Issue No: 1744
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In the Global Media

BBC: Can these super-crops feed Africa?

Africa's population is set to boom over the next few decades - reaching 2.5 billion people by 2050.

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Scientists in Kenya are trying to find ways of growing enough food for everyone. This BBC programme follows women farmers that take the lead of the Smart Foods project in Kenya and shows how nutritious and climate resilient crops like finger millet and pigeonpea could play a strong role to improve Kenyan food and nutrition security in the years to come.

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A farmer uses the Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme in Zimbabwe. Andre Van Rooyen/ICRISAT

A farmer uses the Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme in Zimbabwe. Andre Van Rooyen/ICRISAT

Thomson Reuters Foundation: African smallholders can double their yields with half the water

Only 4 to 7 percent of arable land is irrigated in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many donor and government-funded large and small-scale irrigation schemes lay dry after a few years of exploitation because of poor planning and lack of farmer ownership. ICRISAT and Australian National University have shown in a very promising study in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique that agricultural innovation platforms can quickly improve water efficiency and the profitability of communal irrigation schemes by letting farmers experiment new irrigation practices, eg using low cost soil moisture measurement tool and link irrigation users with markets. This study was discussed at the World Water Wekk at SIWI.

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Only 4 to 7 percent of arable land is irrigated in Sub-Saharan Africa

Better access to irrigation for farmers is key for climate change adaptation. Until recently, irrigation had never taken off in Africa for multiple reasons from poor maintenance planning to lack of inputs and market access. Many donor and government-funded large and small-scale irrigation schemes lay dry after a few years of exploitation.

Water experts estimate that only 4 to 7 percent of arable land is irrigated in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the lowest ratio across the world. Over the past decade, donors have renewed their interest in funding irrigation projects to tackle the high food insecurity in the region. Experts predict that irrigated areas in SSA from 1998 to 2030 will increase by 30 percent. There are also opportunities to improve the performance of existing irrigated areas.

In a special series on small-scale communal irrigation in South-Eastern Africa published earlier this year, farming systems experts are calling for donors to avoid failures of the past by developing a viable, sustainable and inclusive business model for small-scale public irrigation schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa. This work is led by the Australian National University including partners like International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Zimbabwe. It was funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research and the Water, Lands and Ecosystems CGIAR research programme.

Andre Van Rooyen, one of the co-authors, from ICRISAT Zimbabwe, explains the complexity of efficiently running a small scale irrigation scheme in Southern Africa. “To make these irrigation schemes more profitable and sustainable for the farming community, irrigation users should be able to experiment with different crops, watering regimes and markets. You also need to find the right farmer-centered governance so that maintenance runs smoothly, and everybody agree collectively to contribute his or her share of costs, responsibilities and benefits. This is easier said than done as you have many different actors each with their own interests and perspectives.”

“You aim at improving the efficiency of irrigation system at multiple levels, reducing the labour required, the water used, better use of fertilizers with careful choice of crops and farming practices to maximize output per drop. You also have to make sure that markets work for farmers so that they are eager to invest in the irrigation system maintenance and farming inputs for the next crop” he adds.

The transfer of irrigation management from public institutions to local water user associations since the 1980s in Africa has always been difficult as the transfer has rarely translated into ownership. No clear boundaries of plots, under-representation of marginalized groups in irrigation groups, for instance women, means there is uneven distribution of water and benefits.

Conflicts of interests often occur, collection of maintenance fees trickle down after a while and many schemes are now obsolete. Many irrigation systems were not built with smallholdings in mind, but more as small-scale models of large public schemes. Technically they are often too advanced (80% of smallholder irrigation devices are manual) and once a piece is broken, e.g an electrical motor pump, user groups have no way to fix the whole system.

Another example of mismanagement of water is when water is distributed on a weekly roster, it leads to overwatering the fields, and loss of much of the fertilizers, as farmers will irrigate their crops whether it is required or not.

A comparative study of six irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique showed that investing in a participatory space called agricultural innovation platform (AIP) opens up new ways of managing water and crops to increase the profitability of each water user. Here farmers, agricultural and water engineers as well as market operators and any other relevant stakeholders to the irrigation scheme, can engage and experiment together.

In the 450 hectares Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme, one of the oldest in Zimbabwe, farmers have learned how to use the Chameleon, a low cost tool to measure soil water moisture availability for the crops through a color code, easy to recognize even for illiterate farmers. Another device, the Full stop, has helped farmers understand when fertilizers are washed away by excessive irrigation. Farmers began to only use water when crops really needed it (every two to three days instead of daily) and realized this saved a lot of water. This ultimately reduced water conflicts between water users.

Collective problem solving reaps rewards

AIP members learn to ask the “why” several times to understand the root causes of their problem, gaining confidence in their collective problem solving ability. For instance, in the Magozi scheme in Iringa district, Tanzania, only 750 hectares out of a potential of 1,300 ha are irrigated, where farmers produce a meagre one to two tons of rice per hectare. Rice farmers complained about the low prices of their rice harvests and came up with the idea of organizing themselves to collectively sell the rice, invest in storage to be able to later sell when prices are more attractive, and grow varieties that are in higher demand. Farmers are asked during the first sessions of the innovation platform to draw a current map of the irrigation scheme as well as a desired vision for 2019. AIP members visualize what needs to be done, who should intervene and the priorities.

In a development intervention, technological innovations are often presented as a quick-fix solution, but the human factor is often much more important. “When the group visualize on paper where they want to go, this creates discussion on the ‘people’ side of the problem which is often more difficult to articulate,” says Van Rooyen.

More important than looking for ‘technological interventions’ to boost water and farming efficiency, irrigation interventions should focus on investing in building inclusive institutions like Silalatshani and Magozi innovation platforms where members learn step by step to use water more efficiently, earn more per drop and build skills and social connections to become more resilient and prosperous.

This research will be discussed during a World Water Week event at Stockholm International Water Institute 30th August 2017.

Jerome Bossuet is a communications specialist for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Photo: Andre F van Rooyen, ICRISAT

Photo: Andre F van Rooyen, ICRISAT

ICRISAT at World Water Week 27 August – 1 September, 2017

World Water Week is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. This year’s focus is on the theme “water and waste: reduce and reuse”. ICRISAT’s research on waste water treatment through constructed wetlands and reuse for irrigation (findings from EU-India Water4crops research programme) has been featured on different channels including the Water, Lands, Ecosystems  CGIAR programme. Andre Van Rooyen was a panellist for a special roundtable on how to improve African communal irrigation systems, at the Stockholm International Water Institute the 30th August 2017.

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World Water Week is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. This year’s focus is on the theme “water and waste: reduce and reuse”.Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today.

Dr André F van Rooyen, Senior Scientist, ICRISAT will be discussing key points in a special session co-sponsored by CGIAR WLE on ‘African smallholder irrigation: double yields with half the water!

This session considers new ways of working with irrigation communities in Africa to intensify sustainable agricultural production profitably by using water more efficiently, reducing waste of land and nutrients and facilitating socially-inclusive investment. It will take place on Wednesday 30 August, 14:00-15:30 in Stockholm, Sweden.

You can access the full program of the World Water Week here.

Chronicle: Matopos Research Centre now part of the Command Agriculture programme in Zimbabwe

Acting President of Zimbabwe, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, said Matopos Research Centre will now be part of the Command Agriculture programme. He toured the centre, which is run by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

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“I’m extremely impressed by the quality of work that is taking place here not only for Zimbabwe but for the entire region. I’m told that the benefits of research done here extend beyond SADC. We have therefore decided to take on board the Matopos Research Centre on our Command Agriculture programme. We have devised ways of finding funding. It will not be a problem for us to fund the research centre,” said Acting President Mnangagwa.

He said the services rendered by the centre were not only for Zimbabwe but also for humanity and encouraged the team running the institution to continue doing the good work. “As Government we do support this research centre but I believe we could do more. I know if we do more the results will be wider.

“Zimbabwe has five agricultural regions and they’re able to produce varieties which suit all the five regions. There is no part of Zimbabwe that should go hungry as a result of drought or low rainfall,” said Cde Mnangagwa.

He was accompanied by ministers Cdes Kembo Mohadi, Abedinico Ncube and Clifford Sibanda, Matabeleland South MPs and senior Government officials.

Excerpted from an article published in the Chronicle.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal

Helping under challenging conditions

A German development organization Welthungerhilfe, highlighted ICRISAT’s work to fight malnourishment in Niger that occupied the last place in the UN Human Development Index in 2016.

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Specifically, this covers the development of high zinc and iron cereal varieties. The first experiences of this are reviewed “extremely positive” as the varieties are not only drought resistant but also early maturing, high yielding and found tasty by the population. In this context, they say it is important for them to work with local authorities to promote the cultivation of such cereal varieties by farmers.

India remains an agricultural giant but with fragile foundations

Les Echos, 1st French economic newspaper published an article on the Indian agriculture situation, highlighting the importance and many challenges of gaining pulses self-sufficiency. ICRISAT’s work to improve pulse productivity for Indian smallholder farmers is mentioned.

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Les Echos, 1st French economic newspaper published an article on the Indian agriculture situation.This article talks about the importance and challenge of Indian agriculture, to be able to feed 1.7 billion people by 2050. ICRISAT’s work in pulses and the importance of ensuring pulse self-sufficiency is highlighted (see paragraph 2). Yet with climate uncertainty, price volatility and the fact that pulses are often cultivated in marginal lands, productivity and profitability are often low.

Feature Stories

Treated wastewater means Serigudam Sailu can now grow coriander as an income source. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Treated wastewater means Serigudam Sailu can now grow coriander as an income source. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Effective solutions for tackling dangers of untreated wastewater use in agriculture

ICRISAT’s implementation of wastewater treatment through constructed wetlands has proved highly effective given the severity of untreated wastewater use in agriculture.

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The global scale of this problem is highlighted by a recent study from the International Water Management Institute, according to which 65% of irrigated croplands worldwide are dependent on wastewater and 86% of these are located in China, India, Pakistan, Mexico and Iran.

With a high concentration of nutrients in wastewater, many farmers use it to reduce expenditure on fertilizers. However, untreated wastewater carries pathogens and bacteria posing serious health risks to consumers, especially when vegetables are eaten raw.

Lack of access to clean water sources and unpredictable weather conditions are making things worse, especially for smallholder farmers. Many are forced to use and even depend on wastewater for irrigation, to a much larger extent than previously thought.

Serigudam Sailu is a farmer from Telangana, India, with a mere half acre (0.2 ha) of fragmented land and without any irrigation facility. He depends entirely on rain to cultivate sorghum and pigeonpea to sustain himself and his wife. Without access to alternate water sources, conditions become more difficult during low rainfall and long summer months. Water insecurity to Serigudam means low yields and food insecurity. When his crops fail, he falls back on government support schemes for survival.

Untreated and poorly managed domestic wastewater can contaminate irrigation and drinking water sources negatively impacting the most vulnerable. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Untreated and poorly managed domestic wastewater can contaminate irrigation and drinking water sources negatively impacting the most vulnerable. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

In this context, we must look at wastewater not as waste but as an asset and source of value. Complementing large and modern wastewater treatment plants, it is relevant to target domestic wastewater use at the village level.

As the population grows the amount of domestic wastewater continues to increase. If adequately treated, domestic wastewater offers a sustainable solution to everyone in the food production and consumption chain.

Several decentralized wastewater treatment units have been established by ICRISAT in partnership with local governments and private companies to supply quality water for irrigation. With 87% removal efficiency for pathogens, decentralized wastewater treatment units reduce health risks and provide water security to smallholder farmers.

Wastewater treatment units consist of constructed wetlands with a filter bed of locally available sand/gravel and vegetated with specific wetland plants.

The constructed wetlands technology is an outcome of Water4Crops, a large Euro-India collaborative research project co-funded by the Government of India and the European Commission.

At Serigudam’s village in Kothapally, ICRISAT worked with the local NGO READ to establish the first domestic wastewater treatment unit in 2014.

The treated wastewater is available free of cost without limitations. Until then, Serigudam had no choice but to accept erratic yields and at times, total crop failure caused by inadequate water supply in summer and during delayed rains.

“Three years ago, before using the treated wastewater, I was totally dependent on rain. If there was no proper rain, without enough water, we suffered. As my wife and I eat what I grow, water availability means a lot to us,” he says.

Since the establishment of the wastewater treatment unit, he has access to a constant water source. He uses treated and quality enhanced wastewater from the unit using pipes, but only when essential.

Minimizing health risks, decentralized domestic wastewater treatment units like this one in Kothapally, India, is a sustainable solution for food and water insecurity. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Minimizing health risks, decentralized domestic wastewater treatment units like this one in Kothapally, India, is a sustainable solution for food and water insecurity. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

“During summer, I use treated wastewater but not in the rainy season when there is sufficient water from the rain. I only substitute with the treated village water when I do not have enough,” he adds.

With access to treated wastewater throughout the year, Serigudam has steady yields and is able to undertake crop rotation instead of keeping his field fallow. This has opened avenues for income diversification.

“In summer, I grow sorghum on a quarter acre (0.1 ha) using treated wastewater and this gives me 6 bags (600 kg) that I set aside for my own consumption. In the next season, I grow coriander for sale as it fetches a good price.”

Social stigma of wastewater

Even in dire situations, farmers might not resort to treated wastewater due to local cultural perceptions of its impurity. This is why it is crucial for farmers like Serigudam to set examples so successes can be scaled-up.

“Many villagers warned me against consuming sorghum grown with village wastewater, but I use this treated water as I can see the benefits. Now after three years, others see I am healthy and improving my yields, so they have stopped their warnings,” explains Serigudam.

The Kothapally wastewater unit has the capacity to regenerate 20,000 liters of wastewater every day to grow crops on a one hectare farm land throughout the year. Following Kothapally’s success, another treatment unit was established in the nearby village of Bhanur,  thanks to CSR support from Asian Paints.

Here, Sri Ramulu has also started using treated wastewater for his family farm.

“Since the last two years of using treated wastewater, I am better off. I use this water whenever my bore-wells don’t have enough water or when there is no rain. As I have water for continuous irrigation I now harvest 6,400 kg of rice from 0.8 ha of land. Earlier with untreated wastewater the yield was about 500 kg less.”

Continuous source of clean water has provided fodder for his six buffaloes and has diversified income and his family’s nutrition as well.

“Now that there is water throughout the year, I rented 1.21 ha of land near this village wastewater source to help me with irrigation. On half an acre I grow grass for my cattle. On the remaining land I grow two varieties of rice, one for my own consumption and the other for sale.”

This decentralized wastewater treatment system is now scaled out in 28 villages in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh, with total treatment capacity of 863 m³ per day. On average, this amount of treated water can irrigate one hectare of land at each village or provide water to nearly 3,000 rural households for domestic consumption1.

Witnessing the success of this solution the Government of Telangana is looking to scale this across the state.

Decentralized wastewater treatment should be encouraged to tackle the growing untreated wastewater use in agriculture. It provides an additional reliable water source for irrigation, enhances crop yields for farmers and ensures a safer food supply.

Watch how constructed wetlands are positively impacting rural communities. This video is part of ‘New Partnerships for Sustainability’ produced by WLE series on sustainable intensification.

Continuous supply of treated wastewater allows smallholder farmers to undertake crop rotation rather than keeping their lands fallow and provides fodder for livestock. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Continuous supply of treated wastewater allows smallholder farmers to undertake crop rotation rather than keeping their lands fallow and provides fodder for livestock. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

1 Average domestic water consumption in rural India = 50l and 5 members per household.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
1-no-poverty 5-clean-water 17-partnerships-goals

(L) Kayla Zhu interacts with the tribal population in Adilabad district in the Indian state of Telangana for an ICRISAT nutrition study. (Far right) Alyssa Swehla transplanting mung bean seedling from glasshouse to the field.

(L) Kayla Zhu interacts with the tribal population in Adilabad district in the Indian state of Telangana for an ICRISAT nutrition study. (Far right) Alyssa Swehla transplanting mung bean seedling from glasshouse to the field.

Youth on a mission to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty

Committed to improving food and nutrition security, Kayla Zhu and Alyssa Swehla, were selected by the World Food Prize Foundation for the Borlaug-Ruan International internship. They have spent the last two months at ICRISAT and the World Vegetable Center in India working within research teams to gain firsthand experience of how science can change lives.

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“I am inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals. As young people it is our responsibility to get involved in the issues we care about.”

Kayla Zhu, 17 years, Grade 12, North Farmington High School, Michigan, USA

Internee at Markets, Institutions, Nutrition and Diversity (MIND) theme, ICRISAT

During my internship at ICRISAT, I have been working on a project to understand the dietary diversity of the tribal populations in the tribal district of Adilabad in Telangana state, with the aim of improving nutrition among vulnerable groups. I am interested in social sciences, political sciences and economics. And food security is an interdisciplinary science. Being at ICRISAT has helped me to see how science can impact people’s lives.

In the summer before Grade 11, I did my internship at the United Nations. I was able to observe the process of implementing the SDGs. It was more at the administrative level but that prompted an interest to work on the field and get to know the people they are going to impact. I want to study political science after high school as I want to help drive global development.

“Agriculture is not restricted to one generation; the future generations need to know how to deal with the issues that arise and use new technologies that are available”

Alyssa Swehla, 18 years, Iowa State University, USA

Internee at World Vegetable Center

I am working on a research project at the World Vegetable Center to find an effective biological control agent against dry root rot in mung bean, as chemical fungicides cause environmental and human health risks. Mung bean is an important staple crop in India in terms of nutrition and monetary value. Dry root rot had severely impacted the production of mung bean in India so this is a critical project.  

I was able to get the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship after applying for it the second time. While in Grade 10 at Sumner Fredericksburg High School, Sumner, Iowa, USA, my teacher had informed me of the opportunity and helped me prepare a 10-page write-up on Education in Kenya. I am currently doing a double major in Agronomy and Global Resource Systems at the Iowa State University so I can continue to work on food and nutrition systems. Agriculture is not restricted to one generation; the future generations need to know how to deal with the issues that arise and use new technologies that are available.

Cairo Archer, a Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Institute (TCI) Intern shares her opinions on importance of youth in agriculture.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 3-quality-education 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 9-reduced-inequalities 17-partnerships-goals

Young agri-preneurs trained at ICRISAT test the market for their peanut-based products

A four-month agricultural training program at ICRISAT headquarters has proved to be a game-changer for unemployed youth from South Africa. The students completed their training in early 2016 and the results are now beginning to show.

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This group has come up with the ‘Gog’ Lilly’ brand of peanut-based products – different varieties of peanut butter and roasted peanuts – which have already entered the local market and aspire to make it to international markets. The work of these young farmers encompasses the whole peanut value chain from growing, processing and marketing.

Grower and aspiring seed producer

Mr Karabo Mphaphuli, who interned with the Agribusiness Innovation Platform (AIP), ICRISAT, is the founder of Gog’ Lilly. He is also an aspiring seed producer and is in the process of establishing the Bontle Le Temo village seed bank.  Mr Mphaphuli participates actively in various youth forums. He was the runner-up at the 4thAnnual Green Youth INDABA 2017, Johannesburg, South Africa which focused on the theme ‘Promoting Green Innovations and Sustainable Skills development for inclusive Growth’.

An agro-processor and mentor

Ms Lilly Mabonela (left) interned at AIP, ICRISAT, and learned about developing a business plan for an
agro-processing unit. She processes the peanuts grown
for Gog’ Lilly products.

Training under her is Ms Tracy Mokoena, a 17-year-old high school scholar, who inspires to be an agri-prenuer. She is interning with Gog’ Lilly, which is trying to raise funds for her college education in Agricultural Economics. The marketing and sales force

Ms Pretty Aphane (extreme left) interned with the ICRISAT Development Center and was trained on marketing of confectionery peanuts. She is responsible for the marketing of Gog’ Lilly products. Sitting beside her is Ms Mbali Zondo, a PR Manager at Hauwai Cellphones, who volunteered to assist with developing the Gog’ Lilly brand logo. The group came up with the name Gog’ Lilly because most wisdom is shared by grandmothers (Gogo), and yet they are the least celebrated people in our communities.

Mr Page Baloyi (extreme right) interned at AIP, ICRISAT. He was trained on business incubation and is now responsible for the sales of Gog’ Lilly products.

The group says that another significant takeaway from their training at ICRISAT is ‘Knowledge Sharing’. “We have started sharing what we learnt with 15 local farmers. These farmers will source the seed from us to grow peanuts”.

Ms Vidya Bhandarker, who envisioned building an academic bridge between ICRISAT and South Africa’s underprivileged youth for agri-preneurship development, writes to Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, acknowledging how the intellectual and scientific capital provided by ICRISAT to six South African interns ‘free of cost’ resulted in the Gog’Lilly brand of confectionery peanuts and peanut butter finding its way to the market in a span of 18 months.

Dear David,

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity you gave six poor matriculates from South Africa to train at ICRISAT and become agri-preneurs.

I still remember the first meeting at ICRISAT and yes I was so hoping you would agree to my proposal of bringing them to ICRISAT.

You have in just that one action changed their lives around in ways that are miraculous. My belief that only ICRISAT can do this has come true.

Their experience at ICRISAT was cathartic. They were awestruck you spent time with them over Christmas and New Year 2015. They were talking about how accessible all the important people and scientists were to them, and how this reinforced their belief about the transformational potential of agriculture to improve lives.

They went back committed to working hard on a meager stipend and today have become proud farmers, and harvested two tons of peanuts.  I do hope ICRISAT will reconnect with them, and support their ongoing efforts. Sometimes they just don’t have enough cash for mobile data to connect, they will be happy to hear from ICRISAT.  Their success story is playing out in drought-stricken, under-privileged parts of South Africa, they would welcome a visit to show how they overcame odds and are making sustainable food production a reality. My dream of forming a bridge between South Africa and India has literally taken root in this partnership catalyzed by ICRISAT, thank you. I am sure I speak on behalf of all six interns to say that our sense of gratitude is profound.


Vidya Bhandarker

Formerly Assistant Professor and Director of SSIM-South Africa Gateway

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 3-quality-education 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 9-reduced-inequalities 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals

Mr Daniel Ajaku (ICRISAT Research Technician) with a student at a seed multiplication plot of sorghum variety IS 8193. Photo: ICRISAT

Mr Daniel Ajaku (ICRISAT Research Technician) with a student at a seed multiplication plot of sorghum variety IS 8193. Photo: ICRISAT

Four new sorghum varieties fast-tracked to release in Uganda

July 2017 saw the release of four new sorghum varieties in Uganda by the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI), one of the implementing partners of the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) project. The varieties IESV 92043 DL, IS 8193, ICSR 160 and GE 17/1/2013A, (of which the first three were developed at ICRISAT Nairobi, while the last was acquired from Purdue University, USA) possess critical traits such as resistance to drought, diseases and pests.

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July 2017 saw the release of four new sorghum varieties in Uganda by the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI), one of the implementing partners of the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) project. The varieties IESV 92043 DL, IS 8193, ICSR 160 and GE 17/1/2013A, (of which the first three were developed at ICRISAT Nairobi, while the last was acquired from Purdue University, USA) possess critical traits such as resistance to drought, diseases and pests.

Uganda is one of the three countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) that are implementing the second phase of the HOPE project (HOPE 2). One of the key mandates of HOPE 2 is to fast-track the release of varieties developed during the previous phase of the project
(HOPE 1).

IESV 92043 DL is a variety of medium maturity, has grey seed color, and is drought tolerant and midge resistant. Bred by the ICRISAT-Nairobi program, it is an open pollinated pure line variety developed through pedigree selection from cross KARI Mtama 1 x Seredo. This variety is also released in Somalia and Zimbabwe (by Progene Seeds Limited for chibuku beer brewing).

IS 8193 is a red-seeded, early-medium landrace from East Africa reintroduced from the ICRISAT Genebank in India and preferred for blending with cassava to make ugali. The variety has also been released in Kenya and Rwanda. With the harmonized seed regulations in the region, these varieties are likely to get into the regional variety release catalog, making seed production and marketing easy.

ICSR 160, a white-seeded variety from ICRISAT India, was introduced as a Restorer or Male Parent (R-Line) for hybrid development. However, it has adapted well as a variety with very good brewing qualities for lager beer (no tannin and high extracts).

GE 17/1/2013A is a Striga-tolerant variety obtained from the sorghum improvement program at Purdue University, Indiana, USA.

All the four releases showed resistance to covered smut, which was a big menace for the commercial check SESO 3.

IESV 92043 DL, IS 8193 and ICSR 160 were sent to NaSARRI from the ICRISAT-Nairobi breeding program in 2014 in an advanced trial kit as a spillover from HOPE 1. After two years of testing, they were selected and entered into the National Performance Trial (NPT) and the Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) tests in the long rainy season (March–July 2016) and in the short rainy season (Aug–Dec 2016). They were then fast-tracked for release under the HOPE 2 project.

Dr Eric Manyasa, ICRISAT Sorghum Breeder is pleased with the rapid nature of the release. “We expected that the earliest release of new sorghum varieties would be in 2018 under this second phase. Moreover, Uganda only had finger millet breeding activities in the first phase of the project. Therefore, it is a remarkable achievement by the Uganda team led by Dr John Ebiyau, Sorghum Breeder, to have released these varieties in 2017,” he reported.

“Phase 2 of this project is designed to build on the achievements of the first phase,” says Dr Moses Siambi, ESA Regional Director and project team leader, ICRISAT. “The successes being realized now are a clear demonstration that having access to sustained funding is crucial for delivery of the final products to the farmers.”

Delivering the new varieties to farmers

Inefficient seed production and lack of seed distribution and quality assurance systems have been identified as being some of the key constraints that prevent farmers from benefiting from improved quality seed. HOPE 2 has a strategy to address some of these issues by having an integrated approach (working with both informal and formal seed sectors) to improve farmers’ access to good quality seed:

Identifying partners for scaling out the new seed varieties to the farmers

Sensitizing end users, including processors, on the specific qualities of the new varieties

Creating a market and a demand pull for these varieties.

How? The project team plans to engage with the seed players in Uganda, both formal (Pearl Seeds and Naseco Seeds) and informal, to ensure seed production and delivery. They will train farmers and other emerging seed enterprises in each of the major agroecological zones, on production of Quality Declared Seed (QDS), marketing and group dynamics. The seed production and marketing training materials developed during HOPE 1 will be adapted to suit small-scale QDS enterprises. Additionally, agro-dealers and emerging seed retailers will be trained on agronomy and sensitized on the end-user attributes of the improved varieties. They will also be linked with QDS producers and supported to market the seed varieties.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals

Dr Esther Njuguna-Mungai, Gender Scientist, ICRISAT, and Dr Chris Ojiewo, Coordinator-TL III, at the kindergarten at ACOS factory, Adama, Ethiopia. Photo: B Fenta

Dr Esther Njuguna-Mungai, Gender Scientist, ICRISAT, and Dr Chris Ojiewo, Coordinator-TL III, at the kindergarten at ACOS factory, Adama, Ethiopia. Photo: B Fenta

How a gender-sensitive ‘kindergarten’ policy has boosted beans and chickpea in Ethiopia

A kindergarten for children of female employees of the Agricultural Commodity Supplies (ACOS) factory in Ethiopia, is helping boost the productivity of the workers of the factory. This, in turn, leads to an efficient and profitable value chain for common beans and chickpeas.

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ACOS grain exporters are one of the main stakeholders aggregating and processing common beans and chickpeas in the Adama area of the Great Rift Valley region of Ethiopia.  The factory, with a processing capacity of 40,000 tons/month is a major employer in the region. Women workers, many who have young children to care for, form a critical part of the factory’s workforce.

It was observed that while they were at work, the workers were constantly worried about the safety, comfort and care of their children.  The factory management was recording low levels of productivity from these women, because of the clash between their child-care needs and their focus on bean and chickpea sorting work. To address this issue, the factory management came up with an innovative solution that was responsive to the women’s needs in the context they were in.

In the year 2000, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, ACOS started a kindergarten in the factory premises for children of their female employees. It hired teachers and early child development care workers, bought early childhood training materials and started an education program aligned to the Ethiopian school system.  Children could study in this school till they were ready to join the first grade of primary school at age 7, at which point they could move to regular schools.  Over time, the kindergarten has opened its doors to children of all staff and the general community in the area surrounding the factory.

With the setting up of the kindergarten, female workers at ACOS would come with their children to work each school day and drop them off at the kindergarten where the children would learn, play and be cared for, while the workers focused on their jobs.

This gender-responsive CSR initiative has not just directly improved the quality of life for the children and the women workers, it has also indirectly boosted the productivity of the common bean/chickpea legume value chains.

Worker output: With the assurance that their young children are well cared for, workers’ efficiency at ACOS has been enhanced. Staff turnover has reduced significantly, while the amount of work time per week and loyalty to the company have increased considerably.

Women sorting beans at ACOS. Photo: E Njuguna-Mungai

Women sorting beans at ACOS. Photo: E Njuguna-Mungai

Children at the kindergarten while their mothers are at work. Photo: C Ojiewo

Children at the kindergarten while their mothers are at work. Photo: C Ojiewo

Child nutrition: As part of the school program, the children are provided with meals containing, among other nutrients, nutri-dense legumes.  Providing a balanced diet with legumes as a source of protein and micronutrients helps to solve the age-long problem of malnutrition.

High-quality education: The children at the kindergarten receive good quality early childhood education, which feeds the Ethiopian education system with young students that are well prepared. This improves the odds of their success further along the education system. Also, since their mothers have jobs, their probability of finishing school at advanced levels is enhanced.

On-farm use of Tropical Legumes III (TL III) improved varieties:  ACOS is a member of the national chickpeas and beans platform, currently convened with contributions from TL III in Ethiopia.  In this position, ACOS gives a strong indicator of the varieties that are in demand in the export market; hence, it directly influences the varieties developed and released from breeding programs.  It also provides a market for farmers growing TL III bean and chickpea varieties through direct contract farming as well as being a main buyer from the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. Thus, ACOS plays a key role of stimulating on-farm demand for improved varieties released by the breeders at the bean research program at Melkassa Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and the chickpea research program at Debre Zeit ARC with investments from TL III.

Consequently, a gender-sensitive and considerate policy and action at ACOS has influenced the entire
chickpea/bean value chain positively and brought collective gains to all involved.

Project: Tropical Legumes III

Donor: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: ICRISAT (Leader), CIAT, IITA and National Agricultural Research System (NARS) in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and India.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
3-quality-education 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals

(L-R) Eng Paschal Shayo, Eng Eliakim Chitutu, Eng Seth P Luswema, Dr Chandra Madramootoo and Mr Peter Ngowi. Photo: P Okori

(L-R) Eng Paschal Shayo, Eng Eliakim Chitutu, Eng Seth P Luswema, Dr Chandra Madramootoo and Mr Peter Ngowi. Photo: P Okori

Unlocking opportunities for natural resource management in Tanzania

The Government of Tanzania’s National Irrigation Commission (NIC) has proposed that ICRISAT conduct a survey in Tanzania and do pilot interventions such as soil fertility assessment, fertilizer recommendations, water savings for Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI), linking production of the non-rice crops to markets, rice-chickpea fallow, intercropping of various crops (including vegetables), and use of residual moisture after rice harvest to grow sorghum, grain cereals and vegetable crops.

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These would be part of a crop diversification program that would be built around irrigated rice paddy production in the central plateau of Tanzania. Tanzania has recognized ICRISAT as a significant partner in building a water management system to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capabilities of small-scale farmers in Tanzania, owing to the organization’s experience with watershed management, water harvesting, natural resource management (NRM), etc. in India and Ethiopia.

With recurrent rainfall instability, irrigation has proved to be a viable option for African countries to achieve food security. While significant investments were made in irrigation infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s, natural resource management still lags and remains an area that needs considerable impetus to drive the food security agenda. With this goal in view, discussions were held between ICRISAT and Tanzanian government officials in Dar es Salaam towards a possible partnership in natural resources management, particularly water conservation, in Tanzania.

The ICRISAT delegation, which included Dr Chandra Madramootoo, former ICRISAT Board Chair; Dr Moses Siambi, ICRISAT Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa; Dr Patrick Okori, ICRISAT Malawi Country Representative; and Peter Ngowi, Africa RISING Project Coordinator for Kongwa and Kitet; met NIC officials in Dar es Salaam to discuss ways in which ICRISAT could help the government of Tanzania with its irrigation programming.

The NIC officials, including Eng Seth P Luswema, NIC Director General; Eng Eliakim Chitutu, Director of Research and Technology Promotion; and Eng Paschal Shayo, Director of Planning and Infrastructure, noted that the region has over 2,500 small-scale farmers who grow rice with surface irrigation in schemes that do not have good water conservation practices, leading to a shortage of water for downstream users, and little to no water for adjacent environmental systems.

The ICRISAT delegation also met with officials of the Department of Research and Development (DRD) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. The DRD, represented by Dr Jackson Nkuba, Acting Director, and Dr Geophrey Kajiru, Assistant Director, pledged support to ICRISAT’s planned interventions in watershed management, water management and NRM, adding that ICRISAT’s interventions are important for the country’s food and financial security.

There were deliberations on the signing of a fresh Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Tanzania and ICRISAT, considering that the previous MOU expired five years ago.  There is optimism that the MoU will be signed soon after the DRD is transformed into a semi-autonomous organization named Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), which will be responsible for administering the MOU with the Tanzanian Government, with the approval of the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Attorney General’s Office.

The meetings were held during 12–13 July 2017.

Participants being trained at the groundnut nursery field. Photo: ICRISAT

Participants being trained at the groundnut nursery field. Photo: ICRISAT

Getting to know more about groundnut innovation platforms

A groundnut field day was organized to ensure effective functioning of three groundnut innovation platforms (IP) in eastern and northern Uganda. These platforms facilitate joint action of stakeholders to enhance groundnut production and productivity by promoting the use of improved groundnut varieties.

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The timing of the groundnut field visit was right as the ICRISAT- origin multiplication materials (Serenuts 8R, 9T, 11T and 14R respectively) had reached physiological maturity.

In the field, participants had practical training. They uprooted, felt and tasted the groundnut varieties and unanimously agreed that they possessed farmer preferred attributes such as: ease in harvesting and shelling; medium to large seed; high yield; uniform tan and red kernels; resistant to rosette and leaf spot diseases; drought tolerant; and sweet in taste.

Participants learned different components of the groundnut improvement chain by visiting the hybridization/greenhouse unit, observation nursery and experimental unit, seed multiplication plots, and the germplasm and seed drying units.

Demonstration of emasculation and crossing processes at the glass house. Photo: ICRISAT

Demonstration of emasculation and crossing processes at the glass house. Photo: ICRISAT

At the drying unit, the agricultural extension staff analyzed pod and seed characteristics of the advanced lines. They selected preferred lines based on pod characteristics (softness, beaks, reticulation and constrictions) and seed aspects (color, size, and sweetness), all of which were criteria they set themselves as critical for identifying good varieties.

The groundnut seed farmers emphasized the importance of the yet-to-be released varieties possessing attributes such as extra-early maturity (75-85 days), drought tolerance and high yield. They also agreed to multiply groundnut seed in accessible amounts before release.

To facilitate continuous knowledge-sharing, participants received books, flyers, fact-sheets and brochures on groundnut value chains.

The groundnut field day was attended by eighteen (seven women) participants. It was organized for the Serere district agricultural extension staff and groundnut seed farmers.

The innovation platforms are an outcome of training conducted in January 2017 at Soroti town that also focused on seed business management. The IP formation is facilitated by the Groundnut Improvement Programme of the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI), Serere, Uganda, with technical support from ICRISAT.

The field day was hosted by the NaSARRI groundnut team, Kalule Okello David, Head and Senior Groundnut Breeder, and his research and technical staff – Dr Biruma Moses, Dr Anguria Paul, Amugoli Otuba Moses, Ochuga Samuel Ereu, Osia Paul, Pamela Namutosi, Okurut Francis, Oriokot Francis, Amukuro Florence, Adong Lucy and Apenyo Beatrice.

Technical backstopping for the innovation platforms is provided by Dr Akpo Essegbemon, Scientist – Seed Systems Specialist, Genetic Gains Program, ICRISAT.

Selecting advanced groundnut lines based on pod and seed aspects. Photo: ICRISAT

Selecting advanced groundnut lines based on pod and seed aspects. Photo: ICRISAT

What is an Innovation Platform?

Increased communication between the main players in the IP is indicated by bold arrows. Traditionally, communication was only between the R&D community and farmers.

Increased communication between the main players in the IP is indicated by bold arrows. Traditionally, communication was only between the R&D community and farmers.

The Innovation Platform facilitates dialogue between key local players in the value chain such as: farmers, input suppliers, traders, transporters, processors, wholesalers, retailers, regulators and the research and development community.

Innovation Platform meetings occur at regular intervals to identify bottlenecks and opportunities in the production and marketing process. It offers space to identify and implement technologies to improve production and fulfil market demand. At the same time it acts as a knowledge-sharing platform for stakeholders on best practices.

Project: Tropical Legumes III

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 4-gender-equality 13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals

Meetings and Workshops

Dignitaries at the S3A Rollout. Photo: FARA

Dignitaries at the S3A Rollout. Photo: FARA

African nations affirm the need for research and innovation for agricultural productivity

The Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A), a framework for achieving the goal of doubling agricultural productivity levels in Africa by 2025, was rolled out during a workshop held in Accra, Ghana. Participants at the workshop included representatives of the African Union Commission, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, ICRISAT, NGOs and farmers’ organizations.

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A study by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) revealed that none of the eight countries analyzed was likely to achieve the target of doubling agricultural productivity by 2025; responding to this, the countries resolved to strengthen private sector participation in innovative research in agriculture, underlying its importance on productivity growth. They also stressed on the significance of domestic funding for research and development in agriculture and related sectors.

Speaking at the event, Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, described the current ICRISAT strategy within the scope of S3A. FARA and ICRISAT are keen to identify collaborative opportunities towards achieving the S3A goals.

Read the complete report on the S3A Synthesis and Validation Workshop here.

ICAR-ICRISAT workshop on Modernization of Breeding Programs

A workshop on “Digitalization of Breeding Database through Breeding Management System (BMS) of Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP)” was organized on 4 August at New Delhi jointly by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and ICRISAT.

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The workshop was chaired by Dr Trilochan Mohapatra (third from right), Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research & Education and Director General, ICAR. ICRISAT was represented by Dr David Bergvinson (first from left), Director General; Dr Arabindakumar Padhee (second from right) , IAS, Director, Country Relations & Business Affairs; and Dr Abhishek Rathore (first from right), Theme Leader, Statistics, Bioinformatics and Data Management.

The workshop was attended by directors, heads, and scientists of many ICAR institutions including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi; Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Hyderabad; Indian Institute of Rice Research (IIRR), Hyderabad; Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur; Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur; and Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI),New Delhi.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals

SAARC-CGIAR consultative meeting

The SAARC Agriculture Centre (SAC), a regional center for agriculture and rural development

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The SAARC Agriculture Centre (SAC), a regional center for agriculture and rural development, had an interactive session with CGIAR Centers working in the region to identify synergies and build integrated programs/projects that help in bringing about positive changes in the region on 2-3 August in Delhi. (L to R) Dr S M Bokhtiar, Director, SAC; Dr R K Mittal, OSD, International Relations; Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT; Dr Marco Wopereis, Director General, World Vegetable Center; and Dr PK Joshi, Director, South Asia, IFPRI.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal

Participants at the GOBII project annual meeting. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Participants at the GOBII project annual meeting. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Annual Meeting of Genomic Open-source Breeding Informatics Initiative (GOBII)

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The second annual meeting of GOBII discussed progress and achievements of the recently released first production version of Cascadilla. The meeting also reviewed previously released breeder tools such as ‘Flapjack’ for Marker Assisted Backcrossing (MABC) and ‘Ped Ver’ for pedigree verification. Priorities for the next version of the database were reviewed and a detailed work plan for 2017-2018 was developed.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains and PI of GOBII, underlined the project aims to effectively deploy genomic information in breeding programs to significantly increase genetic gains in key crop performance traits.

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General- Research, ICRISAT, in his inaugural speech highlighted the importance of GOBII and its possible contribution to deliver the CGIAR goals.

“All varieties and hybrids resulting by the CGIAR breeding programs must be assessed by the adoption of modern breeding practices,” he said.


Genomic Open-source Breeding Informatics Initiative (GOBII) is the first large-scale public-sector effort to systematically apply high-density genotypic information to the breeding of staple crops in the developing world. With support from Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, GOBII aims towards developing and implementing genomic data management systems to enhance the capacity of public sector breeding programs to deliver increased rates of genetic gain.

GOBII involves a multi-disciplinary team of software developers, molecular biologists, geneticists, curators, breeders, and bioinformatics expert from Cornell University, CIMMYT, IRRI and ICRISAT. It focuses on rice, wheat, maize, sorghum and chickpea.

The emphasis should be on empowering national breeding programs for the development of high functioning integrated participation network alongside National Agricultural Research Systems and partners.

While Dr Elizabeth Jones, Director, GOBII presented the progress, challenges and opportunities of GOBII, Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, said “We are always keen to incorporate contemporary approaches to crop improvement, for instance, adoption of Breeding Management System or recommendations from Breeding Program Assessment Tool reviews and GOBII.”

Prof Susan McCouch, PI, presented an overview of the project. Emphasizing the importance of addressing crop improvement programs from an interdisciplinary perspective, she said, “As a team we bring great strength to deliver to smallholder farmers, to each of our programs and to the institution as a whole. We need to think about the long-term sustainability and impact of GOBII on breeding programs.”

Dr Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, commended the progress made in the project and the leadership of Ithaca hub in guiding it in the right direction.

“We are increasingly focusing on an approach that thrives to provide the underpinning support systems to breeding teams across the organizations in the developing world to raise the rate of genetic gains at which they deliver. This is really a change in mindset in ways the breeding programs are organized in public systems. It is clear that CGIAR and partners are beginning to take greater degree of corpus responsibility for the processes of delivering better varieties. This is a tough challenge requiring deep change in how breeding is done and how organizations are managed within the CG system. Within that context, this group and the GOBII project stands out in having come together and certainly have exceeded my expectations in terms of bringing together the system to exploit the genomic tools,” he said.

Sixty participants representing GOBII team members, Science Advisory Board (SAB) members, Project leaders, and colleagues from public and private institutes/ organizations namely, Cornell University, CIMMYT, IRRI and ICRISAT along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DArT Pty Ltd., The James Hutton Institute, UK, University of Arizona, USA, DuPont Pioneer, Genus PLC, USA, Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP), Iowa State University, USA participated in the meeting.

High Throughput Genotyping (HTPG) is another BMGF- funded project focusing on providing low-cost high-density genotyping. As part of HTPG project, high-density genotyping data is being generated that needs to be handled in an organized manner to make its full use.
GOBII can host the data generated as part of HTPG. However it faces several challenges like, GOBII has focus on 5 crops while HTPG handles 13 crops. Similarly, there is need to develop the Application Program Interfaces between GOBII and Intertek servers so that huge data generated under HTPG can be directly stored in GOBII with minimal efforts. Against this backdrop, in continuation with the GOBII annual meeting, a follow-up meeting on GOBII- HTPG project Integration was held on 11 August 2017.

The 2nd Annual Meeting of GOBII, jointly implemented by Cornell University, CIMMYT, IRRI and ICRISAT, was held from 8-11 August. The project aims at effective deployment of genomic information in breeding programs to significantly increase genetic gain in key crop performance traits.

Project: Genomic Open-source Breeding Informatics Initiative
Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Partners: Cornell University, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals

Photo: Alina Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

Photo: Alina Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

Knowledge for Nutrition

Knowledge is critical for concrete development outcomes. With a lot of information, different sectors and several stakeholders working for one common purpose, it seems necessary to bridge all these different pockets of work through one common platform,” emphasized B Jayashree, Head, The Hindu Media Resource Centre, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

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She was at ICRISAT to present the Foundation’s launch of the Tamil Nadu nutrition knowledge portal, a one-stop center to provide tools and resources on nutrition and support stakeholders on nutrition, as part of tackling the growing issue of undernourishment in India.

Jayashree talked about the nutrition system, such as maternal health, anemia, adolescent nutrition and water and sanitation. She stressed that despite having good food production rates in India, 53% women are anemic. This raised the issues of availability, access and absorption of nutrition and the discussion circled around the component of knowledge for nutrition. While availability and access to nutritious food are critical factors, there is a lack of knowledge about nutrition available in one place for
ready use.

Nutrition-specific websites and databases are available, for example, at a global scale from FAO or the National Family Health Survey in India at national scale along with several research programs and institutions releasing information on the subject. However, this opens up the challenge of ‘too much knowledge’.

“Knowledge on nutrition should be available in one place so different kinds of people can access it easily, not only share but also utilize it better,” says Jayashree.

As part of MSSRF’s push to link agriculture and nutrition, a Farming System for Nutrition conference took place on August 8.

In the session, ‘Pathways of Farming System for Nutrition (Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture)’, Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director – Innovation Systems for the Drylands, ICRISAT, discussed managing food and nutrition security of smallholder farming systems in the semi-arid tropics. He emphasized the need to better frame and address the multi-dimensions of nutrition security.

The conference highlighted key points, such as: cereals remain affordable across all levels of wealth however, higher density foods and fruit/vegetables become unaffordable to the poorer sections of the community; and the approach to solving nutritional deficits depends on the context.

Bridging the gaps was another key area, covering issues from using ICT for better extension to building consumer demand. Joanna Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT Director of External Relations and Strategic Marketing, presented on the need to focus on what people want to eat, thinking about the taste and the image around food. Whether poor, wealthy, young or old, people have personal food preferences and are not just driven by production or what they are told is healthy. Engaging with the food processors and food service industries is important and providing food that is tasty and nutritious and has the right image, are all factors that are often neglected by agriculture or health sectors. She highlighted the Smart Food initiative as an example that is focused on fulfilling and driving consumer demand for millets and sorghum.

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

Trainees learning hand emasculation on sorghum. Photo: ICRISAT

Trainees learning hand emasculation on sorghum. Photo: ICRISAT

Strengthening the capacity of local research teams to develop technologies that help farmers

The quality of breeding research depends on the skills of field technicians and the quality of data they collect.

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A two-week participatory training to build capacity of research technicians on sorghum and millet breeding techniques, was held as part of the ‘Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa’ project, where ICRISAT is working on strengthening local capacity. Facilitators regularly encouraged trainees to share their individual country experiences. They were also challenged to work towards modernizing their breeding programs and make sure they utilize the wide germplasm base that exists in the region to generate better cultivars for increased genetic gain.

The training included plastic bag emasculation, hot water emasculation, hand emasculation, pollination, crossing and field layout. It also promoted digital data capture using a data collection software called the Kansas State University (KSU) field book application. This is uploaded in the Breeding Management System (BMS) which is an integrated system for data management.

Trainees learned designing of trials and generation of nurseries in BMS, creating field labels and field layout, writing field data books and data management and analysis.

The final day of training was spent at the ICRISAT genomics lab in Nairobi, where Dr Damaris Odeny, Theme Leader-ESA-Biotechnology, Genetics Gains Program, ICRISAT, and her team presented basic molecular procedures. Trainees learned how to sample and freeze-dry plant tissues for long-term storage. They also extracted DNA and checked the quality and quantity of DNA before downstream analysis. This was an exciting activity for most participants as it was their first experience in a molecular lab. The training was organized by ICRISAT – Kenya.

The two-week training was held at the Kiboko Field Station from 9-22 July. It was facilitated by ICRISAT’s Dr Henry Ojulong, Senior Scientist – Breeding; Dr Eric Manyasa, Scientist – Cereals Breeding; and Field Research Technicians – Patrick Sheunda, Joseph Kibuka and Julius Ombaki.

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

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (EIAR), Ethiopia; Department of Research and Development (DRD), Tanzania; National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) of NARO, Uganda; Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Nigeria, ICRISAT and partners.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal
8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals


Dr Hans Binswanger

Dr Hans Binswanger

A tribute to Dr Hans Binswanger, pioneer of the Village Level Studies

Dr Hans Binswanger, who served ICRISAT as Senior Economist from 1975-1980 and went on to hold many important positions within the World Bank, passed away in Pretoria, South Africa, on 4 August. He was surrounded and cared for by loving family and friends from both South Africa and Switzerland during his hospitalization.

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A message from his daughter Dr Ingrid Binswanger said, “I will miss him deeply, as I know will his family, colleagues, and friends in numerous countries throughout the world.”

Recalling his association with Dr Binswanger, Dr Jim Ryan, former Director General, ICRISAT, said, “Hans and I were graduate students together at North Carolina State University in the late 60s. He then joined the staff of the University of Minnesota where he worked closely with Vernon Ruttan. After Vernon became the President of the Agricultural Development Council (ADC), Hans became an Associate of the ADC and began working in Asia. I joined ICRISAT as Leader of the Economics Program in early 1974 and encouraged the then Director General Ralph Cummings to have Hans come as a joint ADC-ICRISAT appointee.

“I can’t remember precisely when Hans arrived in Hyderabad but it was probably in early 1975, just as we were planning the initiation of the Village Level Studies (VLS). Needless to say he was a key ingredient in the design and conduct of the VLS and an intellectual giant in using the data and insights from the VLS in pathbreaking economics research that had relevance not only to ICRISAT’s mission and priorities, but also to the global scientific and policy communities. He was instrumental in putting ICRISAT’s Economics Program ‘on the map’. Hans continued to maintain his interest, support and guidance to ICRISAT’s economics research well beyond the 70s. Most recently, he was on the advisory committee to the VDSA project and in this capacity visited ICRISAT a number of times in recent years.”

Former ICRISAT principal scientist, Dr P Parthasarathy Rao, talks at length about Dr Binswanger’s work at ICRISAT. “Using the VLS villages as experimental sites and data from the initial years, he carried out pioneering work in the area of farmers’ behavior towards risk and uncertainty. His paper on “Attitude towards risk: experimental measurement in rural India” published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, is one of the most quoted publications. While at ICRISAT, he also contributed on the Econometrics of Agricultural Supply, Demand, Factor Demand and Investment among others. Hans had close collaborations with crop and farming systems scientists at ICRISAT. Based on his findings the research on use of herbicides for weed control was stopped for the semi-arid tropics of India.”

Dr Prabhu Pingali, Professor of Applied Economics and Director Tata-Cornell Institute of Agriculture and Nutrition, who was mentored by Dr Binswanger during his internship at ICRISAT, said, “Hans was a true giant in our profession, a great colleague and personal friend. We will miss him dearly. I am really happy that we were able honor Hans and celebrate his life at the Festschrift in Milan and through the book that was just released.  The last message I got from Hans was to express his delight at the way the book turned out.”

Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, said, “My interactions with him while at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were always insightful and engaging given his passion for African farmers and the challenges they faced.”

The leadership and staff of ICRISAT convey their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dr Binswanger.

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