Issue No: 1905
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Governing Board update

A screenshot from the meeting

A screenshot from the meeting

ICRISAT Governing Board concludes its third virtual board meeting, Board Chair calls for adaptation in times of pandemic

ICRISAT Governing Board recently concluded its 98th board meeting, the third virtual board meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The Board deliberated on the pandemic to find ways to shield smallholder farmers from its fallout, prevent worsening of the food security situation in vulnerable regions and to continue the Institute’s mission while keeping its staff safe. The Board also welcomed new members, discussed changes to the Institute’s research structure and contemplated ways to leverage the 2023 International Year of Millets UNGA resolution to improve diets, food and income security in drylands.

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Prof Prabhu Pingali, Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board, said the pandemic has given the Institute important lessons in food security threats and will shape the way we move ahead. Some implications for agricultural research and other systems working for food security in drylands is the reduced funding support given the increased demand for resources to fight the virus.

Emphasizing the need to adapt to a changed working environment, Prof Pingali encouraged the management to delve into what the changes mean for ways of working in the future. He also called for strengthening collaborations with national agricultural research systems across Asia and Africa, and working towards establishing South-South collaborations.

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, ICAR, who is the Board’s Vice Chair, called the pandemic challenging and mentioned it has had national and global impact in institutions across sectors. He also said that estimates suggest India’s agricultural production in 2021 have surpassed last year’s output. He urged ICRISAT management to keep staff motivated during the pandemic and expressed satisfaction in the Institute’s ongoing work in Asia and Africa.

Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, informed the Board that the pandemic did not deter ICRISAT from achieving a surplus in 2020 following measures for efficiency gains. ICRISAT now has a revised 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and a renewed research strategy, Dr Hughes emphasized stronger partnerships as being a key mechanism to take ICRISAT forward. She also conveyed to the Board that the Institute will have in place a rolling three-year Medium-Term Plan with quantifiable indicators for both research and services groups.

The Board approved the research strategy and the audited financial statements for 2020. It also welcomed Prof Yaye Kene Gassama to her first Board meeting as member. Prof Gassama is a Senegalese national and Professor in plant biotechnology at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD), Senegal. Prof Gassama has held high-ranking positions in the academia, governance and policymaking. She was Senegal’s Minister of Scientific Research in 2005 and chaired African Union’s high-level panel on emerging technologies in 2017. She has chaired and has been on several committees and academies, and has consulted for several international organizations including UNEP, IRDC, CORAF and FAO.

The meeting also confirmed the appointment of two new Governing Board members, Dr Jim Godfrey and Ms Cathy Reade, who commenced their first term on 22 April. The Board bid farewell to Prof Wendy Umberger, who chaired the Program Committee. Dr Yilma Kebede has been appointed the Chair of the Program Committee. The 98th Governing Board meeting was held during 15-21 April.

Important developments and key opportunities

Dr Hughes apprised the Board of important developments over the past year. These include

  1. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicating to India the Girnar groundnut varieties that were developed through ICRISAT collaboration.
  2. Launch of Odisha Soil Maps and opening of referral labs in Odisha
  3. Opening of modern seed processing facilities at ICRISAT, Patancheru
  4. FoodTec conference highlighting opportunities for South-South collaboration
  5. Visit of Mali agriculture Minister to ICRISAT-Mali.
  6. Svalbard black box backup of further accessions of our genetic resources
  7. ICAR-CGIAR Annual Meeting and strong presentation of ICRISAT’s work by the Deputy Director General for Research
  8. Corteva collaboration Steering Committee Meeting highlighting joint progress and reinforcing commitment to joint activities and facilitation
  9. GMR Group visiting ICRISAT, Patancheru, discussion of opportunities to work together and MoU signing to launch the relationship
  10. Visit of UK Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad, and the British High Commissioner to India, to ICRISAT, Patancheru
  11. Recruitment of two new senior staff members: Dr Arvind Kumar (Deputy Director General for Research) and Mr Angshu Sengupta (Director – Institutional Finance and Services)

The Board was also informed about outward-facing opportunities around the new Konark Wheel at ICRISAT’s Patancheru campus, of ICRISAT’s 50th anniversary in 2022 and events being planned across locations to mark the occasion. An outline of actions to be taken to use the momentum created by the International Year of Millets 2023 UNGA resolution was presented.

Discussion on future research structure and research highlights

Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, suggested that ICRISAT moves forward with a structure that will focus on key issues and opportunities in the drylands: building resilience; accelerating crop improvement; and enabling systems transformation. He also stressed that strong interdisciplinary linkages underlie the future structure. He recommended stepping up efforts to highlight the importance of ICRISAT’s mandate crops for climate, livelihood and nutrition; the Institute’s contribution in genomics, breeding and seed systems; work on natural resources and nutrient management; GIS-remote sensing and digital agriculture; value chain development-startups and capacity development.

There are areas or new avenues where ICRISAT can contribute to make a greater impact include livestock, agroforestry and crops beyond mandate crops, Dr Kumar pointed out.


Dr Kumar, who is also the interim Research Program Director Asia, went on to summarize research outcomes from the region during last year. He told the Board about new varietal releases in groundnut (ICGV 06189 and 06420), forage sorghum (Pant Chari-12, 13 and 15), chickpea (RLBGK 1, RVG 204, JGK 6, NBeG 810, NBeG 452 and Phule Vishwara) and pearl millet (TSFB 15-4 and TSFB 15-8). He summed up developments in multi-location trials and evaluations of all the ICRISAT mandate crops while pointing out that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic all efforts were made to save breeding material.

Modernization of breeding continued at ICRISAT, India, in 2020 with rapid generation advancement pilots for pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut and chickpea; opening of a modern seed processing facility; early generation multi-environment testing of advanced breeding lines of six crops in 72 environments and using simulation for optimizing the sorghum breeding scheme.

As part of Integrated Crop Management activities, six chickpea genotypes with durable sources of resistance to Fusarium wilt were identified. Five pigeonpea lines with combined resistance for wilt and sterility mosaic disease were identified. To combat blast in pearl millet, 36 blast isolates from Karnataka were characterized for virulence diversity of which one isolate was selected for greenhouse screening. Sorghum lines with blast resistance (5), tolerance to charcoal rot and shoot fly (12), white/red grain resistant to mold (31) were identified.

ICRISAT Development Center launched a soil fertility atlas for the Indian state of Odisha, and paired it with an interactive geo-portal that provides information on soil nutrient status and nutrient requirements (based on analysis of 40,000 soil samples from the state’s 30 districts). In Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka and Maharashtra states, 7,500 demonstrations were undertaken to show farmers the benefits of nutrient management, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and new varieties. Around 1,200 hectares of farmland was rejuvenated through balancing of plant nutrients and use of climate-smart varieties that helped farmers realize yield increases ranging between 10 and 40%. In Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh state, 2.5 million m3 of water storage was created with 40 water harvesting structures.

East and Southern Africa (ESA)

Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, ICRISAT-ESA, mentioned the release of three finger millet, three chickpea varieties and clearance obtained for cultivation of three groundnut varieties in Malawi, release of a new sorghum hybrid in Zimbabwe and development of 20 medium and long elite pigeonpea lines tolerant to Fusarium wilt in Kenya.

SourceTrace digital platform was used in Kenya to reach over 20,000 households to disseminate nutrition, health and agriculture messages. In crop protection, Dr Harawa shared with the Board that five accessions were identified following screening of sorghum mini-core collections for Fall armyworm resistance in Malawi.

Dr Harawa also recounted that cultivated lands increased by 44% and vegetation by 16% between 2010 and 2020 due to integrated watershed management in Yewol highlands and Afar region of Ethiopia. In Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, smart water management and agricultural innovation platforms led to crop yield increases ranging between 28 and 313% and income increase of 43-94% in farm households.

West and Central Africa (WCA)

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Research Program Director, ICRISAT-WCA, informed the Board of progress in operationalizing the Regional Crop Improvement Hub in Bamako, Mali, through procurement of equipment and recruitment of personnel. The outcomes of crop improvement activities include sharing of 451 advanced lines with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) through preliminary and regional trials, and in response to direct requests.

In sorghum, six hybrids were submitted by Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) to Malian national release committee for registration in the seed catalogue.​ Regional trials with 24 hybrids and three checks were done in over 20 locations in WCA.

Dr Tabo pointed out that Africa’s first iron-biofortified pearl millet variety, Chakti, has had a huge impact in Niger. In Burkina Faso, the first commercial stay green, dual purpose, medium maturing pearl millet hybrid showed 35 to 40 % higher yield compared to local and improved OPV Misari-1.

The warrantage system has helped ICRISAT bridge gaps for farmers and continues to show benefits. According to Dr Tabo, 17 innovation platforms collected cereals worth US$260, 954. The collection helped negotiate microfinance to the tune of US$ 123,605.

ICRISAT partnered with the Government of Niger to organize the second annual International Millet Festival, focusing on production, processing and consumption of millets to create wellbeing and better dietary diversity. Through the Smart Food campaign, ICRISAT-WCA made contributions to Mali’s national plan for nutrition, Dr Tabo informed the Board. In other impact and policy achievements in WCA, 30 people with hearing impairment were trained in groundnut seed production, seed quality control, seed business development and processing of groundnut into high value confectionary products.

ICRISAT helps countries make their agriculture climate-smart. In continuation of those efforts, ICRISAT-WCA helped develop climate-smart agriculture (CSA) profiles for Ghana, Mali and Niger. The CSA country profiles synthesize opportunities for addressing climate change challenges and economic growth prospects in the agricultural sector from the perspective of climate-smart agriculture. For the farmers, tailored and downscaled weather and climate information services (WCIS) were disseminated.

Innovation Systems for Drylands (ISD)

Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, ISD, updated the Board on efforts to provide smallholder farmers in Africa climate advisories and insurance support, helping fisheries and farmers in South Asia manage climate risks and efforts to scale-up climate-smart agriculture in India. ICRISAT leads the CGIAR Research Program Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)’s work in West Africa, is actively involved with the CRP’s work in other regions and through bilateral engagements.

Further, Dr Whitbread shared with the Board that as part of CCAFS work in WCA, 11 climate-smart villages were developed as pilot sites in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Senegal. ICRISAT is developing two such villages in Niger through a Catholic Relief Services-funded project. Five climate-smart communes were established by CCAFS and ICRISAT through the Projet d’Appui à l’Agriculture Sensible aux risques Climatiques or Supporting Agriculture Sensible to Climate Risks (PASEC) project to promote climate-smart agriculture in Niger. CSA is also being mainstreamed into projects through bilateral funding.

Dr Whitbread also briefed the Board about ICRISAT’s efforts in developing a mandal-wise climate exposure index for Telangana state in India. In Zimbabwe, efforts are being made to model two pathways- Green Zimbabwe (a path of slow economic growth but sustainable development) and Gray Zimbabwe (a path of rapid economic growth with limited concern for environment).

Presenting the concept of a comprehensive advisory system to help farmers in decision making, Dr Whitbread mentioned the launches of Meghdoot and Mausam mobile applications in India. Together, both the apps have grossed 320,000 downloads. Meghdoot was downloaded in all districts of India.

Genetic Gains

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Genetic Gains, conveyed to the Board that genome sequencing work that ICRISAT does has helped establish the Institute as a center of excellence in the drylands.

Describing efforts to take benefits of upstream science to farmers, Dr Varshney mentioned the development and release of drought-tolerant and wilt resistant chickpea varieties in India and Ethiopia. One such variety released last year, Pusa Manav, has 28% yield advantage and resistance to Fusarium wilt. Dr Varshney also detailed efforts in haplotype-based breeding and genomics prediction. ICRISAT has been building up on chickpea genetics work and has in recent years re-sequenced 429 chickpea accessions.

Efforts are underway with Corteva Agriscience to improve shelf life of pearl millet flour through gene editing, Dr Varshney further informed. Given the potential growth of millet and flour markets, finding ways to increase shelf-life and to control rancidity is essential. A dysfunctional pearl millet lipase gene responsible for reduced rancidity has been identified for editing.

CRP Grain legumes and dryland Cereals

Dr Kiran Sharma, Director, CRP-GLDC, highlighted the impacts of CRP’s common bean work that includes release of over 60 varieties and related efforts to reduce poverty for 2.2 million families in Ethiopia. In India, two high-oleic groundnut varieties that were approved for commercial use in 2019 were dedicated to India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on World Food Day in 2020. In Zimbabwe, households growing beans have managed to increase yield and are now equipped to profit from it.

Dr Sharma informed that the CRP is facilitating ICRISAT and ICARDA to study gender integration in breeding. The Village Level Studies in South Asia (VDSA), which ICRISAT began doing in 1970s, is also being used to understand women’s access to assets in designing programs, interventions and policies.​

In the markets and partnerships space, a framework for exploring market opportunities in transforming agri-food systems was released. The adoption of chickpea in Andhra Pradesh was also analyzed. Three studies on analyzing opportunities for GLDC in– growing markets for functional foods and plant-based meats, influencing consumer patterns, and flour blending policy in Kenya—are underway.

To build capacity, the Pre-breeding and Trait Discovery Flagship Program of the CRP (FP5) reached nearly 3,500 people with online trainings and webinars. Common Bean for Markets and Nutrition (FP6) enhanced skills of 1,260 people in bean-based flour production, development of beans seed road maps, crop breeding and communications​.

Ensuring continuity during Covid-19

Across the regions it serves, ICRISAT continues to operate while ensuring the wellbeing of its staff. This has required increasing reliance on digital tools, regular assessments of the pandemic situation at national, regional and global levels in addition to complying with Covid-19-appropriate guidelines at workplace.

Dr Tabo presented the approaches to overcome challenges posed by Covid-19 in WCA. He showed that digital communication platforms can be used to disseminate knowledge, train farmers and to conduct business. To ensure that the pandemic’s food security threat can be tackled, ICRISAT worked on strengthening partnerships with national partners and governments. In Nigeria, for instance, a joint effort saw ICRISAT organize distribution of seeds of improved sorghum varieties to farmers through the state and local governments.

Dr Harawa informed the Board that a regional Crisis Management Team in ESA continuously reviews the pandemic situation and develops action plants. Most staff have been asked to work from home and use virtual platforms. For research continuity, field operations are being overseen by staff residing near research sites. The Genebank in ESA is also operating in a similar manner and germplasm is being well maintained.

In India, ICRISAT employees began returning to workplace in September last year. However, owing to rise in number of cases in India in March 2021, currently ICRISAT has about 40% of staff on campus in Patancheru predominantly in field-related activities, but most staff are encouraged to work from home.

Farewell to Prof Wendy Umberger

ICRISAT Governing Board bid farewell to outgoing member Prof Wendy Umberger. Prof Umberger, Executive Director of the Center of Global Food & Resources at University of Adelaide in Australia, was appointed to the Board in 2015 and served two terms. The Board recounted and commended her contributions to ICRISAT and remembered her as candid and passionate towards work.

“India holds a special place in my heart, and it saddens me to not say goodbye to the wider Team ICRISAT in person. I’m very grateful to all my colleagues in the Board, you are amazing people to work with. I wish to give special thanks to our Indian Government-appointed Board members – you are greatly appreciated and I’m honored to have worked with you. For those that I served a long time with – you well know that I joined the ICRISAT Board when my daughter was barely walking, and now she’s all grown up. It just made me realize how much time I spent with the Institute and how much learning it has brought to all of us. I deeply care about ICRISAT and am thankful for the opportunity to serve.”

The Board welcomed Ms Cathy Reade and Dr Jim Godfrey

Dr Jim Godfrey, a UK national, until very recently was the Chair of IRRI’s Board of Trustees. He is the Director and Chairman of UK’s National Institute of Agricultural Botany, and was the President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Dr Godfrey has been appointed to several Boards and has chaired many of them, including those of CGIAR centers. He is the former Chair of CIP and of the Alliance of the 15 CGIAR centers, and founder of the CGIAR Board Orientation Program.

He was the Governor of Roslin Research Institute in the UK between 2006 and 2008. For his services to agricultural research in Scotland, Dr Godfrey was awarded the OBE.

Ms Cathy Reade, an Australian national, is the Director of Outreach at the Crawford Fund. She spent her early career working for a range of advocacy groups and later established the public awareness program for the Fund. She also developed and manages a master class in communications for scientists in developing countries, and directs the Fund’s NextGen suite of activities. The Alliance of CGIAR Centers recognized her contributions with a special award in 2007. Ms Reade was on the Board and Executive Committee of the World Vegetable Center from 2014-2019, and chaired their Nominations Committee.


A groundnut field. Image used for representational purpose. File Photo

A groundnut field. Image used for representational purpose. File Photo

Ghana farmers’ group raises groundnut yield five-fold with improved varieties, breaks three-decade productivity barrier

Two improved groundnut varieties have helped a group of farmers in Ghana increase their yields five-fold, breaking a three-decade stranglehold on the crop’s productivity. The improved varieties, SARINUT 1 and SARINUT 2, are also combating devastating afflictions of groundnut production like leaf spot disease in the country’s Savanna Region.

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The farmers’ group, Soglokonbo Groundnut Farmers Association in the region’s East Gonja district, has been using the improved varieties and good agricultural practises to produce around 1,200 kg per hectare in stark contrast to the 225 kg per hectare they were harvesting earlier. Reason for the historically low yields: prominence of a dated variety that was introduced in the region 30 years ago and was handed down or exchanged between farmers.

Not only was the dated variety low-yielding, it was also highly susceptible to early and late leaf spot diseases that can wipe out as much as 80% of a field. With such prospects, several farmers in the region ditched groundnut for other remunerative crops.

However, the turnaround came when researchers acted as a catalyst for CSIR-SARI to collaborate with AGRITREE Sustainable Centre, an agro-based NGO, to introduce improved groundnut varieties and complementary good agronomic practices to farmers in the area. These activities were conducted under the aegis of the projects – Tropical Legumes III (TLIII), Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) and NWO-WOTRO (Scaling-Up Groundnut Varieties in Ghana and Mali).

The farmers’ group was attracted by SARINUT varieties’ high yield potential, disease resistance, kernel attributes, high above-the-ground biomass content (fodder) besides their early maturity characteristics. After witnessing the varietal performance, there was no turning back for the group’s members.

“I cultivated 5 acres of SARINUT 1 variety and harvested 71 maxi bags. I sold the produce and bought a motorbike and two packets of zinc roofing sheets. So good bye to thatched roofs,” Mr. Mohammed Abdulai, a 33-year-old member of the farmers’ group, beamingly says.

The 2019 -2020 cropping season was a successful year for the Soglokonbo Association. Over the past years, low yields due to old varieties meant less competitive prices. The new varieties gave them a fresh start to access and produce high yielding varieties which have improved demand for their produce, thanks to improved uniformity in the kernel.

“We now have a partner with whom we were able to negotiate good prices for our produce. With competitive remuneration and timely payment for our sale, the livelihoods of the members of our association has improved,” says Mr. Richard Dramanihe, leader of the Soglokonbo Groundnut Farmers Association.

“With the kind of enthusiasm exhibited and successes chalked by the Soglokonbo Groundnut Farmers Association, all groundnut farmers in the surrounding areas will soon be planting the new varieties,” says
Dr Doris Kanvenaa Puozaa, scientist at the CSIR-SARI.

In Ghana, the work continues to introduce new improved varieties and is being led by Dr Richard Oteng-Frimpong of CSIR-SARI, as part of AVISA Project.


Dr Doris Kanvenaa Puozaa, Seed scientist, CSIR-SARI
Dr Richard Oteng-Frimpong, Groundnut Breeder, CSIR-SARI
Moussa Magassa, Communication Assistant, AVISA-WCA
Dr Haile Desmae, Regional Breeding Lead, ICRISAT-WCA
Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information, ICRISAT-WCA

Project: Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA), NWO-WOTRO (Scaling-Up Groundnut Varieties in Ghana and Mali projects)

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID

Partners: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), NARS partners from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda and ICRISAT

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

Mr Noyeza Bonzi (far left) with ICRISAT staff and his son Augustin. Photos: M. Magassa, ICRISAT

Mr Noyeza Bonzi (far left) with ICRISAT staff and his son Augustin. Photos: M. Magassa, ICRISAT

Why youth here aspire to be farmers, the case of Burkina Faso

Jobs that are intellectually satisfying, economically rewarding and low on drudgery are the biggest draw for youth anywhere in the world. This is exactly what is drawing youngsters to farming in Burkina Faso, contrary to the trend in many developing countries. The introduction of seed production through projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID and others, have led to win-win situations for farmers, agro-dealers and the farming community at large. The growing seed production business is pumping improved varieties into the farming system, improving farmer incomes and providing additional gains to seed producers.

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Mr Noyeza Bonzi (far left) with ICRISAT staff and his son Augustin. Photos: M. Magassa, ICRISAT

Mr Noyeza Bonzi (far left) with ICRISAT staff and his son Augustin. Photos: M. Magassa, ICRISAT

Improved varieties have an impressive yield and selling the seed is even more profitable. Mr Noyeza Bonzi, president of a union with annual seed production capacity of about 500 tons of sorghum, 60 tons of cowpea and 20 tons of groundnut.

Sowing seeds of prosperity

“Seed production is highly remunerative. Farmers who have taken up this business or as an add-on to their regular farming, report a significant increase in their income,” says Mr Noyeza Bonzi, a sorghum farmer, seed producer for more than a decade and president of the specialized union in boucle de Mouhoun. The union has been able to bring together a large number of farmers into seed production to form an association that has more than 4,500 producers, including 105 grassroots groups and 700 seed producers. Annually, the union has a seed production capacity of about 580 tons of sorghum, cowpea and groundnut. These crops are improved varieties developed and disseminated through the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) and AVISA projects, both funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr Noyeza, who owns and farms 120 ha in Kosso village, Burkina Faso, is an early adopter of the improved varieties Sariasso 15, Sariasso 16, Sariasso 18 and Sariasso 20.” During the 2019 cropping season, I harvested 33 tons from 30 hectares. From the 2020 cropping season, I expect between 55 and 60 tons of seed from 50 hectares,” states Noyeza. He expects to sell his produce at a market price of 500 and 800 FCFA/kg (about US$ 1 and US$ 1.45) for grain and seed respectively.

High income, mechanization and seed knowhow draws next generation

Mr Augustin Bonzi with his newly acquired tractor.

Mr Augustin Bonzi with his newly acquired tractor.

Noyeza’s gains and capacity to buy farm machinery has prompted his son Augustin Bonzi to take an interest in the day-to-day farm operations. Today, he manages the business with a team of seven and knows the ins and outs of seed production in Burkina Faso. What Augustine likes the most about his job is working with tractors with which he ploughs and weeds his own field every year.

I work twice as fast and the result is satisfactory at harvest time. Augustin Bonzi, manager of the Bonzi seed production business

Teacher turns farmer

Mr Konkobo Sibiri, a teacher by profession, joined the seed production union while on a teaching break in 2019. The gains he got from seed production on his 150-ha field was far beyond his imagination. “I can never earn that much as a teacher. Seed production made me a respectable person. I bought a car, three vans and one tractor for transporting harvests and ploughing fields. I gave up my career as a teacher to be a seed producer and I am proud of the result today.”

Mr Konkobo Sibiri on his seed production farm.

Mr Konkobo Sibiri on his seed production farm.

Per year, the sale of sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea seeds earns him about 40 million FCFA (about U$$ 72,000). In 2020, this farmer produced seed – 27 tons of sorghum, 6 tons of millet, 8.5 tons of cowpea and 5.6 tons of groundnut. “I sold each kg of sorghum and millet at 750 FCFA (about U$$ 1,35). For cowpea and groundnut seed, I sold 1 kg at 1,200 FCFA (about U$$ 2.15).

Mr Sibiri says his four daughters like his new job better. “Seed production is a very profitable business and my daughters like it because today I am able to better take care of them,” he says.

My earnings are on par with that of a civil servant in this country. Mr Konkobo Sibiri, teacher-turned-seed producer

Seed production puts her back on her feet

Ms Kafando Koutou Assetou with a young visitor passionate about agriculture.

Ms Kafando Koutou Assetou with a young visitor passionate about agriculture.

Among women farmers of the union, Ms Kafando Koutou Assetou, a widow and mother of many children, has been able to cope with the death of her husband. She is into cowpea improved seed production, especially the variety “Komkale”. “I have been producing seed every year for more than 10 years on 30 hectares of land for different crops, including cowpea, sorghum, millet and groundnut,” she says. This year because of the insecurity in Burkina Faso and increasing number of attacks, she found a new farming plot in Dedougou where she cultivated 12 hectares. She produced 2 tons of cowpea and sold it for more than 3 million FCFA (about US$ 5,450) from an initial investment of about 850,000 FCFA (US$ 1,540).

Thanks to seed production, I am able to run my family. Ms Kafando Koutou Assetou, a woman seed producer

In Burkina Faso, many small farmers have become seed producers thanks to the help of farmer organizations that support capacity building of the actors through training and other related activities such as field visits and demonstrations plots. From Dedougou to Toungan and Toma, many other farmers are awaiting their turn to fulfil their dream to be called “seed producers”.

Authored by Moussa Magassa, Communication Assistant, ICRISAT, West and Central Africa with inputs from Jemima Mandapati, Senior Communications Officer, ICRISAT


Dr Baloua Nebie, Sorgum breeder,
Dr Hailemichael Desmae, Regional Breeding Lead and
Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information, ICRISAT – WCA

Read more about seed systems on EXPLOREit

Project: Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA)

Funders: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Partners: ICRISAT, IITA, CIAT, Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI), Ghana; 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) and Uganda.

Others Projects that have contributed: Food and nutrition security in West Africa using High-Yielding and nutritious sorghum and pearl millet hybrids and Varieties (ESPHYV).

Partners: ICRISAT, INERA/Burkina Faso, IER/Mali, INRAN/Niger, AMSP,Burkina Faso; UGCPA/BM, Burkina Faso; ULPC,Mali; COOPROSEM, Mali; AOPP, Mali MOORIBEN, Niger and FUMA GASKIYA, Niger.

Funders: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

Kuroiler chicken at Zaone Poultry Company Photo: Ken Gunsalu

Kuroiler chicken at Zaone Poultry Company Photo: Ken Gunsalu

A tale of ‘chicken and egg’: Malawi farmers reduce poultry feed cost by 80%, increase egg production by 200% through improved feed

Compelled by high cost of commercial feed and low egg production, a group of farmers-turned-entrepreneurs began making nutritious chicken feed with locally available ingredients that cut input costs drastically, significantly increased egg production of Kuroiler poultry and subsequently, their profits.

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Zaone Poultry Company in Thyolo and Chimtengo Youth Poultry company in Chiradzulu are two Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) established under the EU funded CLIM2 project in Malawi. In 2019, the project introduced to them Kuroiler chickens, a dual-purpose breed originally bred in India that was introduced in Malawi from Tanzania. This hybrid chicken is known to outperform local chicken breeds under free range, semi-intensive and intensive management systems.

“There is a huge demand for eggs and poultry meat. However, a large gap exists between demand and supply of affordable poultry products. This presented us an opportunity to tap,” Dorica Jailosi, the Chairperson of Zaone Poultry Company, said while explaining the rationale for taking to Kuroiler chicken.

Freshly laid eggs. Photo: Sabine Homann Kee Tui, ICRISAT

Freshly laid eggs. Photo: Sabine Homann Kee Tui, ICRISAT

Accounting for nearly 60 to 70% of input costs, chicken feed is an important aspect of profitability in the poultry business.

“Most people in our community did not believe that we would manage raising Kuroiler chickens considering high cost of commercial feeds,” narrates Monica Mapemba, Chairperson of Chimtengo Youth Poultry Company.

Months after they began, the companies’ members began noticing a drop in egg production of Kuroiler birds. They suspected the expensive commercial feed they were giving the birds and realized that unlocking the profit potential of the prized chicken variety they had was only possible if the feed became cheaper without impacting nutrition. It was clear that the farmers had to prepare their own feed.

CLIM2 began building the capacity of these farmers to prepare their own scientifically-formulated feeds. The efforts to develop local feed have been so successful that the farmers no longer buy commercial feed. Instead, they are able to locally source all ingredients, including minerals, to prepare feed. The feed is made of maize, maize bran, soybean, pigeon peas, sorghum, salt, microbial crude protein (MCP), metabolizable energy (ME) and lime. Most ingredients are bought soon after harvest when farmers sell their fresh produce and prices are low.

“Milling the feed stuff was easy with the hammer mills the CLIM2 project provided,” added Ms Mapemba. Buying the feed when prices are low, low transport and labor cost for processing feed stuff made the feed much cheaper than commercial feed.

Meat of the matter

Low production of eggs and high cost of commercial feed triggered CLIM2 project to conduct feed trials with Zaone Poultry Company to compare feeds, egg production and the cost when birds are given commercial and locally-made feed.

With the help of Donald Kaonga, a PhD student at ILRI, the company formulated its feed ratio using locally available feed stuff. They then conducted a simple study; 30 hens were fed locally-made feed and 30 were fed commercial feed. Each hen was given 120 g of feed per day. Data on egg performance under the two treatments was collected for 14 days. Table 1 lists the feed stuff for locally-made feed. Table 2 illustrates egg performance of the two groups.

Hens given the locally-made feed performed well with an average of 20 eggs per day (=67% laying). Hens fed commercial feed laid 9 eggs per day (30% laying). Apart from being more expensive, the commercial feed was also of lower quality.

“We are happy that we are now able to produce more number of large eggs using our own feed at a reduced cost. This will increase the company’s profit and it will improve our household income. It will also improve nutrition in our communities. It helps us in diversifying our business,” Mr Salima Phiri from Zaone Poultry Company beamingly said.

Feeding locally-prepared feeds can halve the feed costs for smallholder farmers. Following the experiment, the farmers learnt that a ton of locally-prepared grower feed with soy was costing 267,990 MWK while commercial feed was costing 492,000 MWK per ton.

The quality of locallyprepared feed is known to farmers and is high when they use the right quantities and types of feed stuff. High quality feed results in increased egg production when compared to commercially-produced feeds that are not under farmers’ control.

With increased egg production, poultry SMEs can find reliable markets beyond the communities in which their members live. The SMEs also become buyers of crop products that farmers within communities produce, thereby acting as a ready market.


Chamuka D. Thebulo, Donald A.M. Kaonga, Ken Gunsalu, Michael Blummel, Sabine Homann Kee Tui, Sikhalazo Dube

About CLIM2

The project on Improved livelihoods through sustainable intensification and diversification of market-oriented crop-livestock systems in southern Malawi (CLIM2) is working to strengthen diversification and integration of crop and livestock farming systems in three districts of Malawi. The project is funded by the European Union under the Farm Income Diversification Programme (FIDP) Phase II – Agribusiness. The project is implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as the lead agency, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Small-Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLLP). Several departments within the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development are partnering in the project.


Dr Vetriventhan in a little millet field at ICRISAT. Photo: Venugopal R, ICRISAT

Dr Vetriventhan in a little millet field at ICRISAT. Photo: Venugopal R, ICRISAT

Little millet that are big on nutrition and yield identified at ICRISAT

A team of researchers has zeroed in on little millet germplasm with high nutrients, high yield and biomass potential following analysis of the crop’s 200 landraces conserved at ICRISAT’s Genebank in India. These landraces hold the key to developing nutritious and high-yielding varieties of the crop, which can prove significant for food systems in drylands facing changing climate, the scientists say.

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The ICRISAT Genebank conserves 473 accessions of little millet landraces collected from different parts of India, and a few from Cameroon, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Researchers examined 200 of these for over two years and characterized them for nutrition (calcium, iron, zinc and protein), yield and biomass. They found 10 accessions with promising seed weight, 15 with high grain yield potential, 15 with high biomass yield potential and 30 with consistently high grain nutrients.

One of the many millets, little millet is grown on nearly 0.26 million hectares in India, which produced about 0.12 million tons in 2018. Given its constitution, little millet can be consumed in various forms and can substitute rice as it can cook faster than other millets and it tastes similar to rice. It can also be milled into flour for use in baked or other foods. Little millet is a smart food- food that is good for consumers, hardy and thus good for farmers and environmentally sustainable.

“Consumption of 100 g of little millet grains can potentially contribute to the recommended dietary allowance of up to 28% Fe, 37% Zn and 27% protein,” the researchers wrote while referring to the crop’s nutritional benefits in their study published recently.

Small millets, including little millet, are known for their climate-resilient features, including diverse adaptation and low water requirements. They are minimally affected by insect pests and diseases, and thus are minimally vulnerable to environmental stresses,” said Dr Mani Vetriventhan, Senior Scientist at ICRISAT Genebank and the study’s first author.

The ICRISAT Genebank conserves over 128,000 accessions of ICRISAT’s mandate crops including over 11,700 accessions of six small millets. The large diversity in the collection for stress tolerance and nutritional qualities highlights the importance of the genebank’s collection to achieve sustainable development goals to end hunger and malnutrition. Researchers can obtain the trait-specific germplasm identified in this study and other germplasm in line with standard procedures,” said Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, ICRISAT Genebank, and one of the study’s authors.

Though the production of millets in India has stagnated over decades owing to falling demand, lack of investment and weak value chains, rising awareness of the health benefits of millets has renewed consumer interest in recent years.

The wide prevalence of malnutrition and changing consumer preferences for healthy foods underline the importance of bringing back the neglected, underutilized but traditionally important crops such as small millets into the food basket for food and nutrition security,” Dr Vetriventhan added.

It is hoped that the recent declaration of 2023 as the ‘International Year of Millets’ will help bring more attention to the multifold benefits of these nutricereals and prompt more consumers to diversify diets nutritionally even as more farmers take to producing them with stronger support systems in place.

The study, Variability and trait-specific accessions for grain yield and nutritional traits in germplasm of little millet, was authored by Drs Mani Vetriventhan, Hari D Upadhyaya, Vania CR Azevedo, Victor Allan Jayapal and S Anitha. It was published by Crop Science. An abstract of it is available here.

The research work was done as part of CGIAR Genebank Platform, which supports the core activities of the CGIAR genebanks to conserve collections of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.


Written by Rohit Pillandi. Vania Azevedo and Mani Vetriventhan contributed to the writing of this article.

HHB 67 Improved 2-7 is a second cycle improvement in a popular pearl millet hybrid. Photo: Rakesh Srivastava, ICRISAT

HHB 67 Improved 2-7 is a second cycle improvement in a popular pearl millet hybrid. Photo: Rakesh Srivastava, ICRISAT

A good pearl millet hybrid gets even better

A team of researchers in India has bettered an immensely popular pearl millet hybrid, HHB 67 Improved, endowing it with 58% higher resistance to downy mildew (DM) disease. The latest improvement has also increased the hybrid’s blast resistance by 12%, grain yield by 15% and dry fodder yield by 21% while retaining its hallmark early-maturity trait.

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Researchers at ICRISAT partnered with Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (CCSHAU) and ICAR-All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet (AICRP-PM) for the second cycle improvement of HHB 67 Improved hybrid. Using genome-wide simple sequence repeat (SSR) DNA markers, three DM resistance loci (quantitative trait loci or QTLs) were moved to the male parent of HHB 67 Improved. Scientists at ICRISAT’s Center of Excellence in Genomics and System Biology, Genetic Gains Research Program, stacked the three DM resistance QTLs from different chromosomes (linkage groups 3, 4 and 6) of the donor parents.

The latest improvement has been christened HHB 67 Improved 2-7 (meaning HHB 67 Improved second cycle improvement, 7th version). It was tested in Essentially Derived Variety multi-location, multiyear trials of AICRP-PM in A1 and A (dry) zones of India.

The need for improvement

HHB 67 pearl millet hybrid was released in 1990 and soon became a farmer-preferred hybrid owing to its extra-early maturity that helped the plant escape end season drought. However, this hybrid became susceptible as the incidence of DM increased in western India, warranting improvement. The HHB 67 Improved, with DM resistance, was released in 2005.

More than two million people enjoy food security due to HHB 67 Improved in India. This extra-early, DM-resistant farmer and consumer-preferred hybrid is grown in more than 800,000 ha out of 7-7.5 million ha in which pearl millet is grown every year. This popular hybrid has helped prevent annual losses of US$ 8 million across Haryana and Rajasthan that DM can cause. However, the typical lifespan of any pearl millet hybrid is not more than 4-5 years before DM catches up.

Of the many versions of the latest improvement that were tested, version 7 performed exceedingly well with significant gains over HHB 67 Improved. Researchers also say that the scientific approach to improvement this time was different and an improvement itself over the last cycle’s approach, where Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) markers were deployed.

The second cycle version of HHB 67 Improved is being considered for release by ICAR. This improved hybrid may prove a turning point for the dry north and north-western India by boosting food, fodder, nutritional and economic security in these regions.


Written by Dr Rakesh Srivastava, Principal Scientist – Molecular Breeding, Genomics & Trait Discovery.

Project: Marker-assisted improvement of elite parental lines and hybrids

Funders: Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (CCSHAU), ICAR (All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet) and ICRISAT

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Capacity building and knowledge dissemination

Ms Akshaya Suresh talks about the relevance of IP to ML/AI.

Ms Akshaya Suresh talks about the relevance of IP to ML/AI.

Intellectual property in artificial intelligence and machine learning

Can technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) be patented? What are the intellectual property (IP) issues faced by businesses that create products and services based on AI and ML? Experts in a recent webinar organized by the Intellectual Property Facilitation Cell (IPFC) at ICRISAT answered these questions and more.

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Mr Rajaraman Srinivasan, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Neoware Technology Solutions, and Ms Akshaya Suresh, partner at VB Legal, shed light on the growing prominence of AI and ML and the role of IP during the webinar ‘Importance of Intellectual Property in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technologies’.

AI and ML are being utilized to solve complex problems that businesses face. For example, four key areas in agriculture that AI and ML are being used for are automation (autonomous tractors and robots for picking or spraying) to address the shortage of labor; soil moisture detection to improve productivity (crop yield); disease identification to monitor crop health; and precision farming.

“AI and ML are driving important developments in technology and businesses because of the availability of data, scalable computing, skills, investments and awareness,” said Mr Srinivasan.

Ms Suresh, a legal expert on IP management for technology businesses, explained how IP is relevant to AI and ML. She began by suggesting what the objectives of a good IP strategy for AI and ML should be. The four key areas where IP is critical to the use, protection and monetization of AI and ML-based technologies are: training datasets, ML algorithms, software and output.

Training datasets refer to the initial data used to develop an ML model. While using the ML datasets, one must be cognizant of third-party rights of publicly available resources, ownership of the data and regulatory issues. ML algorithms are techniques to solve a problem. In India, protecting an algorithm is challenging because there is a ban on patenting algorithms and computer programs, and copyright laws do not fully protect. The only way to protect algorithms is to treat them as trade secrets.

Before using open-source or licensed software, it is important to read the fine print carefully to understand how they can be used. Ms Suresh went on to explain the different kinds of open-source software licenses available. Both copyright and patents are used to protect software or computer programs. The output of AI or ML varies according to the intended purpose of AI, which means it can be a prediction, recommendation or classification.

“For example, if AI is used in crop sowing, the output would be predictive analytics to determine when and how to sow,” she said. AI outputs cannot be protected using copyright and patents as computers cannot be authors. Contracts are the most feasible option if there are specific aspects of the output that requires protection.

So, what is the way forward for IP in the AI and ML space? The future of sound IP practice in AI and ML space is to have a national innovation ecosystem that includes sound policies, infrastructure, expertise and capital. It also requires companies to adopt an appropriate IP strategy for AI and ML products and services. India is still in a nascent stage in the IP space and must evolve as AI landscape rapidly changes.

Autonomous machines and sensors based on AI and ML are the future of agriculture. Agriculture will increasingly become data-driven, enabled by AI and ML tools. Given the rapid pace of changes in these technologies and the complex nature of the tools, businesses and startups working in this space should create a sound IP strategy to survive and thrive.

The webinar was jointly organized with the Bangalore Bioinnovation Centre on 10 March 2021. A total of 70 participants including entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators participated.

A recording of the webinar can be viewed here: https://bioinnovationcentre.webex.com/recordingservice/sites/bioinnovationcentre/recording/playback/a3bd1fb2457d49f5accffa0cbc3bbb5a


Sridivya Mukpalkar, Consultant – Content Development and Promotion, AIP- ICRISAT

A screenshot from the webinar. Photo: ICRISAT, IPFC

A screenshot from the webinar. Photo: ICRISAT, IPFC

The many aspects of commercializing protected plant varieties in India

Agribusiness enterprises were advised to consider the cost of plant variety protection, time taken to obtain it and the capacity for legal and regulatory processes involved before looking at business opportunities with protected plant varieties. This was stressed by scientific, business and legal experts during an informative webinar organized by ICRISAT’s Intellectual Property Facilitation Cell (AIP-IPFC).

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Dr Dwarkesh Parihar, Head – Biotechnology, Bioseed Research Pvt Ltd, informed that most number of registrations between 2009 and August 2020 under India’s Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act 2001 (PPV & FR) have been awarded to farmers. Crop-wise, rice has had the most registrations. The PPV & FR Act, enacted in 2001, aims to protect plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders while encouraging the development and cultivation of new plant varieties in India.

Dr Parihar pointed out that the process of obtaining registration takes much longer than the expected three years. Arguing that the time available for cost and investment recovery is short, he said, “This is an area that needs to be looked at given that commercially successful hybrids have a lifespan of just 4-5 years.”

In addition to suggesting reduction in the duration of the registration process and direct and indirect costs of registration, Dr Parihar recommended the use of technological interventions like modern genomic tools in DUS testing to establish distinctness and uniformity in testing, without diluting standards. At the moment, DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability) testing relies on phenotypical data, which is affected by agro-climatic conditions. Genomic data is not affected by such conditions, he explained.

Dr Parihar also called for strong enforcement of the law. He cited the need for timely resolution of infringements, strong disincentives for unethical practices and independent investigations of infringements. Such efforts may enhance the confidence in varietal registration.

Dr Neeti Wilson, a lawyer specializing in Intellectual Property management and a partner at the law firm Anand & Anand, underscored that breeders often have concerns of infringement when material they develop goes out in the field. Stressing the importance of approaching the right authority for grievance redressal in case of disputes, she informed of a recent move in India abolishing the Intellectual Property tribunals. IP disputes will now have to be directed to the High Courts, Dr Wilson added. She also advised enterprises and prospective agribusinesses to be mindful of not just the PVP & FRV Act but also of other laws like the Biological Diversity Act.

Speaking about the implications of seeking protection for plant varieties, Dr Wilson said the decision to do so and to select varieties that are to be protected is a business decision as there is significant amount of cost and time involved. She also stressed that the process and documentation related to plant variety registration is techno-legal and there are legalities involved in many aspects of management of IP pertaining to plant varieties. She said that any material that is being transferred between two entities, including digital genetic sequences, should be legally vetted for ownership before transferring.

Dr Surya Mani Tripathi, ICRISAT’s Legal Counsel who moderated the discussion, informed that the evaluation of material transfer agreements is essential and before thinking of commercialization, agribusinesses need to check if the agreements allow it. Some agreements may allow material transfers for research purposes only and in such cases permissions have to be sought for commercialization.

Citing instances, the experts also informed that infringements of rights can happen in multiple ways and that recourse has reputational implications for organization in addition to legal and financial implications.

The session had 102 participants which included plant breeders, scientists, research scholars and other stakeholders from the farming communities. The webinar was held on 8 April 2021 and was the third in a series of webinars on plant variety protection that is being organized by European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC), Anand & Anand and IPFC.

To view recording of the webinar, click here.

MP-AES equipment at the referral lab in Bhubaneshwar.

MP-AES equipment at the referral lab in Bhubaneshwar.

Strengthening soil health framework in India’s Odisha state

A training program on analyzing soil using Microwave Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (MP-AES) was recently conducted in Odisha, India, for staff of referral soil testing laboratories. Analysts from the referral labs were trained on standard preparations, calibration of high-end equipment and SOPs of micronutrient analysis using MPAES.

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Under the Odisha Bhoochetana project, two referral soil testing laboratories were upgraded at Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur, Odisha state. The labs cater to the state’s need for precision analysis of a large number of soil, water, fertilizer and plant samples. The referral labs started functioning in convergence mode and are now self-reliant, with staff at ICRISAT’s Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory (CRAL) providing support virtually owing to the pandemic.

The recent training was conducted onsite during 5-8 April 2021 by ICRISAT’s Scientific Officers, Mr Satish Venkata and Mr Chenna Vijayaranganatha, with the guidance of Dr Pushpajeet L Choudhari, Manager-CRAL.

Dr Choudhari said, “Referral soil testing laboratories will serve as nodal agency for data validation and cross-learning. There is need for such laboratories in every state of the country. These labs will help leverage the whole soil health assessment framework, eventually benefiting the farming community.”


Written by Arun Seshadri, Scientific Officer, Asia Program.

Project: Enhancing agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods through scaling-up of science-led development in Odisha: Bhoochetana

Funder: Department of Agriculture, Government of Odisha

Partners: Odisha University of Agriculture & Technology; NGOs (CARR, Abhyudaya, HAVL, NJS, Sambandh, APOWA, Triranga Yubak Sangha, SEWAK, Mahashakti Foundation, Pragati, Parivartan, Loksevak, Harsha Trust, Foundation for Ecological Security, UDYAMA, NIRMAN, SGF, NIRDES, Jankalyan Pratishthan, Lokadrushti); and ICRISAT

Fararou Ousmane operating his CAV. Photo: Ibrahima Abdoussalam, ICRISAT

Fararou Ousmane operating his CAV. Photos: Ibrahima Abdoussalam, ICRISAT

Smallscale composting can help put the brakes on youth immigration in Niger

A small group of youth from Niger learned a fast-paced composting technique. Their learnings are not only helping return profits but are also helping sustainably improve agriculture in their villages. More importantly, the composting business has allowed the members of the group to eke out a living in their villages without having to migrate for it.

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With 70% of its population under 25, Niger has one of the youngest populations in the world. Most of this West African nation’s young people have limited access to technical training, advice on job orientation and inadequate work opportunities. As a result, youth in rural areas migrate to cities and neighboring countries in search of jobs. In its efforts to address the exodus, Government of Niger considers youth employment as one of its fundamental priorities to develop the country and reduce poverty.

In 2019, a USAID-funded project, Development Food Security Assistance program (DFSA/GIRMA) of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), was initiated to improve and sustain food and nutrition security while building resilience among poor households in Niger. It also aimed to develop youth agricultural entrepreneurship in Zinder region. Later in August 2020, over 150 rural youth joined an entrepreneurship incubation program at ICRISAT’s incubation center in Sadoré. The youth were participating in their first practical training in integrated pest management, market gardening, fruit tree nurseries and smart compost production.

Among them, there were 14 trained in composting. The composting training aimed at helping them build businesses that can locally supply nutrient-rich compost to farmers. This way, the youth can make a living while helping farmers raise soil fertility, contributing to raising agricultural production sustainably.

Aerobic water vapor composting (called CAV) was taught to the group. This technique saves up to 90% water and uses less labor compared to traditional compositing. It enables compost generation in just 45 days as compared to 90 days the traditional approach takes. Youth were trained in installation and operation methods. ICRISAT also provided kits that included a wheelbarrow, shovels, fork and other necessary equipment to help the youth start CAV.

Mr Fararou Ousmane from Lakiré commune of Bandé harvested 4.9 tons of compost after staring CAV. He says he is very motivated and has already prepared the inputs (millet biomass and cattle manure) for the second round of production. He hopes to produce at least 20 to 25 tons of compost during 2021 and sell them at 50,000 CFA (US$ 92.40) per ton that would earn him 50 CFA (US$ 0.09) per kilogram of compost.

Smart compost ready for selling.

Smart compost ready for selling.

Mr Saadou Sani from Angoual Gamji 2 commune, Magaria, found that the compost business has made his market garden fertile and yield more vegetables. Before, he gardened with manure directly from the cattle shed. The yield obtained was below his expectations, forcing him to migrate to a neighboring country. This year, after two months of CAV use, Mr Sani was able to harvest 3.4 tons of compost. Unlike Mr Ousmane, he is using his compost in his market garden for the production of vegetables (carrot, tomato, cabbage, lettuce, etc.).

“I am happy with the state of my vegetables and I am sure that I will earn two to three times more than in the past. At this rate, I will no longer have to immigrate because I am already gaining. The profits will firstly be used to maintain CAV and then meet the needs of my family,” he said.

In the less than two months the group of 14 youngsters has been able to produce 49 tons of good compost to improve soil fertility locally. Composting also represents a new source of income for families and stabilizes the youth in their areas.


Dr Bouba Traore, Scientist, climate and agriculture, ICRISAT-WCA
Dr Vincent Bado, Principal Scientist – Dryland Systems and Livelihood Diversification, Innovations Systems for the Drylands, ICRISAT-WCA
Dr Malick Ba, Country Representative – Niger, ICRISAT

Project: Development of Food Security Assistance (DFSA/GIRMA)

Funder: USAID, CRS/ICRISAT Agreement

Partners: Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 11-sustainable-cities 12-responisible-consumtion


ICRISAT staff show the Minister different crop varieties. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT staff show the Minister different crop varieties. Photo: ICRISAT

Zimbabwe agriculture minister: Government, ICRISAT should unite against hunger, poverty and malnutrition

Dr Anxious Masuka, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, during a recent visit to the ICRISAT Matopos Research Center, called for continued close collaboration between the Government of Zimbabwe and ICRISAT to ensure the benefits of research quickly reach poorly-resourced communal farmers and help Zimbabwe achieve a middle income economy by 2030.

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Dr Masuka informed that 70% of Zimbabwe’s population depends on agriculture and most of these are small-scale and communal farmers in the drier parts of the country. This group is set to benefit from the products and innovations developed by ICRISAT, he said.

Dr Martin Moyo, Senior Scientist-Farming Systems and ICRISAT’s Country Representative- Zimbabwe, articulated the institute’s country strategy for Zimbabwe that hinges on four research themes- Developing high yielding crop varieties with traits preferred by farmers and the markets for food, feed & fodder; Developing production systems and management practices that enhance smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate shocks; Developing adaptation strategies for sustainable and productive integrated crop-livestock systems; and Improving watershed management in dryland systems.

Dr Hapson Mushoriwa, Principal Scientist & Regional Breeding Theme Lead – East and Southern Africa (ESA), talked about ICRISAT’s ESA Crop Improvement Program, which has its regional hub at ICRISAT Matopos. He said the main focus is on improving yields under drought and poor soil nutrition, developing biofortified products that are highly nutritious, with special focus on iron, zinc and calcium since these are essential for pregnant women and young children, and developing products that fit well in crop-livestock farming systems. He also showed the delegation some of the state-of-the-art machinery- XRF machine, an NIRS analyzer and seed blowers- that ICRISAT recently acquired to support its breeding efforts.



Ms Tanyaradzwa Tenesi, Research Technician at ICRISAT Matopos, showcased some of the varieties and hybrids that have been developed by ICRISAT and explained their attributes.

Mr Bellington Mudyawabikwa, Research Associate in charge of ICRISAT Matopos’ laboratory, showed the delegation porridge meal, baking flour, baked muffins and cookies produced from small grains.

The Minister suggested a partnership between the government’s Institute of Engineering and ICRISAT to develop cheaper machinery for dehulling, milling and processing small grains so that poor farmers in rural areas can also make such products and feed their family or sell the products to generate income. He called the products a “great step” in reintroducing small grains to rest of the population that has forgotten them.

Commending ICRISAT’s staff and expressing his gratitude, the Minister said that small grains will be more important than ever in ensuring the country’s food security as Zimbabwe gets drier and warmer due to climate change. He called for more research on small grains to develop high yielding and nutritious varieties that can meet needs when other crops fail due to changing climate.

Dr Henry Ojulong, Senior Scientist-Plant Breeding – ESA, informed the Minister that ICRISAT is carrying advanced tests on promising sorghum and pearl millet hybrids that are part of their breeding pipeline.
Dr Masuka urged ICRISAT to speed up the tests and come up with hybrids that are ready for registration in two years.

The Minister also said that the government’s Crop Breeding Institute (CBI) can step in to ensure quick registration and release of the hybrids so that the farmers who have been suffering low yields from use of using old varieties and recycled seed can benefit soon.


Nigel Muchiwanga: (Research Associate, Crop Improvement),
Martin Moyo: (Country Representative, Zimbabwe) and
Tanyaradzwa Tenesi: (Genebank Technician).

Leaders speak

Africa is on the threshold of a new beginning, and ICRISAT can help

Along with investments from national governments, ICRISAT can help African countries boost their agricultural productivity, improve food and nutrition security, and enhance livelihoods of their smallholder farmers. This was emphasized at a virtual conference organized by the Collective for the Renewal of Africa (CORA) recently. The Collective, a pan-African initiative of over 100 social scientists, researchers, historians, community leaders, and more, seeks to produce knowledge that can help break the cycle of exogenous development models in Africa by promoting innovative African thinking and practices.

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During the panel discussion ‘Harnessing the Potential of Science, Technology and Endogenous Knowledge’ at the conference, Dr Ramadjita Tabo, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Regional and Research Program Director, ICRISAT-West and Central Africa, focused on agriculture, which remains critical to Africa’s socio-economic development and said, “We have a wealth of agricultural technology and knowhow at our disposal, but we need adequate investment in agriculture and development from the national governments to take Africa towards reducing poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.”

Highlighting ICRISAT as a leader in agricultural research in the drylands, with a special focus on sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Tabo said, “If we can create an environment of enabling science and technology, Africa can surely make its way to the forefront of food grain exporters in the near future.”

“The application of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in new crop varieties with improved tolerance to pests and diseases, and higher nutritional value,” said Dr Tabo. “We have Africa’s first biofortified pearl millet variety called Chakti that aims to combat anemia. A large pool of good dual-purpose millet and sorghum were recommended for nutrition for their high iron and zinc content and for improving crop-livestock farm system. Genomics is making it possible for scientists to identify genes that are linked to particular diseases. Genomic tools have been used and are expected to be intensified to find resistance or tolerance in drylands crops to the Fall armyworm.”

Dr Tabo talked about emerging advanced technologies with the potential to effectively mitigate climate change in Africa. “We have seen the efficacy of good agricultural practices that led to an increase in system productivity (see box). Contour bunding technology has been successful by increasing crop yields by more than 30%, and improving household economy by 20%,” he said.

ICRISAT’s contribution to mitigating climate change impacts

  • Biofortified pearl millet with high iron and zinc levels
  • Genomics tools for rapid and accurate identification of climate-resilient traits in crop breeding process
  • Climate mitigation techniques and practices such as seed dressing, tillage practices, fertilizer microdosing, African Market Gardens, contour bunding, agroforestry, etc.
  • Crop-livestock integration especially in the Sahelian region
  • Digital decision support tools such as weather information and farming advisories on mobile phones etc.

Additionally, he emphasized the need to improve value chains of indigenous smart foods (such as millets and sorghum) for better nutrition and wellbeing of children, women and persons living with nutrition-related diseases – malnutrition (in rural areas) and diabetes (in urban areas). “We are delighted that the 2023 has been declared the International Year of Millets by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This offers an opportunity for the Sahelian countries to better promote these traditional crops that are highly resilient as well as nutritious. Using the connection with agribusinesses, start-ups, we believe that there is a room for jobs creation in the food processing industry,” Dr Tabo said. He also highlighted the importance of greater access of women and youth to resources and revenues-generating activities.

“While organizations such as AGRA are trying to promote greater adoption of agricultural technology by African farmers, we also need to harness the endogenous knowledge of local farmers for best results suited to the local ecosystem,” said Dr Tabo. “We need to find opportunities to build synergy with farmers by organizing seed fairs and demonstration sessions so that we can make the most by combining their knowledge with the latest in scientific research.”

Other speakers featured in the talk were:

Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former President of Mauritius who is also a biodiversity scientist
Dr Mariam Mayet, lawyer and activist, Africa Center for Biodiversity
Dr Lul Riek, physician and public health expert, African Union Center for Disease Control
Dr Raphael D Eklu-Natey, biologist, academic and African pharmacopoeia specialist

The session was chaired by Dr Malik Maaza, Chair, UNESCO UNISA ITL-NRF, who is also on the CORA Scientific Committee.

This session was held on 17 April as part of the week-long series of conversations on pan-African issues and solutions, conducted virtually.


Agathe Diama, Head – Regional Information, WCA
Rajani Kumar, Senior Communication Officer-Social Media


Pooran Gaur, the patron who helped chickpea shed its ‘orphan’ tag

Dr Pooran Gaur, former Director of the Asia Research Program at ICRISAT, recently retired after two decades of research and leadership that saw ICRISAT-developed chickpea improve the crop’s production in Asia and Africa.

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Dr Gaur joined ICRISAT as a chickpea scientist from Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Jabalpur, India, where he was an Associate Professor until August 2001. Dr Gaur’s entry into chickpea research was at a time when the crop was commonly referred to as an orphan crop because it was largely ignored by the research community.

Over the next two decades, Dr Gaur went to work on extra-large seeded Kabuli chickpea that triggered its production in India when the country was importing to meet domestic demand. His work not only helped India shore up production but also helped turn it into an exporter of Kabuli chickpea.

To help farming evolve and become less labor-intensive, Dr Gaur led ICRISAT’s research in development of India’s first machine-harvestable chickpea. Three machine-harvestable varieties have been released in recent years. These varieties have helped reduce the cost and drudgery in chickpea farming, making it attractive for farmers.

Dr Gaur and his team also helped increase Myanmar’s chickpea production multifold through research on early-maturing varieties. In India, his team was instrumental in developing heat-tolerant varieties.

For his work, Dr Gaur was awarded the Doreen Margaret Mashler Award, ICRISAT’s highest scientific honor, in 2019.

“I feel very proud of ICRISAT’s achievements and of the impacts that we have made with partners while working on chickpea,” Dr Gaur said as he signed off.


With 2023 adopted as the UN International Year of Millets, we bring you a series of expert talks and discussions on food trends, opportunities and driving markets for smart foods including millets and sorghum. See: www.smartfood.org/foodtec-conference

New Publications

Differential heat sensitivity of two cool-season legumes, chickpea and lentil, at the reproductive stage, is associated with responses in pollen function, photosynthetic ability and oxidative damage

Authors: Bhandari K, Sita K, Sehgal A, Bhardwaj A, Gaur P, Kumar S, Singh S, Siddique KHM, Prasad PVV, Jha U and Nayyar H

Published: Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science (TSI), 206 (6). pp. 734-758. ISSN 0931-2250


A global bibliometric perspective on soil erosion modelling

Authors: Bezak N

Published: EGU General Assembly 2020, 4-8 May 2020


Using seasonal forecast as an adaptation strategy: Gender differential impact on yield and income in Senegal

Authors:  Diouf NS, Ouedraogo M, Ouedraogo I, Ablouka G and Zougmoré R

Published: Atmosphere, 11 (10). pp. 1-19. ISSN 2073-4433


Fishers’ perceptions and attitudes toward weather and climate information services for climate change adaptation in Senegal

Authors: Diouf NS, Ouedraogo I, Zougmoré RB and
Niang M

Published: Sustainability, 12 (22). pp. 1-16. ISSN 2071-1050


Novel sources of resistance to blast disease in finger millet

Authors: Dida MM, Oduori CA, Manthi SJ, Avosa MO, Mikwa EO, Ojulong HF and Odeny DA

Published:  Crop Science (TSI), 61 (1). pp. 250-262. ISSN 0011-183X


Transforming climate science into usable services: The effectiveness of co-production in promoting uptake of climate information by smallholder farmers in Senegal

Authors: Chiputwa B, Wainaina P, Nakelse T, Makui P, Zougmoré RB, Ndiaye O and Minang PA

Published: Climate Services, 20. pp. 1-17. ISSN 2405-8807


The effects of gypsum on pod-yield and pre-harvest aflatoxin contamination in selected peanut cultivars of Zambia

Authors: Hendrix MC, Obed IL, Alice MM, Elijah P, Jones Y, Samuel CN and Rick B

Published: African Journal of Plant Science, 14 (3). pp. 134-138. ISSN 1996-0824


Variety AHB 1269Fe (MH 2185)

Authors: Govindaraj M, Pawar SB, Sawant RC, Satpute S, Waskar DP, Shivade H, Kanatti A, Satyavathi T and Patil DV

Published: Indian Journal of Genetics and Plant Breeding, 80 (2). p. 230. ISSN 0975-6906


Genetic gains in pearl millet in India: Insights into historic breeding strategies and future perspective

Authors: Yadav OP, Gupta SK, Govindaraj M, Sharma R, Varshney RK, Srivastava RK, Rathore A and Mahala RS

Published: Frontiers in Plant Science, 12 (645038). pp. 1-15. ISSN 1664-462X


Pearl millet populations characterized by Fusarium prevalence, morphological traits, phenolic content, and antioxidant potential

Authors: Bouajila A, Lamine M, Rahali FZ, Melki I, Prakash G and Ghorbel A

Published: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (TSI), 100 (11). pp. 4172-4181. ISSN 0022-5142


Variations in structure and saccharification efficiency of biomass of different sorghum varieties subjected to aqueous ammonia and glycerol pretreatments

Authors: Joy SP, Kumar AA, Gorthy S, Jaganathan J, Kunappareddy A, Gaddameedi A and Krishnan C

Published: Industrial Crops and Products (TSI), 159. pp. 1-12. ISSN 0926-6690


Genetic enhancement perspectives and prospects for grain nutrients density

Authors: Are AK, Gorthy S, Mehtre SP, Hariprasanna K, Jayakumar J, Kotla A, Phuke R, Gaddameedi A and Kunapareddy A

Published: Sorghum in the 21st Century: Food – Fodder – Feed – Fuel for a Rapidly Changing World. Springer Nature, Singapore, pp. 791-808


SpaTemHTP: A data analysis pipeline for efficient processing and utilization of temporal high-throughput phenotyping data

Authors:  Kar S, Garin V, Kholová J, Vadez V, Durbha SS, Tanaka R, Iwata H, Urban MO and Adinarayana J

Published: Frontiers in Plant Science (TSI), 11 (552509). pp. 1-16. ISSN 1664-462X


Biology and morphometrics of pulse beetle, Callosobruchus chinensis (L.) on chickpea

Authors: Rana DK, Mishra SP, Vishal A, Katlam BP, Jaba J and Sathish K

Published: International Research Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 21 (23). pp. 161-165. ISSN 2231-3443


Evaluation of chickpea, Cicer arietinum, genotypes for resistance to the pulse beetle, Callosobruchus chinensis (L.)

Authors: Sathish K, Jaba J, Katlam BP, Mishra SP and Rana DK

Published:  Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies, 8 (3). pp. 1002-1006. ISSN 2320-7078


Agronomic performance of pearl millet genotypes under variable phosphorus, water and environmental regimes

Authors: Halilou O, Assefa Y, Falalou H, Abdou H, Achirou BF, Karami SMA and Jagadish SVK

Published: Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment, 3 (1). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2639-6696


Novel sources of drought tolerance from landraces and wild sorghum relatives

Authors: Ochieng G, Ngugi K, Wamalwa LK, Manyasa E, Muchira N, Nyamongo D and Odeny DA

Published: Crop Science (TSI), 61 (1). pp. 104-118. ISSN 0011-183X


Evaluating the merits of climate smart technologies under smallholder agriculture in Malawi

Authors: Nyagumbo I, Mutenje M, Setimela P, Chipindu L, Chisaka A, Simwaka P, Mwale B, Ngwira A and Mupangwa W

Published: Soil Use and Management (TSI). pp. 1-17. ISSN 0266-0032


Genomic diversity in pearl millet inbred lines derived from landraces and improved varieties

Authors: Kanfany G, Serba DD, Rhodes D, St. Amand P, Bernardo A, Gangashetty PI, Kane NA and Bai G

Published: BMC Genomics (TSI), 21 (1). pp. 1-12. ISSN 1471-2164


Assimilation of remote sensing data into crop growth model for yield estimation: a case study from India

Authors: Gumma MK, Kadiyala MDM, Panjala P, Ray SS, Akuraju VR, Dubey S, Smith AP, Das R and

Whitbread AM

Published: Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing (TSI). ISSN 0255-660X


An update and perspectives on the use of promoters in plant genetic engineering

Authors: Kummari D, Palakolanu SR, Kishor PBK, Bhatnagar-Mathur P, Singam P, Vadez V and Sharma KK

Published: Journal of Biosciences (TSI), 45 (1). pp. 1-24. ISSN 0250-5991


Options de Modèles d’Affaires pour Assurer la Durabilité de l’Utilisation des Services d’Information Climatique au Sénégal

Authors: Ouedraogo I, Diouf NS, Zougmoré RB, Ndiaye O and Toure EAA

Published: Documentation. CGIAR


Study of root traits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) under drought stress

Authors: Muriuki R, Kimurto PK, Towett BK, Vadez V and Gangarao R

Published: Journal of Plant Science, 14 (11). pp. 420-435. ISSN 1996-0824


Baseline status and effect of genotype, environment and genotype × environment interactions on iron and zinc content in Indian chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.)

Authors: Misra G, Joshi-Saha A, Salaskar D, Reddy KS, Dixit GP, Srivastava AK, Jayalakshmi V, Pithia MS and Gaur PM

Published: Euphytica (TSI), 216 (9). pp. 1-16. ISSN 0014-2336


Assessment of bacteriological and physico-chemical quality of drinking water in Munesa Woreda, Arsi Zone, Oromia, Ethiopia

Authors: Gadiso MC, Degefu T and Gemta ZB

Published: Ethiopian Journal of Science and Sustainable Development, 7 (2). pp. 42-49. ISSN 2663-3205


Structural and functional characteristics of miRNAs in five strategic millet species and their utility in drought tolerance

Authors: Chakraborty A, Viswanath A, Malipatil R, Rathore A and Thirunavukkarasu N

Published: Frontiers in Genetics (TSI), 11 (608421). pp. 1-15. ISSN 1664-8021


Towards gender-informed adaptation planning in the Sudanian zone of Mali

Authors: Magassa M, Partey ST, Houessionon P, Dembele S, Ouédraogo M and Zougmoré RB

Published: Working Paper. CGSpace, The Netherlands. Springer Nature, Singapore, pp. 17-39. ISBN 978-981-15-8248-6


Survey sequencing and in-silico development and validation of genomic SSR markers in Indian dill seed

Authors: Kumar S, Gandham P, Palve A and Rathore A

Published: Journal of King Saud University – Science (TSI), 32 (1). pp. 862-866. ISSN 1018-3647


Improving drought tolerance in rice: Ensuring food security through multi-dimensional approaches

Authors: Khan MIR, Palakolanu SR, Chopra P, Rajurkar AB, Gupta R, Iqbal N and Maheshwari C

Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-24. ISSN 0031-9317


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