zeal of States, post-COVID scenario, could be tackled with suitable incentive mechanisms by the Federal Government to the States.

With a burgeoning population, there is a corresponding rise in food demand in India. However, the negative externalities of the Green Revolution, particularly the environmental trade-offs and staple cereals fundamentalism, have since been realized. It is thus desirable to switch over to a suitable model with a far stronger nutrition focus where diets are more diverse. A post-COVID situation offers that unique opportunity to repurpose the existing food and agriculture policies for a healthier population.

There have been global concerns, rather speculations, on restriction of exports of agricultural commodities by a few global players. India, being trade-surplus on commodities like rice, meat, milk products, tea, honey, horticultural products, etc. may seize the opportunities by exporting such products with a stable agri-exports policy. India’s agricultural exports are valued at 38 billion US Dollars in 2018-19 and can rise up further with conducive policies. Development of export-supportive infrastructure and logistics would need investments and support of the private sector, that will be in the long term interests of farmers in boosting their income.

Many climate models predict a favorable monsoon in the 2020 season (the India Meteorological Department has also since officially announced) as the El-Nino weather phenomenon, that disrupts rainfall in India, is not evident. This is indeed a good news in the COVID scenario, assuming agriculture can practice largely unscathed.

Good news is that Government of India has now increased its focus on nutrition (besides food)- security and raising farmers’ income (rather than enhancing farm productivity). Changing the consumer behavior with suitable programs and incentives is already in the agenda. For all these to happen, the existing landscape of policy incentives that favor the two big staples of wheat and rice has to change. Designing agricultural policies, post-COVID19 scenario, must include these imperatives for a food systems transformation in India.

About the authors:

Dr Peter Carberry
Director General,
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee
Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs – New Delhi,

Padhee is Country Director-India and Carberry is Director General at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Views expressed are authors own.

A chapati could get out of reach for people who fall short in income in response to their sudden inability to walk to work. Photo: Michael Hauser

A chapati could get out of reach for people who fall short in income in response to their sudden inability to walk to work. Photo: Michael Hauser

COVID-19-measures, daily laborers and their nutrition

Containing COVID-19 is indispensable. But without social safety nets, the effects on daily laborers in Africa could be disastrous.

Drive along any major road connecting an African city with the hinterland early in the morning before sunrise. Each city has its distinct character; it looks, feels and smells unique. Each comes with its own beauty at that time of the day. But there is one thing many cities have in common: Women and men queue at bus stations. They travel by foot. They ride bicycles or motorbikes towards town. Thousands of people streaming from the city boundaries, informal settlements and townships to the industrial areas, downtown and residential areas in the pre-dawn hours. Regardless of whether you are in Harare, Johannesburg or Nairobi, many of those you encounter are moving towards their workplaces – factories, restaurants, petrol stations, construction sites or someone’s home. And many of those who commute are daily laborers. In case of a total lockdown in response to COVID-19 in these cities, none of them will get to work. This would not only severely impact the laborers and their families, it would inhibit the ability of the city to function at all.

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But the potential impact of a COVID-19-related shutdown on day laborers differs by country. One important factor is the ratio of farm to non-farm income. In Africa, some 58% of the employment is generated through agriculture, though this share is declining. Even so, in some parts of the continent the share of people in agriculture is still above 70% (Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Niger). On the other hand, in South Africa, for example, agriculture will generate less than 9% of employment by 2023. As a rule of thumb, the less the share of the population employed in agriculture, the higher the likelihood that people walk to work – like those you see in the early morning in cities. Many of the daily laborers work under informal employment arrangements: They are unprotected by labor laws and employment acts and without social protection, such as sick leaves, health insurance, unemployment benefits or pensions. When public water supply goes down, they must organize themselves.

Working poor

Many daily laborers earnings are at or below the poverty line. These people are often categorized as ‘working poor’ who hardly earn enough to feed their families. ILO estimates that by 2023, the working poor will account for an average of 30% of people across the continent. Many lack savings. They can neither afford to hoard food nor prepare for supply chain disruptions in the future. They aren’t those exhibiting panic buying of foods. Many of them spend on food what they earn on that day. A large share of household income – in the informal settlements of Nairobi, up to 75% – is spent on basic staples like bread, chapati, tea and carbohydrates, in most cases maize-based Ugali.

Livelihood risks

It is important to understand the huge implications that drastic COVID-19 measures could have for daily wage laborers if not managed or mitigated appropriately.

The ripple effects of consumption shortfalls can have devastating effects on human health. Dietary diversity among daily laborers is low – and they have high energy demands (they walk long distances and work long hours, many at physically demanding jobs). Our research in Nairobi, Lilongwe and Bulawayo suggests that the dietary diversity score of people in high-density areas – many of them are daily laborers – is already low. They consume five out of ten defined food groups. In other words, daily wage laborers work hard and eat poorly.

Sudden disruptions of cash flows in households are likely to cause further decline in the dietary quality and diversity of the working poor and others. People will also have to cut down on quantity: Skip meals, eat less. In a brief exchange with my colleagues Kai Mausch at World Agroforestry and Immaculate Edel at ICRISAT, we concur that one immediate consequence will be that healthier food groups in the diets will disappear – vegetables and fruits will go first as they are less filling and more expensive per kcal. Eating anything more expensive, millet instead of maize, will become impossible for many.

As the quality and quantity of food inputs decline, the susceptibility of humans to diseases simultaneously increases. The immune system is less capable of managing infection. This is a dangerous proposition in the face of COVID-19. So, while the middle and upper class prepare for a COVD-19 outbreak with the standard advice – sleep and eat well, work from home, people with little income have no such option, and are at high risk for diminishing vital bodily and mental resources.

Self-organized refill of water in Mathare, informal settlements in Nairobi, 23 Mar 2020. Photo: Billian Ojiwa

Self-organized refill of water in Mathare, informal settlements in Nairobi, 23 Mar 2020. Photo: Billian Ojiwa

Safety nets

These days, the importance of social safety nets to protect humans from welfare losses cannot be overemphasized. Safety nets are supposed to provide safe landing when people fall below the welfare threshold. Some approaches focus on cash transfers, others provide food, including food for schools, which in many countries are closed (including in Kenya).

Drastic COVID-19 measures will limit mobility and therefore leave many people without the ability to report to work – and daily laborers will feel the impact instantly in their pockets. Robust, well-targeted safety nets, therefore, will be extremely important for people without a formal contract and work arrangement.

All around the world, COVID-19 will become a stress test for social safety nets, including in industrialized countries, such as the USA. For example, the FNS (Food and Nutrition Service) of USDA re-organized its child nutrition program to cater for children whose schools are closed because of COVID-19 related shutdowns.

Fortunately, several countries have invested in social safety nets. Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania – three countries where we at ICRISAT have offices – are among those with social safety nets.

But despite noticeable expansions of social safety nets in Africa, their coverage remains low. In what they call a ‘living paper’, Ugo Gentilini and Mohamed Almenfi (World Bank), together with Ian Orton (ILO) recently reviewed social protection and job responses to COVID-19. By 20 March 2020, only 45 countries have introduced or adapted their social protection programs in response to COVID-19. Africa is the only continent that has not responded.

Employers who can afford to will continue payments to daily laborers in the event of a lockdown. For instance, Andre van Rooyen at our ICRISAT Zimbabwe office tells me that in Johannesburg some employers and workers are in an open conversation on how to pay them during the time of isolation. But many other employers won’t have the resources to consider this option. I speak to Billian Ojiwa at the Billian Music Family with whom we work on dietary behavior change in Mathare, a large informal settlement in Nairobi. A few days ago, we decided to halt our research on dietary behavior. In the 15 minutes we have, we discussed the implications of a lockdown for people without access to social protection – in simple words, it could prove disastrous. First, people cannot access available food because they lack the income. Second, informal shops will close – a food access problem then quickly turns into a food availability challenge.

Andre in Zimbabwe anticipates a significant movement back to rural areas where there may be at least the promise of better food access. But this will not prove true in a country like Zimbabwe, where crop production during the last season was extremely poor. And it may not be possible in Kenya during a lockdown. While I type these final sentences, a final update from Southern Africa on WhatsApp: Total lockdown of South Africa from Thursday onwards. Everyone is to stay at home except for essential purposes.

People will then depend on informal social networks and their extended families in order to subsist during a possible shutdown. Some businesses are already anticipating hardships and taking small but helpful measures. For instance, Safaricom waved the transaction cost for mobile money for small amounts to enable cashless payments, this will also support small cash transfers within family networks.

What next

If the virus hits Africa as hard as Europe or China, the effects will be felt at large scale. The WHO last week, therefore, rightly warned of the alarming effect a potential spread of COVID-19 would have on people, health and the economy in Africa. But it’s worthy of note that even without the spread of the actual virus, simply putting in place drastic public health measures meant to control it will impact on the economy in ways felt by many. And that impact on the economy, coupled with the inability of daily laborers to walk to work, could become an unprecedented challenge across Africa.

Early evening, I speak to Alexandre de Faria, a former UNIDO senior manager with whom I co-lecture at BOKU University in Vienna about a possible way forward: The state could pay compensation in proportion with the loss incurred by each citizen who has become unemployed due to layoffs by informal employers. Overall the result would be a huge state deficit – in Europe, Macron and other leaders have publicly stated that they will do “whatever it costs,” and in the eurozone the max 3% deficit rule has been withdrawn because of the crisis. This is a huge change in policy.

For some countries in Africa, another policy to test would be universal basic income for all. This will not solve a possible food availability problem, but it could provide instant monetary and mental relief to those living at the absolute poverty level.

Compared to Europe, African governments have implemented COVID-19 control measures (closure of schools and offices, physical distancing, restricting mobilities, and quarantines), relatively early. It will be equally important now to prepare mitigation measures and social safety nets for possible large-scale operations in and around African cities. If these are for whatever reason not needed, all the better – the newly created structures will serve people well in the post-COVID-19 era. But if they are needed, they will potentially mitigate consumption shortfalls and the inherent negative long-term effects of the loss of wages on millions of people.

Originally published in

About the author:

Dr Michael Hauser
Theme Leader – MIND & Principal Scientist
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program

An illustration of a COVID-19 virus. Photo: Pierre Sibiry Traoré (ICRISAT)

An illustration of a COVID-19 virus. Photo: Pierre Sibiry Traoré (ICRISAT)

Covid-19: flattening the food insecurity curve

To avoid societal collapses and their many potential ripple effects on world security, we must act now to flatten the food insecurity curve.

COVID-19: the domino effect

The COVID-19 pandemic is already affecting the world on an unprecedented scale. Yet, the unfolding health crisis is only the most visible part of the iceberg. The impending global recession coming in its wake will likely be the most challenging event mankind has faced in recent history. Given the considerable difficulties experienced by developed nations in their struggle to contain COVID-19 and manage its impacts, one can easily imagine the potential for catastrophic scenarios in the developing world, and most critically on the sustainability of its food systems.

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COVID-19: the domino effect

The COVID-19 pandemic is already affecting the world on an unprecedented scale. Yet, the unfolding health crisis is only the most visible part of the iceberg. The impending global recession coming in its wake will likely be the most challenging event mankind has faced in recent history. Given the considerable difficulties experienced by developed nations in their struggle to contain COVID-19 and manage its impacts, one can easily imagine the potential for catastrophic scenarios in the developing world, and most critically on the sustainability of its food systems.

A risky dependence on food imports

Today, 80% of Africa’s agricultural production relies on smallholders. Their productivity is among the world’s lowest, capped at 30% of their potential due to lack of financing and market integration[1]. To feed their rapidly increasing populations, sub-Saharan African countries thus have to rely on massive food imports, projected before the onset of the pandemic to grow from USD 35 billion (2017) to USD 110 billion (2030) [2].The COVID-19 crisis is already accelerating the prospect for a dramatic increase in Africa’s dependence on food imports for the following reasons:

Assuming that national agricultural and agri-food industry workforces will be affected in proportions similar to those observed in the developed world, one can expect a brutal drop in Africa’s food production;

Financial institutions have started contracting. Banks will increasingly turn towards less risky investments, significantly reducing agricultural lending, particularly to smallholder producers;

The price of major food security commodities such as rice, wheat and maize will increase commensurate with spiking demand on world markets. This will severely constrain the financing of imports by countries that are already highly indebted.

Flatten the food insecurity curve

These extraordinary circumstances herald food crises of unique magnitude for the world’s most vulnerable nations, with direct implications on hunger, poverty, social unrest and stability. After the 2008 financial crisis, countries and financial systems adopted a reactive, demand-driven approach to provide the means to sustain the status quo, wages, purchasing power, etc. Such simple interventions cannot be afforded in the time of COVID-19, as the uncertainty grows as to where food will indeed be available at all. Ensuring the sustainability of supply itself will require marshalling a much more profound intervention on the world’s food systems.

The immediate emergency for appropriate curative and preventive solutions to COVID-19 should therefore not hide the concurrent imperative to prioritize and fast-track sustainable mitigation strategies to contain the massive emergent food insecurity brought about in vulnerable regions by the imminent global economic crisis. To avoid societal collapses and their many potential ripple effects on world security, we must act now to flatten the food insecurity curve in the same way flattening the COVID-19 infection curve will help preserve the integrity and function of national health systems.

Orchestrate food sovereignty

Food aid will obviously be critical to address symptoms of food insecurity, but not any more sufficient than ICU patient transfers to address symptoms of hospital saturation under COVID-19. We need a more transformative, orchestrated approach to food production, resulting in food systems that are both more integrative, more inclusive and hence more resilient. In Africa as elsewhere, COVID-19 presents us with the opportunity to accelerate agricultural transformation through orchestrated value chains that honorably promote (i) food sovereignty, traceability and quality and (ii) valuable participation on international markets, hence reducing trade balance deficits, improving food and nutritional security and reducing exposure to future shocks for individuals and entire societies alike.

The utmost priority is to immediately strengthen, in each target country, national support capacity for the next 2020 agricultural season with a triple trigger intervention that includes:

A direct smallholders’ financing mechanism implemented through partner banks to (i) ensure accessibility and affordability of inputs to manage a minimum safety acreage allotment for food security purposes and (ii) provide technical backstopping to increase productivity by up to 60%;

Simultaneously, direct support to agro-industries to enhance their capacity to absorb and transform the expected increase in smallholder throughput;

Support to transactions between agricultural value chain stakeholders to help (i) aggregators and transformers purchase smallholders’ production and (ii) retailers purchase transformed food items for commercialization on the market.

This blog was originally published on the agCelerant website and is promoted by CCAFS

[1] Only 11.32% of African smallholder producers have regular access to agricultural credit (source: Manobi Africa, 2019. Data from 15,850 smallholder farms of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Senegal).

[2] Adesina A., 2017. Betting on Africa to feed the world. Norman Borlaug Lecture, World Food Day, Des Moines, IA, USA

[3] Given average production costs estimated at USD 600/ha in Africa (source: Manobi Africa, 2019).

About the author:

Daniel Annerose
Pierre Sibiry Traoré
Amadou Thierno Diallo

Vouchers instead of food

COVID-19: How citizen-led social protection could help to cushion food systems in informal settlements.

One week ago, private food deliveries by Kenyan citizens were pouring into informal settlements in Nairobi, where 60-70% of residents live. These donations were intended to help provide for households that had lost income due to COVID-19 measures. But Billian Ojiwa, founder of the Billian Music Family, and his colleagues in Mathare wanted to test an alternative means to secure food for these households. They provided vouchers — first on paper, then via SMS — to be redeemed by 100 test households at three designated local food shops. This first round of ‘proof of concept’ research — a version of citizen science — looks promising. And the concept — a standard approach in many food aid programs — is intriguing. Rather than providing direct food aid, the idea is to support the local food economy to function; in a more nimble way that can address the need of the hour with deeper local impact. The approach seems to work in Mathare too, Nairobi’s second informal settlement with about 400,000 inhabitants.

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In cooperation with Community Health Volunteers who know Mathare in and out, the team identifies households with severe food shortages. This is done systematically, administrative district by district, based on hardship criteria that must be met in order to enrol households into the scheme. Someone entitled to a voucher has lost a lot; an informal wage, food, and sometimes hope. Of course, the voucher they receive does not replace everything, but it does offer quite a lot in terms of dignity, and most importantly, it’s worth flour and fresh products such as vegetables for a week.

Maintain informal food system

As much as the goal is to support families confronted with COVID-19 related food shortages, an underpinning principle of the initiative is to sustain the informal food economy as long as possible. But this only works when small shops, street food vendors and retailers have a business. If they fall below a minimum cash flow, they close down, and this will radically change the food environment for people in informal settlements – in addition to shopkeepers and vendors losing their livelihood and becoming aid-dependent themselves.

Distorting the competition between those vendors enrolled in the scheme and those who are not is to be avoided. Equally important it is to offer what is needed to ensure a balanced diet. Hence, the Mathare team works with shopkeepers to offer a diversity of foods, especially legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and millets to complement the maize consumption. Most likely, new informal market institutions are needed to secure food supply if there was a full lockdown in future.

One of the test shops where people redeem their food vouchers, Nairobi, 12 April 2020 (Photo Credit: Billian Ojiwa; Cover picture: Gerald Anderson)

One of the test shops where people redeem their food vouchers, Nairobi, 12 April 2020 (Photo Credit: Billian Ojiwa; Cover picture: Gerald Anderson)

Rather than people crowding in front of salon cars and lorries delivering food to informal settlements, the holders of food vouchers shop like on any other day. In the streets, no one recognises them as voucher holders. And in front of the designated shops, they queue as any other client does. The food vouchers are part of a larger package of COVID-19 awareness communication, delivered by the Community Health Volunteers. As a result, physical distancing is taken seriously. White circles drawn on the ground delineate the waiting spots in front of shops. People wear face masks, donated by citizens nearby.

Public-private partnership

Over the Easter weekend, the Kenyan administration regulated private food deliveries and called for coordination — after chaotic food deliveries put people at risk. Coordination is critical in such complex environments like informal settlements. Equally important it is for private food relief to adhere to standards, ranging from the right targeting of households, hygiene and food safety, physical distancing, and of course fairness and transparency of the entire food voucher system. The latter is essential in building and maintaining trust when crowdsourcing funds. The team in Mathare collect funds for the food vouchers also through M-Changa, a Kenyan crowdfunding platform. And it coordinates efforts in Mathare with the public administration.

Surely, social protection such as the one in Mathare are ideally run by the state. But often, respective public systems are just evolving. For details about social protection responses to COVID-19 globally see the latest real time review by colleagues at the World Bank, ILO and UNICEF. Hence, in an emergency of that scale, everyone’s help is needed.

Research support

The food voucher system currently developing in Mathare is innovative and builds on experiences elsewhere. The WFP (World Food Program) in neighboring Somalia, for example, maintains cash-based food support to internally displaced people and urban poor. Just this year, in cooperation with the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and MarketsICRISAT started complimentary research with WFP‘s work in Mogadishu to better understand the effects of cash-based transfers on livelihood trajectories of recipients. There is a growing academic literature on cash- and voucher-based food transfers in emergencies.

Research also provides knowledge to shape the emerging food voucher system in Mathare. One important question is the targeting of households. As the situation develops so dynamically, indicators used to target households must take note of and continuously adjust to COVID-19 impacts on households. Furthermore, research must take note of the effects of the voucher system on the local food economy. Finally, there is need for evidence-based strategies to sustainably scale the impact of the voucher system to other populations and areas. Since 2018, ICRISAT and World Agroforestry, with the support of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, have been working on dietary behavior change in Mathare. The so developed citizen-science network will help to answer a few of the questions above.

The next weeks of COVID-19 measures will be critical for everyone, including the informal settlements, their inhabitants and the food environments. Maintaining food flows – lifelines for many — is as important as thinking of the big dietary questions that will arise out of the COVID-19 crisis. It is too early to tell if a food voucher system positively impacts dietary diversity. Ideally, it does. This is in addition to securing food for households in need while advancing the food infrastructure amidst the most unprecedented crisis many informal settlements have ever experienced.

Originally published in

About the author

Dr Michael Hauser
Theme Leader – MIND & Principal Scientist
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program

Youth are among the most vulnerable sections to be affected by this crisis. Photo: Kennedy Famba

Youth are among the most vulnerable sections to be affected by this crisis. Photo: Kennedy Famba

Stronger local food value chains can leave Eastern and Southern Africa more resilient post COVID-19

A significant knock-on effect may be felt in the food processing industry. Food processing capacity in some countries is reducing due to labor shortages and delays in the supply of agricultural inputs. In Zimbabwe, even though food processing companies are mostly operating, working hours have been reduced, while some labor has been issued unpaid leave or laid off. In Kenya, food processors are faced with labor shortages as well as reduced import of agricultural inputs for processing, owing to significant delays in cross-border trade. These constraints have negative consequences for income and livelihoods of laborers, as well as the availability of processed food products.

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COVID-19 has seized the drylands of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), home to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Mitigation efforts by governments in the region are starting to have significant adverse impacts on local food value chains. Lockdowns are in place in Zimbabwe, Uganda and partially in Kenya. In Zimbabwe, where civil society protests have been historically suppressed, vendors in urban areas have been ordered to shutdown to stop the spread of the virus; in Harare, ‘illegal’ vending stalls were even demolished. Contrastingly in Malawi, and in a first for Africa during the pandemic, thousands took to streets in urban centers of Blantyre and Mzuzu to protest the lockdown, which was later struck down by a court apprehending the fallout from it.

The suspension of lockdown in Malawi reflects concerns about the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures on food security in ESA, which is already grappling with droughts, locust outbreaks, economic instability and diseases like malaria. The pandemic and its mitigation measures have impacted all stages of the value chains.

COVID-19 and downstream impacts in ESA’s food value chains

Governments in ESA are focused on setting up national plans for COVID-19 and have not coordinated a regional response, like in Europe, which will have significant ramifications for food security and livelihoods. Important trade relations between African countries have to be kept alive to ensure food security of those that rely on food imports. As fears rise over importing COVID-19 cases, many countries have restricted movement across borders (South Africa began fencing its border with Zimbabwe) and limited informal cross-border trade of food and remittances. For instance, in the case of Malawi, the land border with Zambia is currently closed, likely bringing informal cross-border trade of maize grain to a halt with significant implications for traders’ livelihoods and food security. In other ESA countries such as Uganda and Kenya, significant delays in border crossing for cargo trucks have been reported, which have important ripple effects on food value chains downstream.

Trade disruptions and national COVID-19 mitigation measures are also expected to disrupt local food value chains in the short to medium term through transport, logistics, processing and sales bottlenecks in (peri-) urban areas. Small food outlets such as food stalls and restaurants have been closed in (peri-) urban areas, significantly impacting vendors who desperately depend on daily income. Other vulnerable people living in high-density neighborhoods commute daily to provide services and labor to the cities. (Partial) lockdowns restricting such commute in (peri-) urban areas often signify a total loss of income for casual labor, vendors, minibus drivers and others reliant on daily wages (for instance, in Zimbabwe, where 90% of income generated is from the informal sector and already more than 77% of the urban population is unable to meet their food needs). The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that food shortages are affecting about 7.7 million people in the country. As food shortages dramatically increase from frequent droughts and economic mismanagement, reflected in an inflation rate of 676.39%, people are compelled to defy the lockdown to buy food from local markets.

Closure of open markets like this one in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, due to lockdowns mean loss of income and nutrition for the urban poor. Photo: Kennedy Famba

Closure of open markets like this one in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, due to lockdowns mean loss of income and nutrition for the
urban poor. Photo: Kennedy Famba

A significant knock-on effect may be felt in the food processing industry. Food processing capacity in some countries is reducing due to labor shortages and delays in the supply of agricultural inputs. In Zimbabwe, even though food processing companies are mostly operating, working hours have been reduced, while some labor has been issued unpaid leave or laid off. In Kenya, food processors are faced with labor shortages as well as reduced import of agricultural inputs for processing, owing to significant delays in cross-border trade. These constraints have negative consequences for income and livelihoods of laborers, as well as the availability of processed food products.

According to FAO’s latest Food Price Monitoring Analysis report for Zimbabwe, prices for staple foods such as maize meal have increased sharply, driven by low  production prospects for the 2019/2020 season, low food reserves and an unstable currency, prompting the UN organization to issue a high level price warning. Similar price level warnings have been issued for Zambia and Mozambique. Increasing food insecurity heightens risk of unrest as COVID-19 fuels existing political and economic crises in ESA, such as the nullification of last year’s presidential election in Malawi.

Upstream impacts

While rural areas may be less vulnerable to COVID-19 in the short term, the disruptions in local value chains will be an additional shock to smallholder farmers in the drylands reeling under droughts, pests and diseases, and economic turmoil. In the medium term, smallholders are likely to face increasing poverty, and witness rising levels of malnutrition as nutritious food becomes less accessible. As staple food prices are starting to climb, farmers are likely to face increasing food insecurity. In Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, the impact on food security may be further exacerbated by a second outbreak of desert locusts in April, likely to cause significant damage to crops and pastures. As income for farmers is expected to decrease in the medium term, together with a reduction in remittances from both urban and international private donors, farmers’ ability to access inputs in time will be significantly reduced, raising the risk to produce crop and livestock below capacity and further exacerbating a food crisis previously triggered by droughts and economic mismanagement.

In the long term, a key challenge will be to ensure that sufficient seed stock is available and reaches the farmers to increase food production in the next season.

Local food chains can lead the way

Despite its numerous negative impacts, the current COVID-19 crisis comes with opportunities. Before the pandemic, Malawi and Zimbabwe have frequently suffered from food insecurities, resulting from climate and disease impacts, and public policies which did not sufficiently support local value chains. Considering limited food imports resulting from increasing trade restrictions globally and regionally, countries in ESA now have the opportunity to strengthen their local food value chains to mitigate impacts of COVID-19 and build resilience for future crises. This is particularly relevant for landlocked countries such as Malawi, Zimbabwe and Uganda, which struggle to spur economic development by accessing profitable export markets. We propose strengthening of urban-rural value chains producing drought-tolerant and nutrient-dense small grains and legumes as a resilient response to COVID-19.

First, governments together with donor organizations, civil society groups, vendors and supermarkets need to devise a strategy which provides smallholder farmers access to local food value chains. New procurement channels can be identified and developed to boost the supply of food produced by smallholders. Institutional markets, such as WFP and the government (eg prisons, hospitals, food aid, etc.) and commercial markets (vendors, supermarkets) are critical outlets for smallholder produce. It is, hence, necessary to improve existing linkages and establish new ones between food producers, processors, social protection programs and distributors to continue supply of food to vulnerable people in (peri-) urban areas and increase resilience of smallholders. An important suggestion is to give smallholders priority to supply to these markets.

Second, new aggregation and transport mechanisms are fundamental to ensure that both hygiene and physical distancing measures are adhered to. E-commerce could play a critical role here. The government of Zimbabwe is currently setting up a public-private partnership to coordinate the supply of horticulture produce to designated food markets. It is planned to register all relevant value chain actors, enabling the booking of suppliers and vendors through call centers. However, it remains unclear who will benefit from the system, how to ensure that smaller sellers can access the registration procedures and how vendors will be capacitated through transparent procedures. To ensure that benefits reach those the hardest hit, such a system should include small informal vendors. A digital market system that links smallholder farmers with (peri-) urban food vendors and food processors would be one step towards improving access to affordable nutritious staples.

Third, it is critical to build a broader base for food production for the next season. Most importantly, as many areas in the drylands of ESA are recovering or going through other crises (droughts, locust outbreak), drought-tolerant and nutrient-dense seeds need to be available, accessible and affordable for the upcoming season, for instance through off-season seed multiplication, cash transfers or vouchers for seed and other inputs. A blend of the right varieties of grain legumes such as pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut with nutrient-dense dryland cereals such as finger millet and sorghum will be critical for post-COVID-19 recovery to develop more diversified and resilient food systems.

As supplies decrease with intensified control of borders and closures, food prices are set to increase. Strengthening of local food value chains becomes critical.  It is more urgent than ever that governments and donor organizations work with food producers, civil society groups, vendors and supermarkets to boost continuous functioning of local food value chains to ensure food security for the most vulnerable in the drylands.

About the authors:

Dr Caroline Hambloch,
Value Chain Specialist,
Dr Sabine Homann Kee Tui
Senior Scientist
Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program, ICRISAT
Dr Christopher Ochieng Ojiewo
Principal Scientist & Project Coordinator-TL-III
& Theme leader, Seed System, ICRISAT

Photo: M Hauser, ICRISAT

Photo: M Hauser, ICRISAT

Eating well: If instructions won’t work, perhaps music and dance do

Information alone does not change eating habits. Together with the Billian Music Family in Mathare, we experiment with trend-setting music.

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You probably place a lot of faith and trust in information – depending on the source. As a scientist, I do the same. In the field of behaviour change communication, many still believe that access to information will change human behaviour. Researchers spend a lot of time crafting messages for people whose opinion and eventually behaviour we want to change– take the goal of influencing people to eat better and choose healthier foods, for instance. But does more and better information fulfil the behaviour change promise?

The theoretical basis for behaviour change communication has dramatically improved over the past couple of decades. Be it the Health Belief Model or the Theory of Planned Behaviour, we’ve developed new tools to help understand (and try to predict) under what conditions a person will make behavioural adjustments.

Photo: M Hauser, ICRISAT

Photo: M Hauser, ICRISAT

Yet, I have my doubts about the efficacy of these approaches. Changing dietary behaviour means asking people to eat more nutritious, safe food from reliable sources. In informal settlements, where I often work, it’s probably one of the most challenging tasks you could think of. (I think of my late grandparents, farmers who treated food something almost sacred – lunch and dinner had to look, smell, taste, feel in a specific way, otherwise, it didn’t count as food.). Let’s assume for a moment availability and accessibility of healthy foods isn’t the constraining factor. If I provide sufficient information to people, would they transition from eating maize once a day to a diverse diet? Very unlikely – because people don’t necessarily act upon what they know. More importantly, food preparation and consumption is an emotional affair, one that has implications for social relations.

If people change the foods they eat and alter their eating habits, they eventually change social relations and emotions that organise social interaction.

So we at ICRISAT decided to try something different.

We aim to proof a concept. As I write this blog post, some of the finest musicians and artists in Nairobi have come together in the studio to record songs about the importance of food for living healthy. But the purpose of music isn’t to convey information, at least not primarily. The goal is to create an atmosphere, an interpersonal rapport that will eventually leading to collective, coordinated behaviour adjustments around food. Coupled with party-like gatherings, public debates and social media, we test the extent to which we can create the ingredients of a decent social movement around food. It might sound a bit far fetched, and yes, it’s experimental. But if it works, we could complement traditional behaviour change communication by public and civil society organisations with new programs that engage individuals in informal settlements in a more enticing, participatory way.

Many of the musicians and social media influencers we bring together when drafting our research strategy have a vast outreach in their communities. Many come from informal settlements, they are part of the social fabric of these communities and also have a wide reach thanks to YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. And it seems they’re doing something extremely well, communicating in Sheng (a mixture of Swahili/English dialect spoken in some Kenyan urban areas) with thousands of people. The songs and the sentiments expressed on social media find the right words and capture emotions that makes people care about the message being communicated – motivating them to reconsider their choices within their communities.

Music and drama groups are not new factors in behaviour change communication. Oral history and storytelling are some of the oldest means humans use to capture attention and influence each other. We are aware of these traditions and build on them. What is new the way we approach the topic: with an open architecture agreed to with musicians and artists. We agreed on the purpose of the messaging and leave the means, the art, to them. Beats, lyrics, and the video the artist’s tools. In this stage, we researchers simply facilitate, hardly visible in the background.

We built the theory of change for this experiment around contemporary social learning theories. These theories argue that behaviour is both an individual decision influenced by personal factors as well as something heavily influenced by contextual factors and by family, peers and a larger community. Behaviour change regarding food is not a sudden or abrupt transition from one way of doing things to another; it is not a one-off event (only few wake up and become a vegan.) Decision-making often changes gradually and slowly, accreting until a major shift occurs. Being mindful of the timescale required for such changes is key. One way of supporting a change in decision processes over time is the use of music and the Ghetto parties.

It’s too early for a eureka. We have many questionnaires to fill-in and group discussions to record before we understand the effectiveness of our novel program. We have plenty of unanswered questions. For example, is it the beat or the lyrics that make a difference in getting a message to ‘stick’? What kind of beat evokes what kind of music, and how can these be loaded with messages about eating habits? But working with musicians and artists is progress. It’s one of the many ways to reframe community support programs around nutrition.

Originally published

About the author:

Dr Michael Hauser
Theme Leader – MIND & Principal Scientist
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program

A woman selling vegetables and eggs from the slum of srinagar colony hyderabad.Photo: R Padmaja, ICRISAT

A woman selling vegetables and eggs from the slum of Srinagar colony Hyderabad. Photo: R Padmaja, ICRISAT

Impact of COVID-19 on women working in the domestic sector in Hyderabad

The recently extended lockdown in India, now in force until 3 May, is a necessary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 and thereby save lives. India’s large population and the capacity of the health sector in the country to handle the pandemic means slowing the spread of infection is essential. But the impacts of the lockdown are not gender-neutral. Women are more vulnerable from both a health and economic perspective. Here, Padmaja Ravula from Flagship Projects 1 and 6 shares her insights into the impact of the lockdown on women who work as domestic help or in part-time occupations in urban and peri-urban Hyderabad.

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Most of the women living in Hyderabad’s slums work as domestic help in the many apartment complexes and independent bungalows. These women get a monthly salary for their services ranging from Rs 3000-6000 (£31.50-63.00) per household per month, depending on the kind of work they do. Each woman on average works in three to four households. As well as their salary, they also receive payments in kind either as cooked food, vegetables and other essential items.

From the age of 12-13 years, young girls join their mothers to work as maids, get jobs in shopping malls, or look after children of families where both husband and wife are out working. To do this, they discontinue their education. Most young boys also work, either in malls or as mechanics. They are paid only for the days they come to work and are not eligible for any sick leave and sick pay. Men from slum households also do small paid jobs, which may not be regular, or run businesses as auto-rickshaw drivers, or selling petty household items on carts.

Women’s income has become the lifeline for slum households

Since the lockdown began, members of slum households have found themselves without employment. Shops and other businesses are closed, so young boys and girls, and men, are jobless. Their livelihoods are now at stake. As such, the onus of supporting their households has fallen on women, particularly those who continue to work as house maids.

Laxmamma*, who works as a full time servant in my mother house, tells me that she now has the responsibility of taking care of herself, her son, and one of her three daughters’ families. Her daughter, the sole earner of her household, cannot go to her job at a slimming centre. She has two children and a drunkard spouse. Laxmamma’s son works in an automobile showroom, which is also closed, so he has no income. Laxmamma has no choice but to share some of her salary that she gets as a full time servant; she has already taken an advance from her employer to support her family. She is also sharing the food that she receives in kind with her grandchildren so that they do not go hungry.

In another case, Devi*, a widow who works in a Government Bank as a sweeper, recalls that the continued working of banks has helped her family to avoid going to bed hungry. Her daughter, who in normal times works in a shopping mall, and son-in-law live with her. She receives Rs 100 (approx. £1.05) per day and this amount keeps her family going. Devi tells me that they cannot afford nutritious food but at least they are not starving. More concerning, she tells me that domestic violence has increased. Her son-in-law, who is addicted to toddy, beats up her daughter for not giving him money to buy liquor illegally.

A fast tracked search for alternate livelihoods

Hyderabad has seen a surge in “curry points” in several locations in the city in the past three to four years. These curry points usually sell cooked curries and freshly made rotis in the evening at a very reasonable price. They are managed by poor women and this is their main source of livelihood. In normal times, most of the families where both adults have jobs pick up their dinner from these curry points on their way home. With the lockdown, all these joints are closed.

In order to survive, the women who run these curry points have taken to an alternate livelihood, selling vegetables instead of cooked meals. These women are now risking their health by exposing themselves to infection when they go to buy vegetables from the designated farmers’ markets (rythu bazaars). They are aware of social distancing and taking care of themselves, but they must buy the vegetables so they can earn money and support their families to have enough food.

Many people, especially the affluent households, are also sending their watchmen to the farmers’ markets. Supermarkets are quickly running out of vegetables and limited opening hours and queuing to adhere to social distancing rules means it takes more time to do shopping. This is further increasing the risk of disease spreading as more and more people head to farmers’ markets for supplies.

A growing importance of health

The majority of those living in the slums of Hyderabad now understand the spread of COVID-19 and its health implications. Awareness campaigns by the government and other stakeholders about the spread of the infection and the methods for staying safe are reaching one and all through television, loudspeakers, and mobile phone messages. Even in urban slums, each and every member of the household is aware of the situation; not just aware but fully immersed in it.

That people are taking the advice on board is a very important insight and lesson. Behaviour change communications have helped enormously in changing people’s mindset, enabling them to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene. Women are driving these changes. My watchman’s wife insisted that her husband gets home a liquid hand wash for their use. These women are acting on advice, through their understanding that if they stay healthy they will live, else they will die.

Building social capital

The crisis situation has forced women to think of alternative livelihood options. They have been able to break the stereo-typical roles and explore new opportunities of going to the markets to buy supplies that they can sell on; traditionally this is something only men would do. More than this, collective action is emerging, which is building social capital.

From my discussions with women I have found that one or two women are going to the market to get supplies – vegetables, simple grocery items, and eggs – for other women who are in a similar situation. Once back home, they distribute the items so that each woman can sell them on in their respective localities. The women are taking turns to go to the markets; each woman may go only once a week, thus minimizing the risk to them as well as reducing the crowding in the market.

Women are taking on the responsibility of their families

The women who work as domestic help are now taking on bigger responsibilities. These otherwise looked-down upon jobs are now their salvation, providing a safety net for them and their families. Most members of the household perceived domestic help as a lowly job. Men in particular ridiculed the women saying that all they do is wash a few dishes and clothes, clean the houses and gossip. The money they bring in was previously not considered important. Now, there has been a U-turn. These women are now the breadwinners in this crisis situation.

Lockdown extension

The extension of the lockdown by another 19 days has been received with mixed feelings by those living in slum households. Some women have told me “Health is more important, our slums do not have adequate infrastructure, so lockdown is better to contain the disease”. In contrast, others say that they fear they will not have enough resources to feed themselves and their families.

Women also fear increases in domestic violence by their spouses. Many men do not have any income of their own during lockdown and now women may not be able to give them money whenever they ask for it. The closure of liquor and toddy shops will lead to these men becoming violent. It’s not just livelihoods, but the safety of the women in these situations that is at great risk.

* The names of people mentioned in this blog have been changed to protect anonymity.

Originally published on the TIGR2ESS blog.

About the author:

Dr R Padmaja
Senior Scientist – Gender Research
Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program

COVID-19 lockdown: What can the government do to ease the situation for farmers

To fight the pandemic, it is clear that regular markets must be suspended temporarily. These are places where large groups of people gather and spread the virus; maintaining social distance in such places is very difficult so closure is the only option. But there must be more support for the farmers who are suffering as a consequence.

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Now is the time for the government to temporarily suspend the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to engage civil society. Such an act would allow NGOs, farmer’s collectives, corporate companies, welfare associations, religious organization’s and Panchayat Raj institutes to buy directly from farmers. These organizations could then safely distribute food at the doorstep of consumers through vegetable vendors at specified locations.

To some extent the above is already happening; Telangana state government has quickly adapted to the pandemic to distribute perishables at consumer’s doorsteps through Mobile Rythu Bazars. There is a great need for all other states to follow suit. The paramilitary could further aid timely distribution of safe and packaged food items to the public to avoid large gathering of consumers at regular markets.

Blessings in disguise

There is some hope at this time of great uncertainty and disaster. Both during and after the lockdown, innovative supply chain models for perishables and other commodities may emerge which are competitive, inclusive, scalable and sustainable. Supply chains which are able to connect farmers to consumers in the absence of several intermediaries during the pandemic may be robust enough for continued use when this crisis passes, though research to support scaling up would be needed.

In the medium to long term, there will likely need to be an increase in investments in cold storage facilities and decentralized primary and secondary food processing firms to support small and marginal farmers and to ease the food supply chain. If these investments continued long term they would strengthen supply chains. There is also the chance to think and prepare the best local governance model should a similar pandemic arise in the future.

For now, we watch as the crisis unfolds, and do our best to keep in touch with the communities so affected by the pandemic. We wish to lend our support wherever possible and use our skills and expertise to respond to the new challenges arising on a daily basis.

Excerpts taken from a blog written by Dr Ravi Nandi and Dr S. Nedumaran, both working on Flagship Project 1 (Sustainable and Transformative Agrarian and Rural Trajectories, START) at ICRISAT in Hyderabad, India. Views of the authors are personal)

 Read the full article here

COVID-19: CGIAR blogs

Food supply chains worldwide at a risk of disruption over the coming year. Photo: REUTERS

Food supply chains worldwide at a risk of disruption over the coming year. Photo: REUTERS

The Corona virus pandemic exposes a global hunger crisis as well as a health emergency

The direct consequences of a novel disease outbreak like Covid-19 are immediate and obvious: rising numbers of illnesses and deaths. But the world is also rapidly facing the secondary impacts, which can be even more profound, especially in low-income countries.

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With food supply chains worldwide at a risk of disruption over the coming year, the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating an earlier, more widespread, more entrenched crisis, one that impacts more than 820 million people: global hunger.

Difficulty in maintaining food production, restrictions on trade and limitations on labour mobility can lead to lower farm incomes and food shortages, adding another layer of complexity to the global fightback against Covid-19.

So, as doctors and nurses rally to save as many patients as possible, governments and public authorities must protect the rest of the world’s most vulnerable by recognising the fundamental role of agriculture in minimising the multiplier threat of coronavirus, and warding off more hunger and poverty.

The threat is greatest in countries where malnutrition is already high yet agricultural production, often carried out by ageing, vulnerable farmers, remains the backbone of the economy. In several African countries, including Kenya, Mali and Chad, agriculture, forestry and fishing account for more than a third of gross domestic product (GDP) and as much as 58 per cent in Sierra Leone.

With so much at stake, these regions and nations need both short-term support to ensure this extraordinary pandemic does not create an even worse hunger crisis, as well as long-term support to be able to thrive despite other global threats to food security, including climate change and crop pests.

To deliver on this, policymakers must take clear, pre-emptive actions based on leading science and research to bolster and protect the agricultural sector.

Many parts of the world are entering a new planting season, yet farmers are likely to be facing unusual financial pressures that might limit their access to seeds, inputs and labour and prevent them from planting as normal.

Governments and landlords could firstly consider easing this burden by reducing or delaying farmers’ tax and social insurance payments and lowering their rents.

Further along the chain, farm labourers also need support. Many will be migrant workers prevented from working by travel restrictions and in turn, prevented from sowing the seeds and reaping the harvests needed to provide continuous food supplies.

Germany has already taken steps to relax restrictions for farm workers, who should be deemed essential around the world.

Secondly, the global food market also needs careful management, while avoiding protectionist measures that would undermine world markets, to limit the risk of food shortages in regions or countries.

We have already seen Vietnam and Cambodia  banning some exports of crops like rice, which shifts the dynamic of the global food chain and could drive up global prices and limit supplies elsewhere.

For example, in previous outbreaks of Ebola, rice prices in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone increased by more than 30 per cent and the price of cassava, a staple in Liberia, skyrocketed by 150 per cent.

One measure introduced in China involved opening a “green channel” to expedite the delivery of fresh agricultural products and prohibiting unauthorised roadblocks.

Third, governments must also reinforce food security by investing in food safety.

Though the original source of Covid-19 remains unconfirmed, the outbreak has raised awareness of the risk of animal-borne disease from wild food markets, which led to a ban in China.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that foodborne disease caused almost 140,000 deaths a year in Africa, while the annual human capital or productivity loss associated with foodborne illness in sub-Saharan Africa is around US$16.7 billion.

With more than 800 million going without adequate food worldwide, hunger is still likely to kill more people than Covid-19 this year, placing additional stress on already fragile public health systems, and exacerbating the rising associated challenges of migration and conflict.

But with the help of agricultural science and research from CGIAR and its partners – whether biofortified crops needed by malnourished communities or strengthened rural-urban links – it is possible to minimise the impact of Covid-19 on our food systems and – as a result – on global hunger, health and security.

In the short term, the public and private sectors must take steps to fortify our food supply but more importantly, we must also “stress test” and future-proof our food systems in the longer term to ensure future health crises do not also feed a hunger crisis.

Originally published on The Telegraph

About the author:

Dr Elwyn Grainger-Jones,
Executive Director,
CGIAR System Organization

Photo: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

Photo: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

8 food security implications of the COVID-19 crisis

From disrupting agricultural input supply chains to carving out new crisis response roles for social media, the pandemic’s impacts on the state of global food security are vast and variable.

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Crises are times of incomplete data. Stakeholders must make decisions based on the data they have and leverage the best expert input available to them to navigate a fluid situation. The strength of our networks matters for collective sense-making.

CGIAR’s global partnerships represent a critical network for diagnosing, predicting, and informing responses to food security shocks.

The Platform benefits from these partnerships and builds on them through open, collaborative Communities of Practice in big data research; driving open data standards and sharing; alignment with digital-first food system actors such as the Strike Two Summit, and on-the-ground digital innovation projects through the CGIAR Inspire Challenge.

These partners continue to inform and strengthen our collective sense-making as we examine the evolving food security implications of the COVID-19 crisis.

Here is what we are seeing:

  1. Disruption and isolation of global supply chains. The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization has called on stakeholders and governments to avert unnecessary blockages to global food flows. They note that low and middle-income countries account for around a third of the world’s food trade, which provides very significant contributions to incomes and welfare and plays a critical role in global food security. Our networks and Reuters News report that these blockages are already happening worldwide, especially for perishable goods. Migrant or seasonal labor is constrained, and as a result many of the more labor-intensive crops will not get to market.
  2. Constraints on agricultural inputs and production: Many parts of the world are entering planting season, and agricultural input supply chains are disrupted. Again labor shortages may appear at critical points of the cropping season.
  3. Localization of food systems. Global and national disruption and isolation is driving localization of food systems. While localization and regionalization are important for self-sufficiency, global food flows are essential for accessible prices, global food system stability, and reaching the most vulnerable with food assistance.
  4. Price disruptions and signals of potential speculation. Supply of perishable goods appears particularly disrupted and to be leading to some price volatility. We have begun to see potential signals of this in commodity prices, and it could well intensify if past crises are any indication.
  5. Digitally-enabled firms are better equipped. Digitized enterprise resource planning, distribution, promotion, and transactions are proving to be key tools for quick localization or rapid set-up of digital commerce. Enterprises of all sizes that do not have these in place are being hit harder by the crisis.
  6. High-frequency monitoring data are critical. Our existing systems for monitoring prices, crop health, movement of goods and people, consumption, and the supporting natural resources and ecosystems are still insufficient for enabling the living, dynamic sense-and-response capabilities we need to mitigate the effects of the crisis on food systems and equip them for long-term resiliency.
  7. The recovery may not be “V-shaped.” In the near term, economic activity will likely “walk” rather than “run” as the crisis subsides, leaving broken supply chains, disrupted payment networks, and several industries struggling to return to previous levels for years to come.
  8. Social media are influencing behavior and accelerating new means of intermediation. Trusted social networks are critical for navigating crises, and social media—much maligned for being a vehicle for disinformation—is also part of the solution. Trusted digital networks can help fill the gaps for connecting supply, consumption, price information, and labor in new ways.

These observations are imperfect snapshots of an evolving situation, but they are the basis for continual learning as we target our responses.

The whole of CGIAR is pivoting its 2020 plans towards response, recovery, and long-term resiliency of global food in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Platform for Big Data in Agriculture is supporting that effort, leveraging its cross-cutting, big-data enabling, and partnership role within CGIAR as we work together towards recovering and (re)building resilient global food systems.

Originally published on CGIAR’s Platform for Big Data site.

About the author:

Brian King, Platform Coordinator, CGIAR Platform for Big Data.



Is a pandemic the time to think about genebanks?

Perhaps you think that the middle of a global pandemic is not an appropriate time to be discussing seed banks. Think again.

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Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is primarily a health crisis, of course – but it is affecting all parts of society and the economy, a major result being that people are especially worried about where their next meal will come from. With agricultural and food systems reeling globally, the focus of decision-makers is, at the moment, mainly on the business end of the food chain: on keeping global trade moving, supermarkets stocked and people fed. It is not the virus causing large numbers of people to flee Delhi and other large cities in the developing world, but the fear of hunger.

But farmers need to keep producing and selling too, as well as middlemen buying, processors processing. It’s too early to say how exactly the food system will be impacted in the long term. One thing is certain, though: to mitigate the effects of future shocks of the kind we’re currently experiencing, and to allow us to bounce back from them, there needs to be diversity in all parts of the food chain.

In our daily search for pasta and flour, not to mention toilet paper, we are now learning the hard way the benefits of having ready access to more than just one supermarket. In the same way, food companies minimize the risks to their business by counting on multiple suppliers for their raw materials. And farmers, even in a single locality, are more resilient if they grow more than one crop, and even more so if they are able to choose from among different varieties of each crop provided by seed companies and other sources.

But where does such diversity come from?

All too often, we place the beginning of the food chain at the farm, when in fact it extends back further – all the way back to seed banks, also called genebanks. These treasure troves of seeds safeguard the diversity of our crops and make it available to researchers and plant breeders, who in turn use it to develop the knowledge and new varieties that farmers, and consumers like you and me, need. Properly dried and stored at low temperature, seeds of most crops can be kept for decades. If their condition is properly monitored, they can be thawed out and multiplied before they lose viability. If data on their characteristics is easily available, researchers can request the samples they need for their work at the click of a mouse button.

ICARDA Lebanon Genebank Manager Mariana Yazbek says staff are conducting essential tasks to manage field trials. Staff work in a rotation and go directly from their homes to the field, and then back to home. While at work, staff maintain social distancing guidelines and make sure the daily workers are also abiding by the standards. Photo: ICARDA

ICARDA Lebanon Genebank Manager Mariana Yazbek says staff are conducting essential tasks to manage field trials. Staff work in a rotation and go directly from their homes to the field, and then back to home. While at work, staff maintain social distancing guidelines and make sure the daily workers are also abiding by the standards. Photo: ICARDA

Our crops are just as vulnerable to a multitude of pathogens as we are to the coronavirus. Researchers use the diversity in genebanks to breed varieties that can withstand pathogen attacks, better cope with the changing climate, that are more nutritious, keep longer and taste better. Genebanks underpin the resilience of farmers and of our food system.

We don’t think much about the raw materials behind food as we go through our daily lives, especially when we’re stuck at home in lockdown. But we should. There are hundreds of genebanks around the world – most countries have one – but among the largest, most widely used, and most globally important are the 11 managed by a global agricultural research consortium called the CGIAR. They conserve and make available to users, free of charge, more than 700,000 different types of seeds and other materials.

The CGIAR’s genebanks are going through a difficult time at the moment, just like the rest of us. With social distancing and other restrictions on movement, genebank staff are scrambling to get harvests in before they’re lost; to tend to vulnerable plants in labs, greenhouses and fields; and to maintain other critical conservation measures that are keeping unique diversity alive. It’s an all-hands-on-deck crisis, but maintaining safety paradoxically means that help must also be limited.

Should a genebank lose samples, there are back-ups of many of them in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, thanks to the planning done by many people over many years for such eventualities. Genebanks can rebuild their collections from safety duplicated seeds, as the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was able to do when it lost access to its facilities in Aleppo, Syria due to the civil war.

ICRISAT Head of Genebank Vania Azevedo says the pandemic struck at the most critical time of the year as they have all their crops in the field and harvest just started. The ICRISAT campus went on total lockdown. However, some staff volunteered to remain on the campus to guarantee the harvest. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT Head of Genebank Vania Azevedo says the pandemic struck at the most critical time of the year as they have all their crops in the field and harvest just started. The ICRISAT campus went on total lockdown. However, some staff volunteered to remain on the campus to guarantee the harvest. Photo: ICRISAT

However, the case is different when it comes to conserving roots, tubers and some other vegetative crops, which cannot be saved in the same manner as seeds are in a cold room. For crops such as potato, sweet potato, cassava, banana and yam, the hope is to build collections that can be duplicated and moved around using cryopreservation – an alternative method of cooling tissues, involving deep-freezing with liquid nitrogen.

The CGIAR genebanks will survive this crisis and ramp activities back up to full throttle once it’s over. A significant proportion of their funding is guaranteed, thanks to the endowment of the Crop Trust. The operations of the genebank of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), for example, home to over 100,000 different rice varieties, are funded by the endowment for the long-term, forever in fact. It’s therefore immune to the vagaries of donor priorities and financial shocks. Another USD 200 million in the endowment would secure the other 10 CGIAR genebanks in the same way.

It’s less easy to be so sanguine about the genebanks of many developing countries. At times of crisis like this, cash-strapped governments are likely to push genebanks even further down than usual on their list of priorities. They need to resist that temptation. Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is making clear just how much we need genebanks now, and that we’ll need them even more in the future in the continuing face of climate change and outbreaks of new crop pests and diseases.

So yes, it is the right time to think about genebanks. It’s always the right time.

About the authors:

Luigi Guarino, Director of Science, The Crop Trust, and
Charlotte Lusty, Head of Programs and Genebank, Platform Coordinator, The Crop Trust

Passenger screening at Maya Maya International airport, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Response teams are racing against the spread of COVID in Africa. Photo: D. Elombat (WHO)

Passenger screening at Maya Maya International airport, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Response teams are racing against the spread of COVID in Africa. Photo: D. Elombat (WHO)

How we can use the COVID-19 disruption to improve food systems and address the climate emergency

At first glance, the COVID-19 crisis appears to have nothing to do with the climate emergency. Over the last month, COVID-19 has eclipsed climate change and many other global challenges as the most pressing issue we face worldwide. Between learning to manage life on lockdown and monitoring the surreal charts depicting soaring numbers of infections and deaths across the globe, it can be difficult to find brain space for anything else.

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But the novel coronavirus increasingly illuminates a serious underlying fragility that goes well beyond health. This fragility stems from the fact that our health, energy, finance, and food systems are all inextricably connected. There is a clear lesson here for us about how supply chains that cross multiple borders are vulnerable to climate change and a host of other intersecting risks associated with our global systems. Understanding climate change as a compounding risk factor is now an urgent priority, with implications for how we perceive the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation in both developed and developing countries.

Climate change is a global risk multiplier

As demand for food has increased in line with a burgeoning global population, our global food systems and the natural resources they rely on are already under strain. And in many places in the developing world, climate change impacts and vulnerability add extra pressure, threatening food systems, livelihoods, and health.

As numbers of infections rise in the developing world, a bigger food systems crisis looms

The spread of COVID-19 in the Global South will compound these pressures on food systems. Consumer access to food and producer access to markets could be impacted significantly if there is a ban on the sale of food outside of grocery stores. Incomes and thus food security for people who rely on casual labor for their livelihoods would be threatened by a lockdown. In Africa, the virus could take a significant toll on food production itself if it sickens the aging agricultural workforce or prevents women, who produce 70% of Africa’s food and are often tasked with caring for the elderly, from getting to the fields. This comes even as Africa is on the verge of a food crisis faced with a locust invasion, the worst infestation in the last 25 years.

But COVID-19 has shown us that climate change is a risk multiplier for food systems in the developed world as well. If you live in one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, chances are you are familiar with empty grocery store shelves, have seen evidence of restaurants and their suppliers struggling to stay afloat during closures, and may know people who are turning to food banks to feed their families after losing their jobs. While to most of us, this has felt extreme, things could get much worse. In the background, as numbers of infections rise in the developing world, a bigger food systems crisis looms. The globally interconnected nature of food systems means that countries in the developed world will soon feel the impacts of COVID-19 in countries in the developing world.

New research needed to understand risk

In the UK, for instance, even before the novel coronavirus took hold, researchers noted the vulnerability of the nation’s food systems. The 2017 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment summarizes the implications well: “Adaptation efforts focused on the UK’s domestic production of food will have only marginal success because of the global interconnected nature of food systems…” COVID-19 will bring to the fore the consequences of our failure to adequately mitigate climate change and find adaptation solutions in agriculture.

Food system actors all along the value chain will be affected in different ways. Governments, the private sector, NGOs, and farmers alike are already grappling with the implications for current and future of food systems. Research is urgently needed to better understand how producers, consumers, and all the businesses in between will be affected by changes in supply and demand, as COVID forces shifts in farm labor, planting schedules, imports and prices.

In places with less stability, if food security is threatened, civil tension and unrest are a real possibility. In fragile countries already suffering from food insecurity and climate change impacts, COVID-19 can potentially slip into conflict around access to increasingly scarce resources. We will need new research to understand how risks cascade across sectors and borders and their potential impacts on food system actors, and new approaches that account for interconnected risks.

Disruption as opportunity

We should seize the opportunity to opt for business unusual

When all of this is over, what kind of world do we want to go back to? The responses to COVID-19 around the globe demonstrate that speedy, collective action is possible. We have shown ourselves that we are capable of drastic lifestyle changes when called upon to act in the name of the greater good. 2019 was the year we woke up to the climate emergency; the year the language changed. It’s imperative not to lose the momentum we’ve worked hard to build—and to do this, we will need to make the most of the current situation.

As the world has ground to a halt over the last month, we are finding ways to work from home, travel less, make do with less. And there is ample evidence of benefits for the environment: reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, the return of wildlife, and more. We should strive to maintain these unexpected gains. When the crisis fades it will be all too easy to return to business as usual; instead we should seize the opportunity to opt for business unusual and collectively push for changes, in food systems and elsewhere, for a climate positive future.

By Andrew Challinor (University of Leeds), Dhanush Dinesh, Peter Läderach  and Marissa Van Epp (CCAFS)

Original article on CCAFS blog

A woman sells maize at the market in Sidameika Tura, Arsi Negele, Ethiopia. Photo: Peter Lowe, CIMMYT

A woman sells maize at the market in Sidameika Tura, Arsi Negele, Ethiopia. Photo: Peter Lowe, CIMMYT

Don’t forget about the impact of COVID-19 on the rural poor and on food security

The Scaling Up community of practice discusses challenges and opportunities for an improved “new normal” for agriculture, research and development.

While all eyes are on Lombardy, Madrid, New York and Wuhan, what do we know about the impact of COVID-19 on the rural poor and on food security in developing countries? How can the impact of the crisis be moderated? What positive breakthroughs could be provoked by this shock to move us into a better “new normal”? What can donors and implementing organizations do to support low- and middle-income countries during and beyond this crisis?

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Members of the Agriculture and Rural Development working group of the international Scaling Up community of practice held a virtual meeting to discuss these questions and how scaling-up innovations could help to recover from the current crisis and mitigate future ones.

Poor rural communities are particularly vulnerable

When it comes to a highly contagious disease, being in a rural area sounds better than being in a busy city, but that is a deceptive impression. Smallholder farmers often are older than average and hence more vulnerable to the virus, and they have less access to health services.

They also depend on field laborers that are not able to travel from surrounding villages to help with planting, weeding and harvesting. To process crops, smallholder farmers need to transport crops to processing centers, which may be closed, as are the markets where they obtain agricultural inputs or sell farm products. Large international agrobusiness firms, which supply inputs and purchase local famers’ products may withdraw, at least temporarily, from the rural economies. There are already reports of farmers feeding cattle strawberries and broccoli in India, as they are unable to get their goods to the market.

Most farmers also depend on non-farm and off-farm activities for their livelihoods, as they may be field laborers for other farmers, work in the processing industry or work in construction. Interrupted transportation and closures pose serious challenges to maintain safe business continuity throughout the rural economy. The risk is not only that immediate rural production, food deliveries, exports, employment and incomes will collapse, but also that planting for next year’s crops will be disrupted.

It is key to differentiate between global and local supply chains, which will suffer in different ways. For example, in Uganda, supermarkets are open but small, informal markets are closed. In past crises, governments have focused on the survival of global value chains over local ones. Small, rural businesses are more likely to close permanently than large international ones.

Globally, international support for agriculture and rural development has been lagging in recent years.  Today, the international support from aid agencies and NGOs is interrupted, as travels are restricted and community meetings are prohibited. With increased donor attention to a domestic and international health crisis, aid for rural communities may drop precipitously.

Men transport wheat straw on donkey karts in Ethiopia’s Dodula district. Photo: Peter Lowe, CIMMYT

Men transport wheat straw on donkey karts in Ethiopia’s Dodula district. Photo: Peter Lowe, CIMMYT

Opportunities for an improved “new normal” as we respond to the crisis

The short-term response to help minimize the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the rural poor is critical, but we also need to support the shaping of a “new normal” where rural food systems are resilient, profitable and inclusive for poor rural communities. Members of the Scaling Up community of practice explored various ideas.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic could present opportunities to break silos and show how closely health and agriculture are related.

“COVID-19 cuts across sectors and jurisdictions in ways that single organizations and established governance structures are ill-equipped to accommodate,” said Larry Cooley, Scaling Expert and Founder and President Emeritus of Management Systems International (MSI)

For example, rural agricultural extension networks could be used to disseminate information on health awareness and education around COVID-19 and collect data on local impacts. This may cause and provide relief in the short term, but may also provide opportunities for collaboration in the long run.

“Our agricultural networks go deep into the rural areas and we are training our agri-entrepreneurs in India to disseminate health messages, products and services to help address COVID-19,” said Simon Winter, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation.

“At the African Development Bank we are providing emergency relief finance and re-purposing funding to have a link with COVID-19,” said Atsuko Toda, the bank’s Director of Agricultural Finance and Rural Development.

Second, a “new normal” could also mean an even stronger independence from externally funded projects, experts and solutions to more local ownership and expertise in rural areas, something that the community of practice has been promoting strongly. We could help to support more autonomy of the farmer, a strong local market and scale-up local value chains. Strengthening the capacity of small and medium enterprises linking farmers to urban markets could help ensure stability in future economic shocks.

“Governments and donor ‘projects’ looked too much at export and global value chains. I see great opportunities to scale up local and regional input and output value chains that benefit local farmers and small and medium enterprises,” said Margret Will, expert on value chains.

Third, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to accelerate the scaling of innovations.

“Lack of access to labor could be disrupting harvesting and planting in our Feed the Future countries, accelerating an already predominant trend of migration, especially among the young, to urban areas. We see a looming need for mechanization of farms at scale, using mini-tillers, planters, harvesters and other time- and labor-saving equipment,” said Mark Huisenga, Senior Program Manager for the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.

Masimba Mawire collects bare maize cobs after removing the grain using a mechanized maize sheller in Zimbabwe. Photo: Matthew O’Leary, CIMMYT

Masimba Mawire collects bare maize cobs after removing the grain using a mechanized maize sheller in Zimbabwe. Photo: Matthew O’Leary, CIMMYT

Rural communities that use more ecological intensive practices, such as conservation agriculture and push-pull farming or safe storage practices are less dependent on external inputs and labor.

The current crisis forces us to use digital communication systems, replace human work with digital tools where possible and use technology to help target interventions. Both the public and private sector could build on this opportunity to invest in increased access to internet, electricity and other digital resources, including in impoverished areas. All these technological innovations can help farmers to better cope with the constraints of COVID-19 and any future crises or stresses to the food system, while also making agriculture more productive and more attractive to the young.

“The pandemic creates an opportunity to accelerate the use of digital technologies in smallholder agriculture, not only for extension advice but to crowdsource information about COVID-19 impacts,” said Julie Howard, Senior Advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Finally, COVID-19 will change our global governance system, and the agriculture, research and development sector has a role to play in this transformation. A systems change must focus on dietary diversity and food safety and security, paying attention to the rural poor in low- and middle-income countries. We can work together to scale cross-sector platforms to build solid networks and scale-up innovations to strengthen sustainable and resilient food systems.

Systems change beyond the agricultural sector, sustainability through local ownership and uptake of innovations that support profitable and resilient agricultural and related rural activities are key components of how the Scaling Up Community of Practice approaches scaling. A systems change is imminent, and it is important to support a transformation in a direction where local markets, rural labor and regional economies come out stronger in the long term. This requires vision, expertise, mobilization of resources, information sharing and crowdsourced leadership, and the network of scaling experts can contribute to this.

The Agriculture and Rural Development working group of the international Scaling Up community of practice is made up of individuals from more than 100 official donors, foundations, think tanks, research and development organizations united by their interest in scaling the impact of innovations on food security and rural poverty. Areas of particular interest for the group include designing for scale, using scaling frameworks, learning about scaling, responsible scaling, sustainability and system thinking. Members of the working group include professionals with vast experience from the field, and the group explicitly tries to learn from the application of complex concepts such as sustainability, systems change and scaling in real world settings by local actors. In addition to quarterly virtual meetings, the working group encourages and supports exchanges among its members on a variety of subjects. Participation in, and management of, the Agriculture and Rural Development working group is done on a purely voluntary basis.

Originally published on the CIMMYT website

About the Authors:

Lennart Woltering — Scaling catalyst at CIMMYT and chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development working group.

Johannes Linn — Non-resident Senior Fellow at Brookings and former Vice President of the World Bank.

Maria Boa — Scaling coordinator at CIMMYT and secretary of the Agriculture and Rural Development working group

Mary Donovan — Communications Consultant at CIMMYT.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.



ReSAKSS Data Challenge Competition

The Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), coordinated by IFPRI in Africa, is organizing a data challenge competition for data users.

The competition requires participants to use the ReSAKSS platform to develop an innovative product or project that addresses a development challenge in Africa.

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Last date for entries: 30 August, 2020

Prizes will be awarded to the best entries in the following categories:

Category 1 – Essays and Reports: The most innovative research paper, article, essay, or journal article bringing solution to African issues.

Category 2 – Visual Arts: The most innovative infographic, illustration, video

Category 3 – IT products and services: The most innovative applications and tools

Category 4 – High School Projects: The most innovative high school project

To know more about the challenge including categories, eligibility, participation and prizes, visit

New Publications

Effects of Volatiles from Clavigralla tomentosicollis Stål. (Hemiptera: Coreidae) Adults on the Host Location Behavior of the Egg Parasitoid Gryon fulviventre (Crawford) (Hymenoptera: Scelionidae)

Authors: Sanou A, Traoré F, Ba MN, Dabiré-Binso CL, Pittendrigh BR and Sanon A

Published: International Journal of Insect Science, 11. pp. 1-7. ISSN 1179-5433

Sorgoleone release from sorghum roots shapes the composition of nitrifying populations, total bacteria, and archaea and determines the level of nitrification

Authors: Sarr PS, Ando Y, Nakamura S, Deshpande S and Subbarao GV

Published: Biology and Fertility of Soils (TSI), 56 (2). pp. 145-166. ISSN 0178-2762

Genome-Wide Detection of SNP Markers Associated with Four Physiological Traits in Groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) Mini Core Collection

Authors: Shaibu AS, Sneller C, Motagi BN, Chepkoech J, Chepngetich M, Miko ZL, Isa AM, Ajeigbe HA and Mohammed SG

Published: Agronomy (TSI), 10 (2). pp. 2-14. ISSN 20734395

Draft genome sequence of Solanum aethiopicum provides insights into disease resistance, drought tolerance, and the evolution of the genome

Authors: Song B, Song Y, Fu Y, Kizito EB, Kamenya SN, Kabod PN, Liu H, Muthemba S, Kariba R, Njuguna J, Maina S, Stomeo F, Djikeng A, Hendre PS, Chen X, Chen W,  Li X, Sun W, Wang W, Cheng S, Muchugi A, Jamnadass R, Shapiro HY, Van Deynze A, Yang H, Wang J  Xu X, Odeny DA and Liu, X

Published: GigaScience (TSI), 8 (10). pp. 1-16. ISSN 2047-217X

Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici causal agent of vascular wilt disease of tomato: Biology to diversity– A review

Authors: Srinivas C, Nirmala Devi D, Narasimha Murthy K and Mohan CD, Lakshmeesha TR, Singh BP, Kalagatur, NK, Niranjana SR, Hashem A, Alqarawi AA, Tabassum B, Abd_ Allah EF Chandra Nayaka S and Srivastava RK

Published: Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences (TSI), 26 (7). pp. 1315-1324. ISSN 1319-562X

Resistance to Plant-Parasitic Nematodes in Chickpea: Current Status and Future Perspectives Authors: Zwart RS, Thudi M, Channale S, Manchikatla PK, Varshney RK and Thompson JP

Published: Frontiers in Plant Science (TSI), 10 (966). pp. 1-14. ISSN 1664-462X

Managing acid soils for reclaiming livelihoods in Ethiopia

Authors: Amede T, Schulz S, Warner J and Tefera S

Published: ICRISAT

Scaling up climate services for agriculture in Mali Initial findings from piloted implementation of PICSA approach in Africa RISING project intervention zone, southern Mali

Authors: Ouedraogo M, Traore ZB, Birhanu B and Zougmore RB

Published: CGSpace

Crop Protection to Outsmart Climate Change for Food Security & Environmental Conservation Authors: Swathi, M and Govindaraj, M and Sharma, R

Published: XIX International Plant Protection Congress IPPC2019, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, Telangana, India

CCAFS midline synthesis – Ghana. Assessment of changes at household, village and organization levels since the 2011 CCAFS baseline surveys

Authors: Ouedraogo M, Houessionon P, Cramer L, Partey, ST, Zougmore RB, Thornton P, Jasaw GS, Buah S, Riba A and Barahona C

Published: CGSpace

COVID-19: Insights from external webinars

It is time for a new normal for resilience of food systems

Excerpts from World Food Prize Foundation’s Digital Dialogue

Strong international coordination for trade of food grains, nutrition for vulnerable groups (young children, pregnant women), and greater support to smallholder farmers will be key factors to overcome the worldwide crisis brought on by the current COVID-19 pandemic. These were some of the viewpoints by four experts in global food systems in an online discussion hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation.

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The expert panel included Dr David Nabarro, Special Envoy of WHO Director General on COVID-19 and 2018 World Food Prize Laureate; Dr Catherine Bertini, Distinguished Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and 2003 World Food Prize Laureate; and Dr Shenggen Fan, Chair Professor, China Agricultural University, World Food Prize Foundation Council of Advisors. The Dialogue, centered around disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic and their solutions, was moderated by Dr Barbara Stinson, President, World Food Prize Foundation.

We bring you excerpts of some of the main points of the conversation.

Dr Stinson: What are the biggest threats to food systems right now?

Dr Nabarro: The current restrictions on movement are seriously impeding food production and distribution, leading to increased food and nutrition insecurity. To deal with this we need international coordination, otherwise the resilience of food systems will be severely undermined.

Dr Fan: This is the biggest crisis to food systems that I’ve seen in my 37 years of work. According to some UN estimates, the number of poor and hungry people in the world could double in 2020. Spring planting of crops has to be ensured to prevent the entire year’s food production from being jeopardized.

Dr Stinson: What are the immediate actions we should take?

Dr Bertini: The first 1000 days of a child are very important for her lifelong health and wellbeing. We need to, therefore, focus on providing nutrition to pregnant women and young children on an urgent basis. Manufacture and distribution of food for these sections should be taken care of immediately. Also, several women are having to take on extra burdens of home care, child care and professional work as essential service providers. We need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of women, specifically.

Dr Fan: Cooperation across all levels of governance – international, national, provincial/state, and community – is needed right now. We all have to work together in this as this is everyone’s responsibility.

Dr Nabarro: The effect of this outbreak will last for the next 2-3 years. So first, we need to focus on the vulnerable sections – daily wagers, women and children, differently abled people – who are particularly at greater risk at such a time. Smallholder farmers need support to reach local markets. We need to figure out imaginative solutions based on scientific evidence.

Dr Stinson: What could the rest of the world learn from China’s experience to deal with the key challenges in food systems due to COVID-19?

Dr Fan: Firstly, there should be no bans on any food exports by any nation; global trade should be allowed to continue – global institutions and coalitions of nations should ensure this. Secondly, every country should have two months’ supply of food as strategic reserves, in view of future emergencies or disasters. Also, scientific evidence in the form of data is very essential and useful. Researchers should come together to collect and analyze event-related data.

Dr Bertini: Food assistance is not just about food distribution anymore; there are food vouchers etc. now, which are better options, provided there IS available food. So we need to look at building capacities to make food available to those who most need it… maybe create local opportunities to access food and supply it to where it’s needed.

Dr Stinson: What are the critical weak points exposed by the virus outbreak and what opportunities can arise out of this crisis?

Dr Nabarro: This is the time for world leaders to reach out and reassure global communities with messages of hope, support and assistance. Solidarity between nations is very critical at this time.

Dr Fan: Eastern Africa was already under threat by desert locusts destroying standing crops worth millions. COVID-19 will add to their food supply challenges. This is the time when international aid needs to focus on this region specifically.

Dr Bertini: Every individual and community need to check with their surroundings and work out opportunities to contribute. Apart from food, there are ways to help out with medical supplies, transport facilities, logistics etc.

Audience question: What is your vision for a ‘new normal’ for the future, once the pandemic is under control?

Dr Bertini: Going forward, I’d like to see a greater connection between farmers and consumers, so that consumers understand better what, when and how farmers produce food; and farmers could understand their (potential) market needs.

Dr Fan: Trade will become more inclusive and resilient. Also, we should hope to find a better balance between our food needs and nature, ensuring proper regulation in food supply systems to monitor food safety, especially in wild foods.

Dr Nabarro: Ensuring health and wellbeing is the primary purpose of food systems. Smallholder farmers are at the heart of the food systems, and their resilience is very important. We need to ensure that farmers are at the hub of food systems of the future.

We also need to find ways to reduce agriculture- and livestock-related emissions in order to reduce their impact on climate change.

In conclusion, the panelists agreed that a deep rethinking on the idea of food systems was the need of the hour, particularly keeping farmers, women and nature in mind. Dr Nabarro added that since women leaders have shown exceptional direction in handling this crisis, any redesign of food systems should feature women in the center of it.

The Digital Dialogue was held on 16 April 10 am ET.  Over 600 people including, scientists, analysts, policy makers, students, medical professionals and academicians joined the Dialogue from remote locations virtually.

About the author:

Rajani Kumar
Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT

A slide from a presentation made by Mr Satish Ganiger.

A slide from a presentation made by Mr Satish Ganiger.

Lockdown spurs Indian seed industry to explore leaner business models and plan door deliveries to farmers

COVID-19 might have ushered in social distancing but it did bring together Indian seed industry companies to meet virtually, think of ways to optimize operations, put competition aside and collaborate to deliver quality seed to farmers’ doorsteps. While negotiating the hurdles posed by the lockdown, it is likely that a leaner and more efficient system will emerge that protects farmers from exploitation by traders who hike up prices in situations like these.

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Pooling resources: Lessons learnt from handling the current rabi (postrainy) harvest during the lockdown are shaping the business model for the upcoming kharif (monsoon). Different companies will have to come together to meet the seed needs of a village as a unit. Shared railway wagons that crisscross India and shared auto-rickshaws/mini vans that drop seed packages at farmers’ homes were some ideas discussed to reach farmers with seed in time for the planting season that begins in two months. Travel restrictions, especially sudden clamps on a commutable area declared overnight as a red zone, shutting down of highway eateries and reluctant truck drivers have forced the industry to come up with new ideas to overcome the lockdown. The Government’s role in lifting curbs on agricultural produce transportation received appreciation.

Employees are a priority: Safety and health guidelines followed by companies like Corteva, US Agriseeds and Limagrain stressed on placement of hand sanitizers at entry points, workstations and vehicles, temperature scanning, disinfection, providing masks, biohazard disposal systems and social distancing in plant and lab. Some companies even have a doctor on their campus. Other issues discussed included difficulty in finding insurance providers for contract workers and exploring outsourcing options in case of insufficient internal capacity. Lesser operational efficiency, challenges in last mile delivery and having a plan B ready in the event of a COVID infection were discussed.

Managing cash flows: While it is indeed time to be thrifty with expenses, the advice was to safeguard relationships and not to get stingy with payments or end contracts. Keeping out of debt, balancing long-term and short-expenses with more thought on long-term consequences were some of the topics covered.

Ushering in technology: Mechanization and automation are future ideas being thought through for which a ‘mindset’ change is required and the current predicament could be the starting point for looking at efficient and faster ways to conduct operations. Digital marketing aspects were also touched upon.

Post-lockdown preparation: Ideas dealt with managing the scramble for work post lockdown, accelerating the supply chain, checking if plants and people were healthy enough to take on the extra workload and extending seed license validity.

The insights are from a webinar conducted by Gubba Seed Cold Storage on 13 April on the topic Covid-19 Seed industry challenges & how to overcome. The 90-minute webinar addressed issues from production, packing, marketing, finance to supply chain. There were over 470 participants.

The sessions were moderated by Mr Ram Koundinya, Federation of Seed Industry of India. Presentations were made by seed industry leaders Mr Gyanendra Shukla, Mr Ramana Rao GV, Mr Satish Ganiger, Mr Venkatram Vasanthavada and Mr Venkateshwarlu Yaganti.

For live recording click here

About the author:

Jemima Mandapati
Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT

Image from the report. Photo credit: IFPRI

Image from the report. Photo credit: IFPRI

Why the world needs inclusive food systems now more than ever

IFPRI Global Food Policy Report released

The 2020 Global Food Policy Report is now out, with a sharp focus on creating inclusive food systems that sustainably benefit the world’s vulnerable populations. “Inclusive food systems can help create better economic opportunities for poor people, mitigate climate change impacts for the most vulnerable, and spark innovation for the production and consumption of healthy foods,” it says.

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As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive disruption it has caused in food supply chains, it is painfully clear that the poor and marginalized communities are the hardest hit. The Global Food Policy Report emphasizes that modern global food systems should be inclusive of not just the poor (e.g. smallholder farmers), but also other neglected groups such as women, youth and refugees from conflict-prone regions. The report advocates global policy-level interventions to make way for massive investments in research and development. Also, individual nations are advised to draft and implement policies within the local context.

Smallholder farmers

Across the world, smallholder farmers suffer an income disparity when compared to the significant role they play in global food productions. To balance this inequity, the report suggests the following steps:

  • Promote agri-preneurship in a big way. This would require a) Infrastructure development (e.g. for faster delivery of produce to markets/processors) b) Quality regulation, for higher acceptance of agricultural products in markets and c) Skill training and capacity building of farmers to open farm/non-farm income-generation opportunities.
  • Link farmers to relevant markets. This could be done by: a) Securing land tenures for giving farmers easier access to credit facilities and agri inputs b) Promoting collective action in agribusiness through farmer-producer organizations c) Leverage digital technology to connect farmers to extension services, markets, weather information etc. and d) Provide social protection in the form of cash or food to build resilience during hard times.

The report submits that more than one type of intervention might be required to make a difference, depending on the gaps in the food systems and local prevailing conditions.


Although women farmers are actively involved in food systems in various ways —growing crops, tending livestock, working in agribusiness/food retail, feeding their families – their contributions are often not recognized. Typically, they have lesser education, fewer resources, lesser decision-making power and greater demands on their time, than men. Therefore, it is imperative that food systems take into consideration women’s needs and employ approaches that enable women to benefit equitably and empower them personally and as a community. A few steps have been highlighted in the report:

  1. Data collection and analysis on value chains to identify opportunities for women
  2. The private sector – spanning food production, processing, transportation and consumption – to incorporate guidelines on gender equality
  3. Policies to create enabling environments for women’s empowerment in research and industry through incentives and regulations
  4. Collaboration with all stakeholders (including men) to ensure sustained gains in women’s rights and progress.
Image from the report. Photo: IFPRI

Image from the report. Photo: IFPRI


Annually, sub-Saharan Africa adds about 20 million people young (working-age) people to its population. Rural youth in several African nations have to deal with land scarcity and lack of financial capital and/or other resources to start their own enterprises.

The report warns against generalized ideas, e.g. youth are well-versed in using technology in their farms. “In Ethiopia, for example, youth-headed households are less likely to use improved technologies such as fertilizers and seeds. In Ghana, it is the better-educated farmers, not young farmers per se, who use improved technologies.”

Hence, the report recommends policies for generating better economic opportunities, as opposed to polices that focus solely on “youth capabilities”. This would mean, for instance, investing in transportation, energy infrastructure as well as education.


Long periods of war and other conflicts in parts of the world are one of the primary reasons of global hunger. The report states that in conflict-ridden areas, drought, economic shocks etc. exacerbate the distress, often contributing to large-scale migration. “An estimated 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced in 2018, the highest number in decades.” Conflicts in rural regions leads to increased food insecurity, which affects the food value chain, from production to marketing.

One of the ways to mitigate this is to include the affected populations to work towards building local agri food systems. This could be by:

  1. Reviving local food systems by supplying tools, agricultural inputs, cash or livestock
  2. Supporting rural residents who return to their homes post conflict
  3. Enabling long-term refugees to access land and water
  4. Setting up and reinforcing social protection systems for short-term relief and resilience-building

National-level strategies

Apart from the above, four national-level approaches have been recommended for inclusive food system transformations to offer improved nutrition to vulnerable populations.

  1. Instead of thinking about increased food production, start from consumer demands and work back towards healthier diets
  2. Synergizing technology, institutional capacity and infrastructure to contribute to systemic change
  3. Developing countries to adapt policies to strike a balance between health, sustainability and overall wellbeing of all citizens.
  4. Draft and implement policies to include people and places overlooked by existing policies.

The Global Food Policy Report also proposes greater efforts towards inclusive food systems policies in the regions Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The ninth annual report was launched on 7 April 2020 in a virtual event by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Click here to read the full report.

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